Chewing the Cud
Chewing the Cud is Dick King-Smith's delightful autobiography, perfectly illustrated with drawings by Harry Horse. Although this book can easily be enjoyed by children (clean, wholesome content) and may well have been written for an audience of younger readers, I found it perfectly engaging and enjoyed it immensely. His tone throughout the book is as though he's talking directly to a friend.
First of all, Dick King-Smith is not his real name. His real name is Ronald Gordon King-Smith, after his father and a South African friend of his father. As a small child he acquired the nickname "Dick" and that's what he stuck with.
Mr. King-Smith actually was a farmer from 1947 to 1967 (though, he admits, not a very good one - "good" meaning "making a profit"), and it's this period of his life that gave him so much insight into animals. He and his wife, whom he met when they were children, both loved animals and tried to raise just about every domestic animal one can imagine on a farm.
At 49, no longer able to farm (the farm had been sold by its owner), and having tried and failed to make it as salesman of fire-fighting suits, and as a work-study engineer, Mr. King-Smith enrolled in Bristol University. Four years later he graduated with a degree in education. He began teaching at an elementary school - first eight-year-olds, then 6-year-olds. (The description of his school sounds like the village school in Miss Read's books.) It was at this time that he began to write. He taught at the school for seven years, then was able to move to writing full-time.
His description of how he works amused me:
"I write in all the wrong ways. I don't plan a story out as I should, I just get an idea and blast off into the wild blue yonder, hoping that things will turn out okay and that it will eventually have what all successful stories must have, whether they be for children or adults, namely a Good Beginning, a Good Middle, and a Good End. Usually it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it suits me....And about his famous book, Babe (originally titled The Sheep Pig), and the movie made from that book, he says:
"In the evening, if I've written enough, a chapter, say, I read it to my wife. If she says, 'Super,' or 'Great, ' or some such, that's grand. If she says, 'Yes, well, I think it's time I put the Brussels sprouts on' and appears less than impressed by what I've read, I have to begin thinking very seriously. Is this story going wrong? How is it going wrong? Is it just a load of rubbish? Sometimes it is."
"One particular thing about the film that delighted me was that as soon as I set eyes on the actor who played Farmer Hogget, I saw to my amazement that he was the spitting image of the imaginary figure I'd had in my head when I wrote the book all those years before.
"I've seen Babe six times now and every time I've laughed and I've cried...
"If you were to ask me to choose a favorite from among the dozens and dozens of books I've produced, I would probably say I think it may be the best."
He seems to be a genuinely modest man, content and grateful for the life he's had. Summing up his life (at the time - this book was published in 2001) he writes:
"I wasn't a particularly good soldier or farmer or salesman or factory worker or teacher, but at last I've found something I can do reasonably well. I'm a lucky man, in my three children, in all my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and most especially of course in my wife, who's always backed me up and seen us through bad patches. Without Myrle, I could never have been what I now am.
"Looking back at my life so far, there's only one thing to be said, in just the same quiet tones of satisfaction that Farmer Hogget used, at the end of the Grand Challenge Sheep-dog Trials: 'That'll do.' "