Stephanie Varah is the author of ‘The Woodsman’, which she completed once she retired from her challenging role in the NHS. Here she explains how her rescue dog Tal, and her two extremely amusing rescue cats, Pie and Bungy, helped to shape this heart-warming fantasy folklore novel. The animals’ exploits and their dialogue whilst trying to help Amos, the woodsman, return to his own time 400 years in the past, will have you laughing out loud!
Behind the scenes of The Woodsman
When I lost my dear old cat Holly, I went to the Cat Shelter with the intention of adopting another about a year old. We had recently rescued a one-year-old strapping, handsome Lurcher called Tal, who was bouncing around the house as we all got used to one another.
Sheila, the shelter manager, cautioned me. “The only way to successfully rehome a cat with a large dog instinctively programmed to hunt small furry animals, is to adopt a kitten so they can grow up together. Oh … and by the way, our policy says you have to adopt two kittens from the same litter.”
Double trouble and not quite what I’d intended! Little did I know that this moment would be a turning point and that our new kittens, Bungy and Pie, would help me realise a long held dream later in life.
Life with the three of them was never dull. Very quickly, they all developed their own unique personalities, and Sheila was dead right – the kittens ruled the roost. It soon became apparent that Pie, the tiniest, prettiest, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth most innocent looking of the two, was in control of everything, including us! Her brother, in contrast, was stupid and the fattest, laziest and most food-obsessed cat I have ever known – he just tagged along behind the others so as not to be left out. Poor Tal was stuck in the middle and often got a swipe across the nose if he got in the way.
There were many funny moments and times when you could almost hear what the conversation might be between them. An aspiring author since childhood, the interplay between the animals fuelled my writer’s imagination, and I found myself developing their characters.
I was then working full time in the NHS, so a walk through the woods with Tal at the end of a stressful working day was a much needed escape. He would race off chasing hares as I wandered through the ancient trees spellbound by their beauty and mystery; I am fascinated by the folklore surrounding Nature and spend many hours learning about the magical properties of trees. I also had fascinating conversations about local history and legends with colourful characters I bumped into on the footpath. This made me wish I could turn back the clock to see my village and countryside in a different time.
These encounters lit a spark kindled by a spine-tingling, time slip moment one year at our local summer fair when The Sealed Knot English Civil War re-enactment group marched into my village. The writer in me was instantly transported back in time – I knew right then I had a story to tell.
Researching deeper into local history, I discovered rather spookily that my tiny village had played a significant part in the English Civil War, which fitted perfectly as a sub plot for my story. So ‘The Woodsman’ began its journey of nearly ten years to completion – what started as a hobby while I was employed became a full-time project when I finished work. It is a love letter to my animals, to trees, Nature and the countryside. And, many years after arriving home unexpectedly with two tiny balls of fur, I have been able to realise my lifelong dream of becoming a published author.
My three wonderful furry companions are immortalised in ‘The Woodsman’; I think of them every day. We now have a rescue whippet called Stanley, who had a hard life before he met us. He and the gang are about to embark on a new adventure in my next book, which is well underway. Oh, and my dear old cat Holly? She, too, makes an appearance; I think Pie might need to watch out!
About The Woodsman
‘The Woodsman’ is the story of Amos, the keeper of King Charles the First’s forest in 1642, who becomes trapped, by some mysterious alchemy, in the 21st Century. The only way he can find his way back to life four hundred years ago is with the help of a bunch of furry adventurers with a unique view of the world; Tal, the free-spirited Lurcher and his feline housemates Bungy and Pie. The friends set out to find a window through time to send Amos back amidst the English Civil War, often with hilarious consequences. Their trials and tribulations amongst a world of ghosts and ancient tree spirits, with a smattering of quirky and occasionally sinister characters, is utterly captivating.
Folklore and legend invisibly entwine with the here and now to create a heartwarming, often laugh out loud tale of everyday magic and adventure. The three unlikely heroes discover that deep in the ancient woods are hidden worlds where time can stand completely still.
Reviews for The Woodsman
I so loved this book. So much history is included, yet it doesn’t feel like school! I, as an adult, have learnt a lot. You move through the book like a treasure trail, picking up pieces of information on the way. The joy is also feeling connected to the characters of the story, even the bad ones! More Stephanie Varah, more! Five stars from me!
I read all the time, although not usually this kind of tale. I found it an absolute pleasure to read and became very involved in this magical story. I loved all the animal characters and couldn’t wait to find out what happened to them. I think anyone of any age would really enjoy this book, and I would recommend it to anyone (or buy it for them as a gift!).
A delightful book, well written; interesting historical and folklore information, very vivid descriptions of the countryside – one can visualise the places – the characters are very well drawn (one can’t help but fall in love with Bungy!). Fantasy is not a genre I usually like, but I really enjoyed this, and so I have given it five stars. In my opinion, it would make a brilliant animated film.
An intriguing story set both in the present time and in the Civil War, also picking up some of the history and geography of the local area. I particularly enjoyed the animal characterization and the interaction between them.
I must say I really enjoyed this book; it was easy. I became involved in the animals’ adventures and loved the descriptive writing. It was lovely that I could relate to their stomping ground, but I am sure it would be just as enjoyable for those who don’t know the area where it is set. I found the twists in the tale to include historic facts and imagination were just right, making it a great way to learn about how the civil war affected ordinary folk. It would be an excellent book to read aloud to younger children too.