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Lucy Turns Pages: Guest Post: How My Love of Nature Became My Debut Novel (including snippets from my debut A Year at Honeybee Cottage) by Alexandra Wholey

Guest Post: How My Love of Nature Became My Debut Novel (including snippets from my debut A Year at Honeybee Cottage) by Alexandra Wholey

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From a very young age, I was always interested in nature, and loved watching wildlife shows on TV, was a massive fan of David Attenborough (still am) and especially in literature. One of my favourite authors as a child was Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter. 

I loved the realistic descriptions of the otters, and of Devonshire where the story takes place. I tried to reflect this in my own writing when writing A Year at Honeybee Cottage. For research, I watched a lot of videos on the amazing Gwenyn Gruffyd beekeeping YouTube channel to try and demonstrate the process of beekeeping in a realistic way. I learnt a lot from these videos, and it really helped the way I wrote the descriptions of beekeeping within the book:

Here is a snippet of the prologue which introduces you to Eilidh, the heroine, and her love of beekeeping: 

“So, we use the smoker to calm the bees so that we don’t get stung. Like this.” A white plume of smoke filled the air as Marianne Andersen, kitted out in her bee suit, moved the smoker across the hive. Eilidh, wearing her own mini bee suit, nodded enthusiastically as they stood in the centre of the back garden of Honeybee Cottage, in the quaint village of Mossbrae, in the Inner Hebrides. 
Eilidh had been fascinated by the bees since she was very young, loving to watch them collect pollen from the buddleia and carry it back to the hives. Early March, the beginning of the honey season, was Eilidh’s favourite time of year. She got to help out, breathe in the scent of the early spring flowers, and listen to the quiet humming of the honeybees as her grandmother gently brushed them away so she could open the hive and check the frames. 
Marianne had kept bees for the last twenty years and was now teaching ten-year-old Eilidh all she knew hoping that, one day, she would follow in her footsteps and become a beekeeper. 
“Can you see? You just brush them away with the bee brush. Then we can … do what?” 
“The spring checks,” Eilidh said knowledgeably. 
“Good girl! That’s exactly right.” Marianne smiled indulgently at her only grandchild. 

Today’s inspection was the first of the year. It was a brief job but a fun one just the same. Marianne lifted the lid off the hive and looked into the top of the hive. There was no need to take the hive apart so early in the year. Scraping off the beeswax, putting the frame to one side, and replacing it with a fresh frame, before letting the bees get the honey. 
“So what do we do first? Can you remember?” 
“We need to check the frames,” said Eilidh. 
Marianne lifted a frame out of the brood box. “And how do we know we have a healthy hive? What do we need to look for?” 
“Wax. And fresh eggs. There’s some here,” Eilidh said, pointing to white bubbles in the corner of the frame. 
“What else?” Marianne prompted. 
“Pollen. That means the bees are making honey.” 
“What pollen do you think this is?” 
“Dandelion, because it’s orange.” 
“Exactly right. Good girl!” Marianne marvelled at how quickly Eilidh was picking all of this up. She was going to make a great beekeeper one day. “What can you not see, and why is that good at the moment?” 
Eilidh looked, frowning slightly. “No drone cells.” 
“What does that mean?” 
“The bees aren’t going to swarm yet.” 
“Exactly. We don’t need to worry about that just yet. So yes, this is a healthy hive. There’s already brood on here too, some fresh pollen, and stores on here,” Marianne explained, pointing to the other side of the frame. “We’re nearly done. What do we do next?” 
“Put the queen board on to stop the queen flying off.” 
“Aye, that’s right. We don’t want that! And what do we need to add before we close the hive?” 
“The honey supers for when they start making honey!” Eilidh replied excitedly. 

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