Married; children: three.
Home—North Devon, England. E-mail—[email protected]
Sheep farmer, writer, and filmmaker.
A Shepherd's Watch: Through the Seasons with One Man and His Dogs, Headline (London, England), 2004, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2005.
The Dogs of Windcutter Down: One Shepherd's Struggle for Survival, Headline (London, England), 2005, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Writer and producer of direct-to-video films The Year of the Working Sheepdog, 2000, and Mist: The Tale of a Sheepdog Puppy, 2006. Writer, producer, and director of television series Mist: Sheepdog Tales, broadcast on the United Kingdom's Channel Five in 2006.
David Kennard, who runs a sheep farm in southwestern England, has produced books and films that detail not only his work but that of his herding dogs. He decided to make his first film, The Year of the Working Sheepdog, as a way of supplementing his income and showing how such a farm functions. Its story of twelve months on the farm highlights the many tasks performed by border collies Greg, Swift, Gail, Fern, and Ernie as they help him manage 2,000 ewes and lambs. It also deals with both the rewards and the hardships of farm life. The film, released on videocassette and DVD, found a large audience, eventually selling 70,000 copies.
This, like Kennard's subsequent books and video projects, has won some critics' praise as informative and emotionally affecting. "It brought home to me what a great story farming has to tell, and how it can be done in a way that will interest almost anyone," commented John Burns in Farmers Weekly. He noted that it "records the relationship between David, his dogs, his sheep, the weather, and the landscape in spectacularly beautiful countryside on the Atlantic coast of north Devon." The film also shows Kennard wondering if he can continue to make a living with his flock; Burns remarked that the movie allows viewers to learn about "traditional shepherding skills so that they can decide whether the whole interwoven package is worth keeping."
Over the next few years, as Kennard wrote two books on farm life, that "package" became even harder to maintain. The Dogs of Windcutter Down: One Shepherd's Struggle for Survival discusses the challenges posed by declining prices for his product, an epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease, and an outbreak of another sheep disease, pasteurella. Some of the dogs are aging or infirm, and Kennard is training a puppy, Jake, to take on some of the work. The dogs manage to show their value, not only in handling day-to-day chores, but also as performers in a weekly show, demonstrating their skills for paying audiences.
Several reviewers found the book worthwhile. The dogs' dramas "are as absorbing as any soap opera," observed a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Florence Scarinci, writing in Library Journal, deemed the work a "well-written, engaging account." A Publishers Weekly critic praised Kennard's portrayal of his "commitment to sheep farming," but thought "his low-key style lacks detail." Some others voiced no such reservation, however, and the Kirkus Reviews writer summed up the book as "a loving tribute to an endangered way of life."
Kennard told CA: "Writing and filmmaking have never been long-term ambitions for me; in fact, on leaving school, my sole intention in life was to become a sheep farmer. However, as the financial pressures of sheep farming increased, I looked for new areas of ‘farm diversification.’ The documentry film, The Year of the Working Sheepdog, came first. Writing was merely a natural progression from there.
"My work is quite simply influenced by the environment in which I work and the animals, particularly the dogs, with which I work. I'm fortunate enough to work in one of the most beautiful areas of England, north Devon. With it's coastal heathland, rolling hills, and steep wooded valleys, the scenery is diverse and stunningly beautiful.
"My writing process entails hard work! I naturally want to be outside, and with a farm to run there are always a lot of jobs that need doing. So the hours spent bashing at the keys on the computer can be tortuous, but with the aid of ‘spell-check’ and ‘word count’ I get through!
"The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer is how much can be achieved with determination. Writing is something that I have adopted in order to maintain my family's existence, and with determination I've achieved the publication of two books. If you had asked me ten years ago whether or not I could achieve that, I would have said a certain ‘no.’
"I find it very difficult to comment on my own work, mainly because by the end of the writing or filmmaking process, I'm so focused on the minutia that it's impossible for me to look at the overall picture. However, if I had to pick a favorite book of mine, it would be The Dogs of Windcutter Down for its reflection of the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ in the post-foot-and-mouth-disease era.
"I hope that my books help improve understanding of the countryside in England. We live in an era when the very need for farming is being questioned, and the countryside is seen more and more as a recreation area for urban masses. If my books help a few people to understand the reality of farming in the twenty-first century, then the time spent writing will be time well spent."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kennard, David, A Shepherd's Watch: Through the Seasons with One Man and His Dogs, Headline (London, England), 2004, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Kennard, David, The Dogs of Windcutter Down: One Shepherd's Struggle for Survival, Headline (London, England), 2005, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Farmers Weekly, November 2, 2001, John Burns, "Dog's Life of Beauty," p. 10.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2006, review of The Dogs of Windcutter Down, p. 1207.
Library Journal, February 1, 2007, Florence Scarinci, review of The Dogs of Windcutter Down, p. 90.
Publishers Weekly, December 11, 2006, review of The Dogs of Windcutter Down, p. 54.
David Kennard Home Page,http://shepherdanddogs.co.uk (November 27, 2007).