The Fennel's Journal Story Part 3

In the video above, lifestyle author Fennel Hudson concludes his story about the Fennel's Journal series of books. He explains that Fennel's Journal is built on friendship: how a friend encouraged him to share his 'Stop – Unplug – Escape – Enjoy' message with a wider audience, and another friend helped him to bring the Journal out in magazine format. He talks about the final seven books: Fine Things, A Gardener's Year, The Lighter Side, Friendship, Nature Escape, Book of Secrets, and The Pursuit of Life.

Watch Part 1 and Part 2 of the story. You can also listen to the complete audio at The Contented Countryman podcast.

Transcript of The Fennel's Journal Story – Part 3

2011 was a big year for Fennel’s Journal. My friend Lawrence Breakspear had persuaded me to share my ‘Stop – Unplug – Escape – Enjoy’ message with a wider audience, so I’d built a website that included some scans of the original letters and some of the writing typed up into blog form. It proved a hit, with people from all over the world asking me to share more and – if possible – make it available in printed form. Cue the launch of the limited edition collectors’ magazine version of Fennel’s Journal.

Fine Things – 2012
I’m very lucky, and honoured to have at my side throughout this journey, my dear friend John Summers. He runs a design agency in Worcester and is expert at print production. Together, he and I were able to take all of the handwritten letters and turn them into high quality magazines, complete with a super-high quality leather binder. Limited to just 600 copies, of which the first 100 were signed by me and embossed with the Fennel’s Priory stamp, each magazine represented once year from 2006 onwards. The magazine format was a nod of appreciation to my mentor Bernard Venables who had sought to produce something of similar quality with his Creel magazine in the 1960s. I could have gone for book format at this time, or published through a traditional publisher, but there was something nice about maintaining the link to the work of my mentors. Bernard had done it with Creel, and Chris with Waterlog. Now it was my turn, albeit with a magazine written by one person and with no advertising. A book in magazine format, I suppose. And a very fine thing indeed.

In celebration of how Fennel’s Journal was a very fine thing, I wrote the Fine Things edition. This was the first to be written specifically for the magazine and not as letters. The content, therefore, shows much bravery – with me keen to reveal all aspects of my rather eccentric individuality. 

Fine Things is full of humour, but a slightly sad undertone that you might not pick up on. I was aware that Mike Winter was deteriorating in health. This was the Journal where I could finally show him my writing in print, cheer him up and remind him of his legacy as teacher – that he’d enabled me to be confidently individual, headstrong, passionate in my beliefs, and unquestionably back to being the Fennel he met in 1996. The result is my favourite Journal, the one where I feel that I’ve delivered on my promise to him. And, knowing that I now need glasses, it’s why Fine Things is the first to come out in book form.

A Gardener’s Year – 2013
By 2013 I was very much sensing the near-completion of my ten-year plan to rebuild my life. With a strange feeling that mine was about to blossom just as Mike’s was about to end (he was rapidly deteriorating in health), I was reminded of the organic cycle of life and that striving for one’s dreams is very much like the act of gardening – where we sow seeds and nurture them into maturity until they finally return to the soil. Hence A Gardener’s Year, which on one level tells the best and funniest stories of my twenty-year career in horticulture (I was still trying to give Mike a laugh) and on another provides a metaphor-based route map to a better life. It’s about hope, dreams, futures, and – yes – chicken poo and a very smelly wax jacket.

Sharing my brand of humour was an experience in itself, insomuch as I became aware that it doesn’t always translate across borders. Fennel’s Journal grew rapidly in popularity, going out to more than 30 countries by the end of 2013, and it seemed the Americans didn’t understand sarcasm or double meanings, and I had two emails from people in Japan asking why ‘tugging a carrot’ could be perceived as being rude. Still, I suppose it means that there are multiple levels of enjoyment to be found in reading Fennel’s Journal.

The Lighter Side – 2014
2014 marked the completion of my ten-year plan to rebuild my life. I paid off the last of my debt from 2003, moved back to the country, celebrated my 40th birthday and…promptly had another breakdown. The relief of finally reaching my goal, mixed with deferred exhaustion from the climb, proved too much. I collapsed and grieved for the life I wanted but didn’t have the strength to enjoy, and for the loss of Mike Winter who had passed away six months earlier. This could have been the end for Fennel’s Journal. But unlike my illness ten years earlier, I decided to bounce back harder and with more passion than ever. I kept going – knowing that fulfilment was within my grasp.

I remained focused – and conscious – remembering the importance of using one’s energy to do the things we love. So I took six months off work to explore The Lighter Side of life. The result is a deeply felt and wisely considered Journal that’s the natural companion to A Meaningful Life. It’s a collection of lifestyle essays that addresses key issues such as work-life pressures, the importance of faith, keeping going through adversity, how to see the funny side of a situation, and – bold move that it is – a study of the depression that’s so common in creative people. It’s sounds heavy, but it’s not. Fennel’s Journal is resolutely upbeat and optimistic, marked by positivity and awareness that reading is a form of entertainment. It’s about the lighter side, which is what this Journal achieves.

Friendship – 2015
Knowing that Fennel’s Journal is founded on friendship, and seeing how much I’d done to honour The Promise I’d made ten years earlier, several Friends of the Priory sent me letters and articles to feature in a special edition of Fennel’s Journal. This was themed around Friendship, with awareness of time and wisdom of age being the messages most evident in the writing – ideal to highlight the bond of ‘old friends’. It sold out in less than 24 hours, such was the Journal’s growing popularity, and proved that Fennel’s Priory had grown beyond one man. Whilst I had taken Bernard Venables gift of name and idea in 1996, and held the torch for 19 years, I was delighted to see the flame alive in others. Fennel’s Journal had become something that’s ‘for us and by us’ with friendship as the theme.

Nature Escape – 2016
2016 was the year when the plan really came to fruition, when I left my job and the corporate world to make a new life as a full-time writer. I sold my cottage in the Cotswolds and moved with my family to North Wales in search of greener and quieter times. And in doing so I was reminded of my conclusion at the end of my Waterside Year, that ‘It’s better to run towards something good than away from something bad’. I was escaping to something, rather than from something. We’d always dreamed of living the quiet life, and North Wales was – and is – the perfect venue.

So instead of writing a ‘compare and contrast’ style lifestyle Journal, as I’d done in the past, I decided to produce something that really championed the message of ‘Stop – Unplug – Escape – Enjoy’. I grabbed my rucksack, some provisions and a writing pad and walked from home to Priory Wood, so spend 24 hours alone amongst nature. I walked, camped, studied wildlife, did some fishing in a pond at the centre of the wood, and generally reflected and felt grateful for my lot. The result was a Journal that provides a first hand, real-time, account of a day and night ‘enjoying’ – as BB would describe it – the wonder of the world. The resulting book Nature Escape sits nicely alongside A Waterside Year and The Quiet Fields – a trilogy of sorts and very much designed to help you ‘escape’ as you read it. So even if you can’t spare 24 hours to sit alone in a wood, you can do so by reading the book. It’s rather special.

Book of Secrets – 2017
And now our story comes up to date. 2017 marks the 21st Anniversary of Fennel’s Priory and, I’m pleased to say, life is better than ever. So the ‘journey’ as tracked in Fennel’s Journal is complete – for now. But I’m conscious that I’ve shared my writing with you without providing its full context. I sometimes allude to metaphors in each Journal, and this film goes some way to providing context and continuity to the story. But there’s more. That’s why I’m going to be sharing two more books with you.

The first is Book of Secrets that will be written this year. It will include 14 chapters that will serve as the prequels to each book in the series. They’ll join everything together, so you’ll be able to either read a chapter and then the book to which it relates, or simply read it as a standalone story. There’s some quite personal writing in there, and now’s the time to share it. As a ‘coda’ to the series, it’s my way of leaving nothing hidden or unanswered.

The Pursuit of Life – 2017/18
The second book I’ll be writing, and this really will be the last one in the series, is a much-extended version of the story I’ve shared with you in this podcast. It will include a great deal of my private writing, and some of the correspondence that’s kept me going over the years. Fennel’s Journal has often been cited as a route map to freedom, and The Pursuit of Life book will provide the guidance and encouragement to help you along the way. It’s about the pursuit of life, and is designed to encourage you to pursue your dreams.

Fennel’s Journal: 1996-2017
So there we are: 21 years, 14 books, some ups and downs, a great deal of loyalty to others and faith in myself. It’s been a life worth living, and certainly worth writing about. I hope you enjoy reading about it, that it helps you to smile, and that it inspires you to lead a meaningful and fulfilling life. Remember: ‘Stop – Unplug – Escape – Enjoy’…and never do anything that offends your soul. It’s your life, so live it.

Watch Part 1 and Part 2 of the story. You can also listen to the complete audio at The Contented Countryman podcast.

A Writer's Year by Fennel HudsonIf you like this blog, you'll like Fennel's book A Writer's Year

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