The Cows of Cambridge, by Ben Jeapes

Photo by Pixabay.  

I enjoyed last week’s British Christian Writers Conference very much. I also enjoyed the evening beforehand, far more than I had expected.

I was staying at Cambridge Central Travelodge which is not, let’s face it, in one of the prettiest, touristy, picture postcardy bits of Cambridge. It’s on Hills Road, a long and busy triple carriageway, where the middle lane is for bicycles – a quaint Cambridge habit I’ve not come across anywhere else but which makes it extra interesting when you have to move into the left, turn-off lane. But I went for an evening walk and within ten minutes I had come to a gate into some open land, with a cattle grid, and cow pats on the ground beyond.

I had discovered Coe Fen, which is indeed a fen and, yes, it has cows. Cows, a few minutes’ walk from the city centre! Very calm and friendly, not skittish like their rural cousins and quite prepared for people to get close and gawp.

I didn’t do that. I was intending to have a burger later so couldn’t really look them in the eye.

But, city centre cows! How cool is that? Why do we never see this on TV? I don’t know Cambridge well but I’ve read books set there, I’ve watched it on TV … But while I distinctly remember Lord Peter and Harriet going punting, I’m pretty sure they never went dodging the cow pats. Less romantic, perhaps..

I love this sort of detail. I could very easily set a novel in Cambridge and do some general finding out about the place, look up some names, give the characters a route to follow … but it probably wouldn’t occur to me to include the cows.

At this point I’m going to go cite Robert Harris, because he is my opinion a master of unexpected cows. By which I mean, he is very good at throwing in detail that you probably wouldn’t think of if you were just making it up. It makes his books real. His novel Munich dealt with the talks between Hitler and Chamberlain, and sure, we all know they worked out … But did you ever wonder what it was actually like to fly from Britain to Germany in those days? Or where the talks were actually held, or how the geography of the building and the area actually affected events?

So, what are the unexpected cows you can put in your own work?

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of eight novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His most recent title is a children’s biography of Ada Lovelace.

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  1. This website continues to pinch material from other Christian sites without even the courtesy of an acknowledgement or link, which does not seem very Christian. I have asked the owners of this site not to do this but they have clearly taken no action. For the record this article originally appeared at, the website of the Association of Christian Writers.