One of the most positive aspects of my two years in virtual solitude was the love of animals we discovered in ourselves, especially the love of dogs. Suddenly everyone was getting Labradors, Boxers, and Poodles but also Labradoodles, Cockapoos, and Cavachons, and we were stumbling upon breeds in the garden we barely knew existed.
Author Linda Huffy and her family were no different in wanting a dog, and she, husband John, and daughters Olivia Rose and Kate found Bonnie, a pitcher—a cross between a pug and Jack Russell—and welcomed her into their adorable Portadown home, the Armagh Company. “We’ve always loved animals. We have goats, ducks and chickens in the backfield but haven’t had a dog in a while since the last one died. Then during lockdown my girls begged and begged to find Bonnie in Armagh. It was £100, a little bargaining dog downstairs. It was The first girl out of the trash and we fell in love with her.”
As most people who have recently acquired dogs will attest, they are a wonderful addition to the family, but Bonnie has played a more important role than most. She is the inspiration for Linda’s second children’s book, jolly jug, Who will come out at Christmas. “Every time I looked at her I would think of these little clips and phrases, ‘Don’t leave me here, that’s not what I planned, like a croissant in the scanned room.’ Seeing her so happy here—it made me think of all those animals. Little pounders, waiting, like a beauty contest, for someone to come and pick them in. That’s the story, a little jug in a pound with these adorable dogs all hoping for their forever home.
“Bonnie is the star of the show but I called her Julie in the book.”
While she’s been making up stories all her life and more recently for girls, Linda became a published writer just last year with her publication vigilant laziness. Before that she was a teacher like her parents before her. Her mother was an elementary teacher, while her late father was studying geography and Linda chose to follow suit. “I’m one of three. I have a twin, Andrew, and an older sister, Catherine, and every summer we’ve taken my parents on our first caravan around Ireland, but mostly Donegal and the West Coast, for two months. We’ve always been climbing and exploring the coasts, and that’s a big part of me.” I loved geography and sports – hockey, tennis, running.”
After school in Portadown, Linda attended Queen’s University Belfast and then did teacher training at Ulster University in Coleraine. She initially attended the Royal School in Armagh, then spent 10 years at the Campbell Boys’ Boarding School in Belfast, where she taught A-level geography and sports. “When you’re teaching adults at 18 and you’re in your 20s, it’s good to play a sport, so I taught them hockey,” the little blonde says with a laugh.
Love for sports and fitness also led to meeting her husband John. “We were in the same school but he was a few years ahead, so we didn’t really meet there. He played rugby and I was a great hockey player and we actually met at the gym. I used to see him and he would see me. I guess we didn’t train hard actually,” she laughs. “He had the courage to ask me out, and after four years, we got married in 2001.”
Linda went on to transfer to Campbell College until Kate was born in 2007, then decided to give up a full-time job which included a 120km round trip every day and hockey training on Saturdays. “I thought, ‘You know what, I have all my life to study but these years with girls are precious.’ And if I didn’t, I would never start writing books,” she says, “I always made up stories in my head as a little girl, and when I lay down on My kids bed every evening, they’d say, “Mom, make up a story” and so I will. vigilant laziness It was the first thing I wrote to them. I handwritten it in a small notebook with illustrations, rolled it up and put it under the Christmas tree for girls. They were aged 11 and 9 at the time. They read it and loved it, and my husband said, “This is a really great book.”
Linda did not write it with the intention of publishing it, but decided, with enthusiasm from John and the girls, to publish it. She’s a self-confessed Luddite when it comes to technology, so Olivia Rose set up an email address for her and with John’s help, Lynda named that one to 40 publishers. Several of them responded by expressing interest and Linda eventually went with Pegasus Publishers.
The inspiration for the first book came from an exchange with John. “My family, especially my husband, used to call me lazy because I sleep really well. Sometimes after teaching — I still teach part-time — I would sit and close my eyes, and he would say, ‘Oh, Linda, you are lazy.’” One day it bothered me and I remember I was I’m thinking, “There’s a lot more to this laziness than meets the eye,” she said with a laugh.
Sloths played into her mind as a character and because she knew so much about the rainforest in her work, this tropical tree, who might be slow but not stupid, was a natural hero to her. Her style is inspired by children’s writer Julia Donaldson. “She writes in syllables, I love it, it’s a beautiful rhythm,” she says. “I like to run and walk and never listen to music. Instead, I think of stories and chords that come to my head and that’s how the story came about. Then the painter joined the painting and it was great to see the story and the messages come to life.”
Mindfulness is a big part of the story. It’s something that Linda herself embraced after back surgery seven years ago and finds when she gives talks to groups of kids, that aspect of the sloth personality – the fact that he takes things easy and isn’t too anxious – really appeals to them.
In addition to writing and lecturing, Linda still does some subsidiary activities in schools around her country house outside of Portadown, which she and John built 16 years ago after John sold his business building on golf courses and hockey courts; He now works in the construction department.
“When we first got married, we lived in a little cottage for six years that was near John’s business. But when he sold the business, we decided to move in. We were outside looking in random areas and saw this site. The gate was closed, so we climbed over it, trespassing.” , she says with a laugh. “I remember John saying, ‘This could be us.'”
As it happened, the site came with planning permission for a house designed by architect Des Ewing. They liked his plans, made some changes, and a year later, six weeks after Kate was born, they moved in.
Set on three acres, the home has stunning grounds that include pastures for five goats, two ducks, and 30 chickens, and wonderful gardens that John tends to. The double-fronted house is Georgian, with high ceilings, antique arches, and pale windows. It has five bedrooms, three of which are en-suite, spacious kitchen/living/dining room, sunroom, sitting room, and games room. It also has great features such as a huge portico complete with a sweeping staircase, wide walkways and landings with plenty of side windows, making the most of the stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
It is also a very comfortable home; All downstairs rooms have underfloor heating. Aside from the sitting room, which has a reclaimed wood floor, the downstairs rooms are covered in limestone blocks. Even the hall has treads on the limestone stairs. “I didn’t want a perfect floor, so when we got the flags, we got random sizes and got
brick to put it. I went out one day and when I came back he had put them all in perfectly regular rows, the same size, which I didn’t want at all. It was half done so I had to rip it off,” she says.
“I had a horrible experience when Kate was about 14 months old. I brought her upstairs and left her on a bed, she forgot she could move. Next thing I realized she was at the bottom of the stairs. Linda remembers, sixteen steps, really hard steps, and did You know what, there was no scratch on it.
When it comes to decor, Lynda opted for a French rustic look, which works with the slate stones and muted colors on the walls. “When we first moved in, I was a little confused. I realized I didn’t want a showroom, I didn’t want shiny surfaces, I wanted a family home.” She recycled a lot of salvaged furniture herself to match the look – pieces she found at charity stores and places like Wilson’s Yard in Belfast.
“John worked in England for a year, so I would get the girls to bed and then take out my paints and paint the furniture. He would come home and be like ‘Where did this come from?'”
The salvaged items include various tables, chairs, and cabinets. Linda is very sentimental and the wardrobes are full of Olivia Rose and Kate’s first shoes and boots, as well as lovable old bunnies and other stuffed animals – some of which were hers and some of her daughters.
Linda has endless possibilities for children’s stories, although it looks like the next story will be inspired again by something John told her.
My husband said, ‘You never sit down; You’re like a hen when we try to get her in at night—there’s always one hen roaming that won’t come, and I said to myself, “Hmmm; that’s a great title,” she says with a laugh.
The Mindful Sloth, published by Pegasus, costs €13.29 on Amazon
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