From Cop to Coppicer

from cop to coppicerI used to be a police officer, starting in London, and finishing as a DI at Moss Side in Manchester. In some ways, it finished me.

I was working at a weekend, and took a phone call. A murder, another one. I couldn’t do it, and folded.

I was sent home, and after fifteen years without one day of sick leave, I never went back. I received counselling, and took a year’s sabbatical. Depression followed.

We moved to a smallholding in the Peak District, and I began to write.

We have five acres, and keep chickens and bees, and turkeys at Christmas! The vegetable garden has been there for over a century and has wonderful fertility. There’s a greenhouse, a large soft fruit cage, and an orchard.

We’re self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables. My passion is fruit trees, especially apples, and I’m aiming for a hundred varieties – currently, 64. My favourite is Pitmaston Pineapple, an old variety which in a good year has a rich, honeyed nutty taste with a hint of pineapple.

My first book (unpublished) after leaving the police was a memoir, From Cop to Coppicer. Writing it was a cathartic process.

The combination of writing and working outside on the smallholding helped me understand what I’d been through and moved me forward.

james ellson land

Genetically, we’re still hunter-gatherers. It takes thousands of years for genes to change, and we have not (so far) evolved to live in small concrete boxes very close to each other.

Hence, most people, most of the time are happier / have greater wellbeing when they’re outside in green spaces. This was very true for me. The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku or tree-bathing, and prescribe it on their national health.

I’ve never gone back to work. Despite everything that happened, I don’t regret my time in the police.

I now divide my days between my two hats. I get up and write for a couple of hours, spend the day working on the smallholding, and write again for a couple of hours before dinner.

Much of the work outside is repetitive manual work, and it’s often wet and cold. Sometimes I mull my plots and characters!


Last year, I completed an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University.

And finally, after ten years of writing, the new and award-winning publisher Unbound have published my debut novel The Trail. A crime thriller, unsurprisingly!

The Trail is available on Amazon, and can be ordered from bookshops.

 “Intelligent and pacy thriller” (Paula Hawkins, Girl On The Train)

“A stunning debut from an exciting new addition to the world of crime fiction” (Stephen Booth, Cooper & Fry crime series)

Author: James Ellson – speaker profile and available talks here.

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  • John Burton
    4th June 2020 at 3:31 pm

    Inspiring! Can you recommend a reliable source of young authentic Ashmead’s Kernel apple trees please? This is my particular favourite. And, in your experience, when do you recommend planting a new tree? We live in North Somerset on the north side of the Mendip Hills. Thank you.

    • James Ellson
      5th June 2020 at 9:33 am

      Hi John

      Ashmead’s Kernel is a fine apple indeed, but very tricky to grow up north because of the rain. But, maybe with climate change, this will also change.

      I live in the peak District, and I’m afraid I don’t know any suppliers near to you. I use RV Roger. You could contact the RHS Fruit Group

      The best time for planting is the winter when trees are dormant, so Nov to Feb (as long as the ground isn’t frozen.)

      Hope that helps.

      Kind Regards


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