Mandy and John Clark on building their own home near Newbury
PUBLISHED: 09:22 28 April 2015 | UPDATED: 09:22 28 April 2015
Mandy and John Clark built their own home in Berkshire – and she turned their experiences into a book. Claire Pitcher visited to find out more
‘The house has hold of my soul. Mr Clark and I feel the same way. We find it difficult to leave when we go away and a great sense of relief to come home again. When we return, I rush in and shout, ‘It’s ok everybody, we’re home!’ like the house might have missed us and is breathing a sigh of relief.
A fanciful thought I know, but our collective thoughts and decisions have made our home what it is and we belong in every fibre.’
At some point we have all dreamt of building our own home and it is thanks to some rather special people (and a lot of hard work), that Mandy and John Clark were able to do just that in a small Berkshire village on the outskirts of Newbury.
Clips of Kevin McCloud in Grand Designs spring to mind: the Great British weather hindering progress; clashes with trades, a sudden pregnancy, but then Kevin’s heart-felt monologue at the end with artistic shots of the finished house and the couple on the couch telling him ‘it was all worth it’.
I felt a little like Mr McCloud, sitting with a cup of coffee at the Clarks’ self-built dining table in their lovely garden room. I was there to explore the house, of course, but what I also wanted to know was the reason behind Mandy’s decision to publish her own book ‘Mud & Marriage – A Housebuilding Adventure’. It’s all about the ups and downs of house building, as well as everything else life throws at you along the way. “I thought it would be nice to write up the process of the build and all that went right and wrong,” explains Mandy, “I reached around 18,000 words about three years ago and then life began to take over.
“It wasn’t until December 2013 I read the words again and it made me laugh out loud, so I thought maybe I could write a book.” Artist Mandy admits that she became “completely obsessed” with her writing: “In every moment I wasn’t working I was writing.”
Not wanting to give too much away, Mandy wrote ‘Mud & Marriage’ as diary entries, which works really well in describing what each day was like on site, plus Mandy’s no stranger to writing in such a style: “I already had my own diary of what happened and the timeline of the build, but I’ve added my memories. I have a private diary as well, and my mum has one too. If I couldn’t remember something my mum might have it.”
‘Mud & Marriage’ isn’t only about the build, it tells the true story of how Mandy and John came to be in the village and how, thanks to a neighbour called Margaret Davey and her husband Brian, they were able to buy part of the Davey garden to build their home. “Without Margaret this would never have happened,” says Mandy. We first met at a local flower festival and that chance meeting was the catalyst for it all. Margaret was such a strong person and she and John drove the house build project through,” smiles Mandy.
The book will also bring a tear to the eye in places, as the reason Margaret wanted to sell a slice of her land was to fund Brian’s treatment for Alzheimers and to secure both their futures. All that, plus a wedding, the perils of getting pregnant and planning red tape, makes for a rollercoaster read.
But Mandy could never have written this delightful book if they hadn’t made the decision to self-build: “I’d never really considered a self-build before,” says Mandy. “We loved Grand Designs and obviously it’s a dream isn’t it, to build your own house? What you don’t see on TV though are the personal stories. I think my book gives you the nitty-gritty personal side.”
Husband John however, had always quite liked the idea: “My sister had self-built, so seeing how successful that was made me think seriously about it. It seemed you could get what you want if you do it that way round, and probably for less money. So when the opportunity arrived I wanted to give it a go.”
Running the site
It fell to Mandy to take on the site manager role, as John was busy running his own IT business; she’s no stranger to dealing with trades and building sites however, as she used to be a mural artist: “I had the measure of what builders were like. I wasn’t scared of the prospect. I managed it solely to save money.”
Tune in to any episode of Grand Designs and couples building their home would often have meltdowns or disaster would strike, but watching others suffer didn’t put this pair off: “I don’t think we were ever that daunted,” Mandy says, looking across the kitchen table at John for agreement. “True I had never taken on a project as big as this, but we were a team, all of us, including Margaret. Because she was there, egging us on, that really pushed us along.”
There may have been some language barriers, a few plastering issues and an 18-month battle for planning permission, but both of them insist they would do it again if they could find the right plot. They also insist they would have no hesitation in advising anyone to go for it if they are thinking of self-building. “You have to be quite tenacious about it though,” advises John. “You have to really want to do it, you can’t do it at arms length. You have to make big decisions and make quick ones, as I everyone is waiting on you.”
The next step
And what about the writing? With Mud & Marriage a hit with all the villagers and great reviews online, will Mandy be putting pen to paper again too? “I’ve already started a new book, but I can’t tell you anything about it. It’s fiction this time round, and I will probably do a sequel to Mud & Marriage in the future.” Mandy and I both shoot a look to John across the table, who can only reply with a laugh: “She’s unstoppable.”
Read the book
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