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INTERVIEW When pigs fly

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Linda Newman, author of ‘Zinnia, Warrior Princess Pig’.?Pic: Matt Loughrey

When pigs fly

Ciara Moynihan

A pig might seem like an unlikely super-hero, but one small, curly haired Kune Kune pig begs to differ. She’s feisty, full of personality and quite capable of creating her own adventures. She also has flowing strawberry-blonde locks that would be the envy of Super-girl. Sort of.
Meet Zinnia, Warrior Princess Pig, the star of a children’s book bearing her name, written by Linda Newman. But this little piggie is no fictional character, she is very real, and very much the star of the show back at Linda’s small farm on the outskirts of Westport.
Not that she’s the only non-human personality there. On Linda’s farm you’ll find another of these rare pigs, a clutch of cacophonous chickens, a gaggle of gregarious geese, two very dapper but dotty dogs and one laid-back lizard. (She is also trying to sneak in a dairy cow.)
“For years, I have been telling friends and family these funny animal stories about what all of my critters get up to, and everyone kept saying to me, ‘you’ve got to write this down’. It was always a bit of a joke,” says Linda.
“Then myself and a friend went up to Monaghan to pick up these two little pigs, and it ended up in the most hilarious caper, which is what this book is about. It’s based on the story of going to pick up these two actual pigs, a brother and sister.”
Zinnia (pictured below) and her brother were about eight months old at the time, and a good deal larger, and stronger, than their new owner was expecting. The story of trying to get them home – and of Zinnia’s super-porcine antics in particular – was so funny, and so endearing, that Linda just knew that children would love to hear it.
But Zinnia’s story, possibly the first of many, would never have been told if it wasn’t for Linda’s ability to see personality in all living things and to encourage those personalities to come out.
Swearing that pigs are more intelligent than dogs, Linda says Zinnia and her brother love to do tricks, and they will sit at her command. In fact, Linda is constantly policing their efforts to outsmart her. No matter what elaborate barriers she erects to reinforce her farm’s boundary (including shop signs, tyres and even an upturned boat), they find ways to break out and run over the hills to neighbours’ farms. Intriguingly, Zinnia has elected Thursdays to be Pig Reconnaissance Mission Days – the days she will work hard at escaping to snout out the next adventure. If successful, she sneaks her brother out on the Friday for a newly discovered escapade.    
While the pigs’ antics keep Linda on her toes, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I really feel that when animals have free space they come into their own. My animals are not confined, they only have the exterior of the farm as a boundary and everybody runs around together inside of that – I think that’s how you get to see their personalities, how they relate to one another and what they get up to.
“And they all have personalities, right down to the chickens. The chickens are hilarious, when I come home, if it’s not past their bedtime, they come running down the driveway with the pigs – it’s hysterical, it’s like they’re holding up their skirts and racing for me!”
Linda, who is originally from Wisconsin in the US, first came to Ireland nearly 30 years ago. She has been living at her Westport farm, which she shares with her partner, Chris, for 24 years. As a child in a Wisconsin townhouse, she would dream of keeping animals. She kept chickens and ducks in the garage, and she would beg her parents to move to a farm, like the one owned by her maternal grandparents, who were originally from Finland.
After she graduated from high school, Linda left Wisconsin to study Animal Science and Chemistry at Iowa State University. Naturally, she chose to stay in the college dorm that was located next to a cattle barn – “The dorm nobody else would take!” she chuckles. “When I opened the window in the morning I got the ‘proper’ smells … I was in a cow-milking contest and everything – it was great!”
After spending some time in Minnesota, she eventually wound up in Nebraska, where she had a horse farm. There, she bred quarter horses (originally bred for working cattle on ranches), and had 50 mares at a time and four stallions. “I loved it, it was my dream job, farming all day. It’s what I’m happiest at.”
While she was in Nebraska the idea of coming to Ireland took hold. Eventually, after she had moved east to Connecticut (where she was self-employed in medical sales), a summer came free. She seized the day and crossed the Atlantic.
After hitching across Ireland with a ‘huge’ suitcase precariously balanced on a trolley, she landed in Clifden, where she spent a few years before heading north and settling in Westport. She now runs Leaping Lizard gift shop on Bridge Street and a rental business, Western Homes & Holidays.
She also opened a steak house in Westport “during the hard times”, but it ran into trouble and closed. Spurned on by a refusal to fail, and suppliers she needs to ‘make good’, Linda keeps moving forward. A master of reinvention with a nose for adventure, one can’t help but wonder if in fact it is she who is the super-hero, and Zinnia’s only trotting after her, watching and learning.

‘Zinnia, Warrior Princess Pig’, by Linda Newman, is launching in the Clew Bay Hotel, Westport, at 6.30pm this Thursday, April 4 – the last day of an exhibition of artworks by Paul Bordiss, whose illustrations are found throughout the book.

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PIG WITH PERSONALITY Zinnia, at home on Linda Newman's Westport farm.