I was introduced to Footrot Flats on my first trip to New Zealand in 1997, and came home with four books mainly for reading on the plane home. Upon my return there eight years later, I trawled around every bookshop I found on my travels to pick up the remaining 23 books, plus a few weekend specials.
Although I don't know the first thing about sheep farming, by immersing myself in the antics of Wal Footrot and his ragtag band of buddies down at their Te Urewera sheep farm, I feel as if I'm there, trekking through the mud and clipping dags to my heart's content!
There's overbearing Aunt Dolly, drippy neighbour Cooch Windgrass, Major the Pigdog, Cecil the geriatric ram and his oversexed replacement Sid the Id, Horse the psycho cat and last but definitely not least, Dog the faithful border collie with plenty of brains but definitely no brawn!
I couldn't help having a few tears earlier this evening when I heard the news. I'll be raising a glass or two to Mr Ball over the weekend - only the best New Zealand wine, of course.