Being a veterinarian came easily to James Alfred Wight. Becoming a writer, however, was less of a straight line. Wight, who adopted the pen name James Herriot, whiled away his days in the stables and fields of Yorkshire by telling stories and scribbling down anecdotes of his experiences. Herriot learned to type, studied how-to-write books, and endured the rejection of multiple manuscripts before he finally published his first book, a memoir of sorts called If Only They Could Talk, in 1970, when he was well into his 50s. Ultimately, Herriot went on to publish eight books, selling more than 60 million copies in 26 different languages.

His subject matter mostly hewed to the adventures of a blithe country vet who often accepted slices of chocolate cake in lieu of payment, and his books so successfully tapped into the British psyche that, in 1977, they were adapted to create All Creatures Great and Small, a successful TV series that ran on the BBC until 1990.