It was 22nd March 2017, and I was sitting in one of the living rooms at Kensington Palace waiting for the arrival of HRH Prince Harry. Not your average Wednesday. Even more surreal given that I’d returned to work only a few weeks previously after having my first child.
I was working at The Telegraph newspaper at the time, and had gone to the Palace with journalist Bryony Gordon to record the first episode of her new podcast ‘Mad World’. Focusing on issues of mental health, it intended to illustrate to the listening audience why sometimes in life, it’s perfectly normal to feel weird. In an unprecedented move, Prince Harry had reached out to Bryony after she’d agreed to run the marathon for his charity ‘Heads Together’.
During the following half an hour, he spoke for the first time about the impact of his mother, Princess Diana’s, death on his own mental health; it was an interview so impactful it made headlines around the globe when it was released a few weeks later, and has gone on to be downloaded and listened to millions of times worldwide.
Mental health also happened to be playing a big part in my life at the time. Having relocated to Bicester from London, when my husband and I had our daughter in 2016 there was a limited support network around us with our respective families living further afield. Despite attending local baby groups and joining NCT, like many parents I found myself struggling with the demands of a new-born and the day-to-day balances of life.
It was when I returned to work that the ‘mum guilt’ really kicked in, I knew my career was something I had to do to retain my personal sanity – it was very subjective, but it didn’t make it any easier.
That’s when I decided to start writing a story for my daughter Florence on my commute between Bicester North and London Marylebone. Keen to focus on issues of friendship, kindness and mental health for young children, so that I’d be able to use the story as an easy introduction to these themes to Florence when she was older.
Thus ‘Townie Spider’ was born, the story of a spider who curls up in a huge, dark, comfy space to sleep, not realising that it’s the wing-mirror of a car… When he wakes-up, he’s on a farm in the middle of the countryside; alone and unsure what to do, he quickly finds some new friends to look after him in his new home.
It’s a lovely rhyming tale for young readers, if you / the children in your life love the likes of Roald Dahl’s ‘Revolting Rhymes’, David Walliams, Tom Fletcher and Julia Donaldson then this is definitely for you.
When I’d finished writing the book, I took a rather scattergun approach in approaching publishers – a lot of them quickly responded saying that they didn’t take on children books, as it was quite a niche area.
However not to be despondent, I persevered for several months and thankfully a dialogue was soon opened with Olympia Publishers. They asked to see example images that I intended to illustrate my writing. Having naively not considered that this would be part of the selection criteria, also slightly panicked, after several searches and recommendations I was able to call upon the expert drawing skills of Ian R. Ward, and worked very closely with him to bring Townie to life.
Opening the box of books when they arrived nearly 2 years after having put pen to paper to write my story was incredibly surreal. I was holding in my hands the dreams of not only myself as an author, but the hope that the story could and would be read and acknowledged by children the world over. It was quite a moment.
As far as my ‘day job’ was concerned, at the Telegraph we went on to interview the likes of Mel C, Will Young, Stephen Fry, Fearne Cotton, Matt Haig and Frank Bruno; as well as mental health nurses, campaigners and entrepreneurs. The podcast itself has been shortlisted twice in the Mind Media Awards in 2017 and 2018, as well as playing an instrumental part in the ‘Campaign of the Year’ win for the Telegraph at the Press Awards in 2017.
I was also personally acknowledged for my work and recognised with a ‘Women of the Future’ Award in November 2018 – the awards seek to recognise inspirational ‘stars of tomorrow’ across diverse sectors; those making a distinctive, unusual, innovative contribution in their field and committed as acting as a role model to others.
But I have to admit, nothing quite compares to being Florence’s mum.
‘Townie Spider’ is available to order now from Amazon and www.towniespider.com