Monthly Archives: May 2015

My first picture book


Come and hear the story of Betty the Fairy on 6th June 2015 at Waterstones, Canterbury Rose Lane, Canterbury 12pm. Make paper flowers, decorate fairy wings and eat special cup cakes! All welcome!

I am so excited about this coming weekend – as my very first picture book, with GORGEOUS illustrations by the wonderful Rosalind Beardshaw, will be published by Nosy Crow Publishers this week and we will launch it on Saturday.  I absolutely love the fact that I imagined a little fairy struggling to put her vest on – and Rosalind brought her to life in the most lovable way imaginable. You can see the truth of these words by ‘reading inside’ – just go to this blog post on the Nosy Crow website:

I love being paired with Rosalind – I feel I can show off about ‘The Fairiest Fairy’ until the cows come home – and even when they are safely tucked up in their cow sheds – and then when they set off again the next day – because I defy anyone not to think that, thanks to Rosalind, Betty is the sweetest fairy ever!  I am so proud that Nosy Crow loved my story and enabled it to be brought to life in picture book form – and I hope that the children and adults who read it will love Betty – and themselves – more after reading it! (hardback)

Dreams coming true.

When I was a child I asked Father Christmas for a dog every year. I also, throughout the year, asked my mum and dad for a dog too. My mum, who had grown up on a small farm in the West of Ireland but who had never bonded with her father’s sheepdogs, always said ‘no’. She pointed out that we lived on a council estate with a small garden, and it wasn’t fair to a dog – that they should have fields to roam in. My dad, who had spent his childhood in a small village in the midlands of Ireland in the 1930s truanting from school and taking various dogs with him to catch rabbits, wanted a dog too. Every Saturday afternoon he would go upstairs to have a nap, and when I would go to wake him up for tea he would tell me two ‘secrets’ 1) that we were going back to live in Ireland and 2) that we were going to have a a dog.  I remember once coming down to tell my mum that ‘Daddy says we are going to live in Ireland and we are going to have a dog’. ‘Hmm, does he?’ said Mum, and that was the end of it.

To be fair to my mum there were various very important reasons – not least my severely disabled brother’s needs – which meant that going back to Ireland would have been difficult.

Still, I never gave up the dream, and although I knew that a dog would not be coming from Mum or Dad, I had great confidence in Father Christmas. So much so that when, one year when I was 6 or 7, I found a box with ‘My name is Scruffy’ on it, I was absolutely sure it would be a puppy. I took off the lid of the box and found – a pyjama case dog.

I had a moment of sick disappointment when I realised he wasn’t a real puppy but, like Lucy in ‘Lucy’s Secret Reindeer’, I knew it wasn’t his fault and didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I knew he wasn’t the dog  I had wanted, but he was mine, and I loved him. He was my constant companion throughout my childhood, and then became my children’s toy, although always ‘on loan’ from me.

Here he is:


Here he is  under his own name in ‘Lucy’s Secret Reindeer’


So, let’s rush forward to my 40th year. I was married, with four children, and I had a lovely husband. I had spent my life, before getting married at the age of 30, in rented accommodation where I could not have a dog, and somehow after marriage, in the rush of having four children close together, the idea of getting a dog receded. We had a rabbit and a guineapig, but no dogs.

Suddenly it hit me. I was never going to get a dog. It seemed ridiculous, as I had so much else in my life, but when I heard my mother, now elderly, telling my husband that dogs and children didn’t mix, and him agreeing that he couldn’t see how we would manage one, I suddenly couldn’t bear it. I felt doomed. It sounds very over dramatic, but I suddenly felt very depressed at the thought that I would live and die without ever having had my own dog, but too embarrassed, in the light of world suffering etc, to tell anyone. It seemed so trivial and yet it felt so important.

But this has a happy ending.

I told my lovely friend Jane, and she told me to tell my lovely husband, who was surprised at the depth of my misery, but very understanding and said that of course we should get one if I felt so strongly about it. We tried to adopt from a rescue Centre, but were advised that as the children were still small we’d be better off getting a known dog, whose parents and temperament and history we could be sure of, and so Jane ended up buying a golden retriever puppy for me. We paid her back every month, but she told us not to pay the last instalment as that was the tail, and that was her present to me for my 40th birthday.

And he was and is gorgeous, and appears in ‘Dog Ears’. His name is Timmy. I love him to bits and my children are always saying how glad they are that they have grown up with him.


Then, a few years later, I met the writer Katie Fforde when she was teaching on an Arvon writing course I was a student on, and she told me about her Cavalier King Charles spaniels, and we joked about me getting one of her puppies if her spaniel ever had any.

And a few years later, puppies arrived.

Katie started putting up pictures of her puppies on her twitter feed and telling funny stories about them. And I kept showing them to my family and my husband said ‘Anne – would you like one for your birthday?’

And I felt very selfish but I knew that I really, really did. And, 7 years after we got Timmy, my lovely husband got me another puppy. I now had not one, but TWO dogs. Talk about dreams coming true.


His name is Ben. And maybe because he was born into a writer’s home, he seems to have had a transforming effect on my career. As soon as he arrived I started getting short stories published, won a prize for flash fiction, got my picture book accepted with Nosy Crow and then got my marvellous agent and all my other books to date published etc.

And yesterday I decided to look at the old companion of my childhood dreams, my dog who was not a dog, but did his best, and comforted me throughout my childhood, and I brought him downstairs and put him next to Ben.

Photo on 18-05-2015 at 21.28

Do you see any connection?



11.53 Saturday 16th May. After the surgery comes a little bit of Hope.

Well, I’m back from going to the surgery of my newly elected (with an increased majority of 2,000) Conservative MP. Thank you to any of you who prayed for me or sent me positive thoughts.  I think it really helped.

I was really nervous. I was shown into a waiting room by a very polite man and had to fill out my name and address and why I was coming. My reason was impact of cuts on vulnerable, particularly carers, young carers and disabled.

Then my MP asked me to come into another room to talk to him.

I told my MP about how I was a carer for 5 years until last May and how hard it was, and how because my parents didn’t see me as a carer but just as a dutiful daughter, and because I had no idea my caring duties would last that long, that for 3 years I didn’t even get carers’ allowance and my husband and I, with four children to support, used up most of our savings making up the shortfall in our finances . I told him about how a charity funded by the Govt (I think)  identified me as a carer and helped me fill in the form to apply for carer’s allowance, which I got for 2 years before my Mum died, and a month or so after. I told him that even though I was educated the form was v hard emotionally for a carer to fill in and I could not have done it without the support of that service and he made a note. I told him how that same service was undercut by another provider who had obviously claimed they could support carers cheaper, and I had not seen them at all. He made lots of notes and I really felt that he was listening. I told him how hard emotionally it was to be a carer.

He really, genuinely listened.

Then I told him about young carers. I told him there were young carers registered as young as 5. That in The Children’s Society photographic exhibition there was a picture of a girl who learnt to give insulin injections at the age of 3. I told him we don’t send children down mines or into mills or up chimneys any more and we shouldn’t have them doing this terribly hard job and that the nation certainly didn’t have the right to get children to help save money on social care.

I know we don’t agree about some things and we interpret things in a different way. I told him one of the reasons I couldn’t vote for him on May 7th was because of the cuts in the welfare budget and the way the Govt would not say where they were coming from, which was cruel. He said he is concerned about the debt he feels was inherited from the previous Labour Govt and the cost of public spending, for example. I said I’d prefer to spend more taxes. He feels Ian Duncan Smith has been v unfairly vilified and is a v responsible man who wants to empower people. He considers that it is  the poor who have been most adversely affected by immigration and the undercutting of wages etc, and he does have a point, although we didn’t have time to discuss the role of the free market and employers in this. I think it is good for me to hear different points of view. And it is notable that he told me the first person who came to his surgery to ask for help which he is going to try to give, was from Eastern Europe. I am sure he is going to help him or her. The elderly lady before me, who I overheard was having a hard time being hassled by some neighbours, seemed very relieved after seeing him.

But what I really appreciated was that he made notes about the registered 5 year old and he is going to a) Contact Jeremy Hunt to ask about what the Government is doing to support young carers and b) find out how young carers in our constituency are being supported and try to help them more himself. I said I felt that they shouldn’t be doing the job at all, and I also asked him to look up what The Children’s Society have found out about young carers. I do believe he genuinely is going to try to get involved.

I gave him ‘Dog Ears’ and pointed out the links to The Children’s Society at the back, and ‘Girl with a White Dog’ in reference to the language used by the press. He insisted on buying ‘Girl with a White Dog’ and ‘Dog Ears’ from me, and when I tried to argue his son,who was sitting in on the surgery, said actually, legally, he had to as otherwise he would be accepting gifts.

So I sold two books – an unexpected bonus!

I gave the £15.00 to my daughter and it has paid for her piano lesson this week.

Which reminds me, I must ask him about free Music lessons in schools and tell him it is unfair that those from poorer homes are effectively excluded from learning an instrument…

I hope that this post does not seem too sickly sweet or complacent.  I do know I am very relieved at the courtesy and politeness shown me and also that I didn’t say anything I regret, but I hope it doesn’t seem that I think someone buying my books and being nice and listening to me is enough to make me change my political views. I know that political change doesn’t come about being ‘nice’. I know that cosy chats are not the same as hard disciplined campaigning. I still am a Christian on the Left and I think things need to change in this country.

But if being nice is too anodyne, what good does all the not being nice do? What good has it done? All the F**** and cynicism and hating and sneering online?  All the RT and offensive ‘satirical’ cartoons and  denunciations in the twitter and Facebook bubbles – all the refusal to talk to anyone who voted for or who believes something different from us? What did that result in? Did that actually help anyone? It certainly didn’t seem to get through to the electorate and now we have the prospect of more cuts and the repeal of the Human Rights Act and other things we don’t like, and young carers and others still need help. in ‘Girl with a White Dog’ I talk about colluding with people in power doing evil things, but I also talk about demonising people. That also applies to demonising people  in parties we disagree with.

I know I am lucky in that although I do not belong to the same political party as my MP, I go to the same church and he recognised my face and that made the meeting a little easier. I know how hard working he is and how respected he is. I know he is a very good constituency MP. Maybe some people reading this have horrible MPs and can’t go to talk to them.

But please, if you think your MP may be at all decent can you give them the benefit of the doubt? For the first time since this election I feel a bit more hopeful. I know it is only a small thing, but I feel that democracy still works. That there are good people in every party, that there are good MPs and it is possible to make some small change for the good, and that mutual respect and politeness can help make a difference. At least, it’s better than despair.

10.45 Saturday 16th May.

So. In two hours time I will be attending my first ever appointment at an M.P.’s surgery. I have 15 minutes to talk to him, and I have decided to talk about the plight of carers – particularly young carers, give him my book ‘Dog Ears’ and talk about the awful effect of welfare ‘reforms’ and assessments on the disabled. I may give him ‘Girl with a White Dog’ and ask him to think about the role of the press too. There’s a lot to fit in to 15 minutes.

I am feeling rather nervous because of the dangers: The danger that this is all some sort of ego trip for me, something to tweet about (and blog about!) but won’t make any difference The danger that I will lose my temper and wave my arms about & make some sweeping generalisation which will make my MP not respect what I am talking about. Or that we have a stand up row. The danger that I do the opposite, that I will be intimidated and not say anything. Or apologise for nothing and undermine my own arguments. If anyone reading this prays then please can you say a prayer for this meeting? If you don’t pray please send kind thoughts/vibes. I am going to pray that the Holy Spirit is with us and will create an atmosphere of Peace. I am going to pray that the Holy Spirit will give me courage but also self control, and also will bless my Conservative M.P., whose party I do not agree with but who has given up his morning to see constituents and is very hard working.

My husband believes strongly that nobody should feel they have to say who they voted for – that the right to keep who you voted for private was hard won and should be treasured. I think he is right. But for me, I would like to say something. I notice on my twitter feed lots of swearing and lots of judgemental stuff about anyone who voted Conservative. I did NOT vote Conservative this last election. This time last week I was preparing to go to the London radical Booksellers’ Fair and be a shortlisted author for The Little Rebels Award. Pretty left -wing, eh?

But the election before last I DID vote for my MP. I live in a safe Conservative seat, a constituency with a very large Conservative majority and I didn’t believe my vote would make any difference to whether he was voted back in or not. I was angry with New Labour about Iraq and the way that they didn’t listen to anyone, and I wanted them to see one less Labour vote to wake them up. (you can see why I need prayers!) I also felt that my MP was extremely hard working and was v grateful to him for campaigning in support of our local hospital. I saw him (but didn’t speak to him) in the congregation at mass on Sundays and knew he took his job and duties very seriously. I didn’t expect Labour to lose the election. I felt very shocked. My MP was returned as expected, and I knew that my vote hadn’t made a difference, but I felt guilty. So for five years I have been writing to him every now and then. I’ve written to him about the proposed sell off of the forests, about asylum seekers, the Middle east – I can’t really remember what I have written about, but I know he always answers in detail and we rarely agree. I have also written to him when my elderly dad was treated really badly and left in pain in our local hospital A & E and he was brilliant about it – really supportive. I have had a brief discussion with him on the doorstep but never a proper conversation. I don’t know if he connects my letters with my face, but I know that I have never spoken to him at church because this is sacred space and I feel he works very hard all week and needs to be left alone when praying.

I feel much better having said that. I haven’t wanted to be exposed to online abuse about once having voted Conservative, but I have felt a hypocrite these last years. I also really want to stop this demonisation by some on the Left of anyone who votes for a party we don’t agree with. Speaking as someone who has just joined the Labour party, I don’t want to say people who didn’t vote for them were stupid or callous or racist. Even those who voted UKIP (see ‘Girl with a White Dog’ for my opinions on racism) do not deserve contempt. Policies can be worthy of contempt – people, never. And if you despise voters, why should they change their mind and be persuaded by you to vote otherwise? My MP is genuinely trying to do good. I now so utterly disagree with his party that I could not vote for him, but I still respect him.

And I also feel immeasurably better about Politics because I have joined Christians on the Left. Since I joined Labour I have been feeling very depressed. I was worrying that really, temperamentally, I am more of a soft Conservative – a respectable church-going law abiding person who wants to do good. This may sound silly, but I really am shocked by a all the swearing and hate and bile and often openly anti-religious stuff that some people who identify as Left in the twitter sphere seem to indulge in. I believe in God. I pray. I think religion has brought great blessings to the world and I object both to it being hijacked by extremists and jeered at by ignorant educated people. I was beginning to feel that I had no place in the party I had joined. But the trouble is, I feel passionately about public services. I don’t agree with the NHHS being privatised. I think workers’ rights are essential. I knew that even if temperamentally I might be like a certain type of Conservative, my political beliefs seem to be left wing. And this was confirmed again when I went to the Little Rebels award last week and met such wonderful people (like Natalie Bennet) who were just kind and brave and public-spirited and non-materialistic and lovely and whose political beliefs seem to have integrity and congruence with who they are. Then someone told me about Christians on the Left and I felt this huge sense of relief. I can’t wait to get involved. No one will jeer at me for praying – in fact, prayer is at the centre of it , and hopefully nobody will think it is Ok to demonise those in other parties. .

So, to cut a long story short. I am going, as a Roman Catholic Christian on the Left, to visit my Catholic MP and I am nervous I will lose my temper and say nasty things or be too shy and not speak at all, so I need God’s help. I want to go as a religious duty because I believe that Jesus is in each person, and some people, like the disabled or sick or young carers, are suffering more than others in my country at this time and I must use my education and gifts to speak out for them. I need prayers because I can easily burn out and I am a quiet writer, rather than a politician.

I also know that giving up 15 minutes to talk to an MP I know is a good, hardworking man isn’t that big of a deal and I was wondering if you, whether you are religious or not, might consider doing the same and talk directly to your elected representative, whether you voted for him or her or not, about young carers, or those on benefit sanctions, or library closures or whatever you care about ? It was easy to make the appointment – I just rang his office. Which reminds me – it is exactly an hour’s time and I am not dressed yet. Bye!


I am sharing this on my blog post- election as I think it is absolutely beautiful and something to meditate on. Thank you Elli.

Taking Words for a Stroll

Far from the noise and the rush-dash-haste,

And the suits, and the boots, and the greyness and waste,

Far from the concrete, the right-angled walls,

The slickness, the brickness, as hope fades and falls,

Far from the hollow of thrusting ambition,

Far from the rubble of lost opposition,

Far from exhaust, and from smog-clogged-up sorrow,

There stands a small place that is known as tomorrow;

A very small place where the wind is still blowing,

And there, in the air, a flower is growing.

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