Q: First tell us something about yourself?
I’m 35 and live in the UK with my 8-year-old daughter, Erin. Family life is so important to me and we are a remarkably close family. I was born in South Africa and moved back to the UK when I was 9 years old. I had always aspired to be a teacher of some sort. I really discovered my love of reading when I was at high school and had a fabulous English teacher. It was from that point on that I decided to become an English teacher in secondary school. I trained hard, got a degree in English and then went on to get my teaching qualifications.
Q: How and when your journey started as a writer?
I started my career in teaching secondary school English at a school in Rochdale but moved to special educational needs teaching in 2016. I am currently on a career break. During the lockdown, I have taken some time to write. I have always wanted to write; write anything if it made a difference in some way. Whether that was to make someone smile or make someone think. Strangely most of my ideas come to me when I am going to sleep, so I often write them down in my phone or in a notebook so I can expand them in the morning.
I had always love to read books to my daughter and it was always something she really enjoyed, and still does. When she was younger, we would read together each night, often children’s picture books, and it was just such a special thing that we did each evening. We still love to read together, but these days, we share the reading. Sometimes we even rap the books; It’s just a pleasure for us. The books I would read to her would often make me think, I’d love to write a book. So, one day, during lockdown, I just thought why not. I just wanted to write something down. It was my work in special educational needs and my own personal experience that made me want to write about mental health.
Q: When did you write your first story? Is it published or not?
As an avid reader, I felt there was a slight lack in children’s books that focused on the range of mental health illnesses that are on the rise in children. I really wanted something that I could develop as a story but could also stand alone as its own book. I wanted each book to focus on a different mental health illness, but with the continuation of characters. So, I wrote ‘Daniel’s Dream’. When Daniel goes to sleep at night, he goes on different adventures. It is in his dreams that he comes across a monster village. He meets Dex, one of the monsters, and realises that all is not as it seems. It is left to Daniel to help the monsters. It is a beautiful story about friendship, acceptance, and kindness. The first book is an introduction to the characters and sees Daniel helping one of the monsters. The future books in the series, will still see Daniel as the main character, but each book will deal with a different mental health illness. Daniel’s Dream is the first book I have written, and I am busy writing the other books in the series. I have also written a story about the affects of plastic on the beaches and a story about healthy eating.
The first book in the series, Daniel’s Dreams: Monster Mountain is out now. I have published the book myself. It was produced by Bear with Us Productions but I have put it out in the world of books on my own. I am not yet attached to a publishing house. My book is available on Amazon in countries across the world and can also be bought from my website www.dreambelieveread.co.uk
Q: Tell us something more about your books?
The next book is the second in the series of Daniel’s Dreams which will focus on Depression. We will meet a character called Preston who suffers with depressions. His monster friends find it hard to understand why he is behaving the way he does. They feel that Preston let us him down a lot. Daniel tries to understand what is going on with Preston and gets the monsters to show more understanding. Daniel, too, needs to understand what depression is so that he can take this back the ‘real world’ where he wants to help his friends and next-door neighbour, Josie.
The book is currently in the process of being finished off before it goes to editing and then production. I am hoping it should be out and available later this year, 2021.
Since writing the first book in the series of Daniel’s Dreams, I have also produced a mental health wellbeing book for children. It has over 100 pages of activities and guidance for those suffering with a mental health issue. It is great to use for parents, caregivers, educators and professionals. That too is available on Amazon and on my website www.dreambelieveread.co.uk
Q: Why do you choose kids as your reader ? is there any specific reason?
My inspiration is twofold. My daughter inspires me to write. She has such a creative and imaginative mind and I adore how innocent her thinking can be. The idea of her going to different places and putting on accents when she is playing filled me with such joy. I wanted other children to experience these feelings when they read my books. Reading is something that we have always done together since she was a little girl. It is something she loves to do and it’s a nice moment in the day where everything is just focused on where stories will take us. When we read together, I often wonder if I could write books like the ones we read together. As an English teacher, it was always something I wanted to do, but when the Pandemic hit and the world came to a stop, I took the opportunity to sit down and write something in the hope that it would be enjoyed and that it would help children all over the world. I always hope to make my daughter proud, and if she enjoys the stories, I write then I am making progress with my dreams.
My second inspiration was children in general. I had always wanted to help children, which is why I became a teacher. When teaching became more about data and ticking the right boxes than it did about the children, I decided to leave my teaching job in a secondary school and joined a special educational needs school. It was there that I was able to be of more help, but I wanted to help more. It was evident that children were suffering more than ever with their mental health and that they need a way of understanding. It was important to me to help children with mental health, as I too have suffered with mental health, and know just how difficult it can be to understand and to express. If I can help one child understand mental health, then I am on my way to accomplishing just what I wanted.
Q: How did these stories and characters come to your mind?
My journey took me to working in a special educational needs school, which I loved. This was it; this was my moment to make some helpful impact on a child. It was evident when I started at the school that my help didn’t have to be academic. It could be something as simple as listening to a child, giving them a hug, or letting them experience something that we take for granted in everyday life, but something they had never experienced. It was my life in this section of education that opened my eyes to how so many children struggle with mental health. It was so evident that children couldn’t recognise their feelings as mental health, and they were unable to cope with the feelings. It was for this reason; I wrote Daniel’s Dream: Monster Mountain.
Using Lockdown for something productive, I decided to start Daniel’s Dream. My idea was that if it reached one child, then I will have achieved something. The intention of writing Daniel’s Dreams is to raise awareness for the variety of mental health issues that arise for children. The whole premise of the book is that it will become a series of books. The first book ‘Monster Mountain’ introduces the main characters and a general idea of anxiety and fear. Future books will see the characters come together but will mainly focus on one mental health issue per book.
I wanted to use the idea of mental health being compared to the idea of monsters in your head. When Daniel meets the monsters, he realises that monsters are not all mean and that some just need help with their issues. The characters are designed around the premise of their mental health issue. So, their colours, names, features and personality all represent the mental health issue they are linked to.
Once a child reads one of my books, which ever in the series that may be, I hope that it teaches them that it is ok to not be ok, that there are lots of people who have mental health issues and the more it is talked about the more awareness there is; I hope that children can identify coping strategies, that they can use the breathing techniques and grounding exercises and then apply them to everyday life. If this can bring some impact on their own mental health issues, then we are starting to win the fight against childhood mental health illnesses. I hope that children enjoy the first one enough to want to buy the next in the series, which I am currently writing.
Writing isn’t easy; finding ideas that can be sustained and enjoyable for children can be a task. You constantly question has this been done before? How will my work stand out above the rest? But I found my solace in writing. I found it an escape in times of unhappiness. I, too, have suffered with mental health issues and they can be tough to battle even with the most gusto you can muster up. My own mental health has been one of my biggest challenges over the last two years. Some days, I don’t recognise who I am now and how to become ‘me’ again. So, writing allowed my mind time to be creative and escape its own monsters. I sit, usually with a cup of tea, open my laptop and let my fingers do the work. I like to just write and write until my fingers stop and my mind is emptied completely of its ideas. It is then that I go over it and edit my ideas, add to them, or move things round a bit. I like to develop my characters and descriptions further too. It is in the weirdest of places that my ideas tend to come, develop or I can elaborate further; often in the shower or just as I am about to sleep. The number of random notes of ideas I have either on my phone or written is astronomical. But it works for me and I love it. It is when I am most creative.
As a budding writer, I also use the environment around me to encourage my creativity. I have a remarkably close family; my daughter, niece and nephews play a large part in me coming up with ideas, or descriptions or even humours moments. It is these that I take away and develop in the hope that I can bring them to life in a book for other children. My daughter is a huge inspiration for what I do now, and the most satisfying moment is her reading the entire first book and saying ‘Mummy, I am so proud of you’. Moments like that are priceless, especially from her. Everything I do, I do with her at the forefront of my mind.
Writing isn’t always easy! For me, you are putting your heart, mind, and soul on a page for all to see, judge and comment on. It is a scary process. I don’t believe it is only me that can feel this way about their work. Most authors must suffer a case of insecurity; is my work good enough, did I miss something, will everyone like it and will it achieve the intended purpose? During times of doubt, I try to remember that all I want to do is help children. If I can do this, then the rest that comes with releasing a book is just a bonus. Yes, it will be judged, but the most important audience to me are children; Let’s face it – they are brutally honest.
I hope that my book reaches you somewhere and that enjoy reading as much as I have enjoyed writing.
Q: Do you want to give any message for your readers?
Children’s mental health is really important to me. I have worked with children who have suffered with mental health but have been unable to articulate how they feel and how to understand their feelings. It is easier to show a physical illness than it is a mental illness, so I wanted children to know that they are not alone and that there are numerous people out their suffering with a mental illness, and that there are thousands of people wanting to help. I hoped my books would go some way to explaining why a child might feel the way they do and how they can deal with those feelings. My hope is to continue to write books for the series of Daniel’s Dreams, focusing on one mental illness at a time. This will be done through the idea of Daniel returning to Monster Mountain and meeting previous monsters and new ones.