I was born and grew up in a small town called Weymouth, on the south coast of England. My family was from Wales, and I inherited from them a love of stories. As a child, I spent most of my time either reading or writing. From an early age I started making books (and even a monthly magazine for witches) with my own stories and pictures in them. I took this very seriously, and was quite determined that I would be an author when I grew up.
All I needed to keep me happy was a pile of books to read (I was a regular visitor to our local library), some blank paper, a pencil and some felt tip pens that hadn’t run out.
In the end, I didn’t become an author – at least, not straight away. I went to Newcastle University in the north of England to study French and Spanish, and in between being a student there I spent time in France, Spain and Cuba, where I learned to dance salsa and once queued for 4 hours for an ice-cream. After graduating, I trained as a secondary school teacher and headed out to Mexico City with an open ticket and no job. Luckily, I found a job teaching French in an International school, and I ended up staying in Mexico for four years, before returning to the UK to do a Masters in Film and Television Production at Bristol University. After a lot of fun helping young people in Bristol make films (but not making much money), I returned to teaching for a few years, working with refugees and asylum seekers and then teaching Spanish at the University of the West of England.
During this time, I met Thomas Docherty, who had recently started illustrating his own books. It was Tom who encouraged me to start writing stories again, and we co-wrote the book Ruby Nettleship and the Ice Lolly Adventure (Templar, 2010). In the summer of 2011 I wrote my first ever rhyming story, The Snatchabook (Alison Green Books, 2013).
Tom and I got married in 2008 and we now live in Swansea, Wales, with our two daughters and a cat called Cadi.
Looking back, I’m glad that I ended up learning languages, living abroad and working for many years as a teacher… before I finally became an author!
Nowadays, I love going into schools to tell my stories to children and inspire them to write stories of their own. Working with Thomas Docherty through Storyopolis, I’ve helped lots of children in Swansea create their very own Book in a Day. You can read some of their fantastic stories by following this link to my Storyopolis page. (Bio via helendocherty.com)
Profile image and "About" sections from helendocherty.com
It’s definitely a collaborative process, though it varies from book to book. With some stories, like The Storybook Knight, Tom has given me lots of ideas and we’ve discussed them in detail before I started writing; with others, I’ve written the text alone first (although Tom is always the first person I read a new story to - he gives excellent feedback). When Tom is preparing to illustrate one of our books, we discuss the characters together first, and how we imagine them to look. Then, when he is doing the illustrations, he always asks me for constructive criticism (though of course I’m not looking over his shoulder the whole time!). We’re very lucky that we get to work together on something we both love.
I get very excited when I’ve come up with an idea that feels strong and original (it doesn’t happen every day, believe me!). I also love writing in rhyme; it’s a bit like solving a puzzle, finding the right rhymes to tell the story.
That’s right; while I had my heart set on becoming an author when I was a child, at some point I realised that I needed to experience a bit more of life first. I studied languages (French and Spanish), and this took me abroad - to France, Spain, Cuba and Mexico, where I spent four years. I worked as a teacher for many years, and I also did a Masters in Film & TV Production, where I learned the art of crafting a narrative (which was to come in useful later!). It was Tom who rekindled my desire to write; we co-wrote a book when our first daughter was a baby: Ruby Nettleship and the Ice Lolly Adventure.
It’s such a joy when a story gets commissioned, and we find it easy to work together. The most challenging aspect is dealing with the lows of rejection or frustration which any writer or artist has to face; since we work together at home, we tend to soak up each other’s moods. Going out for a walk or run helps...or sharing some cake!
We both love walking, and we are very lucky to live near a beautiful coastline (the Gower). I recently did a 22 mile coast path charity walk (the Gower Macmarathon). We have also both been learning Welsh (not in the same class) for the last four years - our daughters go to Welsh medium school. It’s a challenging language to learn!
We never (or hardly ever) skip bedtime stories; the trick is to make it an indispensable part of the daily routine that everyone looks forward to, right from when the kids are really young. Even though our girls are older now and read on their own as well, they still love listening to a good story. At the moment, I’m reading them The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken.