Updated: Sep 30, 2020
What is Poppy On Safari?
What is it about?
Why is it so special?
How did it all begin?
Answering these questions is easy:
Poppy On Safari is a middle-grade children's book. It's all about a dog called Poppy who finds herself lost in a Safari Park. It's special for a number of reasons but first and foremost because it's my first published book. Secondly, it's my dream come true.
It all came to fruition one day whilst travelling around a Safari Park.
If I delve deeper, I'm sure you'll understand that the importance of this book goes way, way beyond those three quick answers I've written above.
Would you like me to share with you the story behind Poppy On Safari?
OK then, here we go...
WARNING! Some parts of this story is a tear-jerker but please bear with.🙂
I guess you could say it all began back in December 2005 when I suffered a miscarriage. It was a horrible time in our life. My husband Mark was by my side throughout the whole horrible process of letting go of what would have been our third child and second son.
It's not something we will ever forget, nor want to. Sam will always be our boy and although we never actually got to kiss and cuddle him, he was still a part of us and our family.
I promise that this is not a sad story - honestly! Well, not entirely. It's one of many ups and downs but don't forget this all ends with a published book and one that brings a lot of smiles, happiness and enjoyment to all ages.
In 2005 I was working for a local primary school. Sam died just before Christmas so my recuperation was throughout the festive holiday.
It wasn't all tears. With our two children, our son not quite four years old and our daughter only two and a half years old, it was a noisy house filled with their laughter.
This helped, it really did.
Neither Mark nor I wanted our children to see us so sad, so we played with them, we danced to Christmas songs. We had our family and friends over and did the best we could to have a good Christmas. But this didn't change the fact that our baby had just died.
Once alone, once the house fell silent - which it inevitably did - those thoughts, longings, that ache would return.
Still, I was due to return to work soon and once life went back to normal then everything will be OK. Or so I thought...
I saw my Doctor for a routine check up. I was surprised when she advised me to have more time off work.
Really? But I didn't feel sick?
'No,' she said, 'the body has an amazing way of bouncing back. But it's the emotional and psychological side of things which will take time.'
So, I ignored her and went back to work.
If there's one valuable lesson I've learned through all this, it's to listen to your doctor. They've seen this before. They've helped patients through this. It's nothing new to them. They know what they're talking about.
But, at that time, I believed that I knew best.
The nurses at the hospital and my doctor were concerned because of where I worked. I was surrounded by young children, babies, new and expectant mothers.
It was hard walking into that office every day with a painted smile on my face.
Whenever someone came over and said, 'All right, Gill?' I'd smile and cheerfully reply, 'Yes, fine thanks!'
It wasn't long before I noticed the looks on people's faces. Sadness, concern, sympathy.
It annoyed me a bit. I just wanted life to go back to normal.
I clearly remember one of the teaching assistants, a lovely lady who I got along with well, coming into school with her newborn son. My chest became tight. My stomach felt hollow. That could have been me - SHOULD have been me.
Don't get me wrong, I was so happy for her and her family. Her son was beautiful.
Once she had left with her gorgeous little boy, I found it even harder to concentrate. Phones were ringing, the photocopier was chugging out copy after copy, visitors were arriving ready to be greeted, newsletters were waiting to be finished and signed...
I felt like I was drowning. I couldn't keep up. Life was zooming around me and I found myself lagging behind. I was in a daze.
I was there, yet I wasn't. Does that make sense?
Then, one morning, I had another appointment with my doctor. Another check-up. As I walked to the surgery I saw the morning traffic speeding by, people hurrying to work and to the shops. Meanwhile, it all sounded muffled, it was one big blur. I was there, yet I wasn't. Does that make sense?
I sat down at the doctor's desk. She asked me how I was. I opened my mouth then burst into tears.
Where on earth did all that come from?
I had no intention of crying. I hate crying in front of people. If I'm upset I'll hide it behind my smile - but not that day.
The doctor wrote me a sick note for two weeks. After that, I was to come back and see her.
I walked into the school office and then went to see the headteacher. I gave her the sicknote and I also said that instead of having two weeks off work, I'd work the mornings instead. The office was busy. Schools are always busy. I couldn't leave for two weeks, they needed me. So, that's what I did. I worked from 8.30am until lunch time. Surely I'd be OK after that?
It's no good lying to yourself. Life has a way of making sure you receive the correct message but, if you don't accept the subtle approach, then life/fate can be harsh.
At the time, the schools were moving from a three-tier system to a two-tier system. This meant that everyone - headteacher included - had to be interviewed for their own job. Everyone was under strain, it was awful. Tempers and patience were frayed.
One day, I handed the headteacher a cup of tea. In response, she turned on me, saying that the way I was holding the cup out to her was bad manners. Rude.
Afterwards, a colleague said to ignore her, 'she's having a bad day.' I laughed and replied; 'yes, we've all had our fair share of those.'
When I got home, I told Mark. He was livid. We both decided that enough was enough and that evening I wrote my letter of resignation.
The following day, I had another appointment with my doctor. She immediately signed me off for two weeks with neonatal depression. Those two weeks turned into nine months.
Depression is not just feeling low.
You can't just 'pull yourself together' and get over it. Depression is an illness, a serious illness. I know, I've been there.
You're probably wondering what all of this has got to do with Poppy On Safari. Well, it was during those nine months that I rekindled my love for writing.
In the early days of my depression, I found it impossible to concentrate on anything and that included the television and reading books. I'd sit in the armchair while the kids were playing around me. While they were laughing, screaming and chasing each other, I just sat there, staring into space. I felt detached.
Depression is something you cannot fight on your own, you need help.
Fortunately, I had - and still have - a wonderful, supportive family and friends. Depression is something you cannot fight on your own, you need help. My parents were fantastic. While Mark was at work, they'd come over and help around the house.
I wasn't actually on my own much, except for the evenings when Mark worked a late shift. One such evening, while the children were asleep in bed, I remember sitting on the settee and staring at the wall. I didn't want the television on, it was just noise. My addled brain couldn't cope with taking in a book.
I've never been one to sit idle. My mind is always active. I needed to - wanted to - do something, but what?
And then I had it. I'll write a story!
As I've mentioned in my first blog (Who is Gillian Young?) I've always loved writing. Throughout my life I'd been starting stories, finishing stories and - heaven forbid - throwing stories away.
What should I write about?
In the past, I'd written about my favourite pop band (Duran Duran) and I'd include my school friends as the characters.
I also loved reading horror stories from the greats; James Herbert and Stephen King.
But at that time, in 2006, I needed to write about something simple and fun. Definitely fun. I needed to write about something I felt passionate about.
I decided to write a fun, short story for my children. I couldn't cope with complex storylines and timeslips. So, this story had a simple theme running through it and the leading character was someone I loved very, very much. My dog, Willow.
An evening with the great Beatrix Potter.📚
Willow was a five-year-old border collie and she was besotted with the children. She was so gentle around them, her tail was always wagging.
At the time, my children loved Beatrix Potter #beatrixpotter. Every night we'd have to read Benjamin Bunny, Squirrel Nutkin and Peter Rabbit. Becki would easily fall asleep, but Nathan would listen so carefully to each and every word. If a sentence was skipped he'd know about it. Quite often our evenings would be spent reading the same story over and over again.
That evening, I wrote a short story called; Willow's Big, Bright Red Ball.
Whilst writing, I felt a weight lift from me. Worries about work, money, health, school admissions and longing for Sam all eased as I was wrapped up in the story about Willow trying to find her favourite ball.
Writing wasn't just something I wanted to do, it was something I discovered I needed to do because it actually helped me.
One day, Mark and I treated the children to a day out at the local safari park. Nathan was an expert at safari animals. He'd read the guide book so many times that he knew it off by heart - pretty good for a four year old.
Becki would love asking him questions and he'd be in his element answering her, telling her where the Ankole Cattle came from and which animals came under the 'Big 5.'
Whilst sat in the car, queueing to get in, I spotted a dog kennels. It was positioned just behind the kiosks. Funny, that we'd been taking the children to the Safari Park many times and yet I'd never noticed that before.
It made me wonder what the dogs themselves thought about being kept in there, surrounded by all the sounds and smells of the wild animals.
Then, I thought about what would happen if one escaped - not that it would ever happen, the park has always had tough health and safety measures.
While we drove through the different enclosures, Nathan was telling us about the animals' natural habitat, what they ate and if they were endangered or not. Each animal had its own story.
And there it was, my light bulb moment!
I could write a story about us; Mark, Nathan, Becki, WIllow and me, at the safari park.
Willow would have to stop at the kennels.
Willow, being Willow, would HATE being left behind and, being such a clever dog, she'd manage to get out and then what? She'd be in a strange place surrounded by strange animals. As she meets each one, she'd be told their own story - many stories all tied together, held together by the storyline of Willow trying to find her family.
I was itching to get back home and start writing before I forgot my ideas - I now carry a notebook around with me!
I used some of the hundreds of photographs I'd taken to illustrate my story and then, for the next few weeks, I was in my element writing chapters for my new book entitled: Willow on Safari.
Now, fast forward to 2015. By then I'd written a number of stories in my spare time. Some were centred around Willow as the main character, whereas others were aimed towards older children and young adult. These stories were in the supernatural/fantasy genre.
Life had been good. Contented.
I'd worked for the same company for nearly ten years, we were settled in our neat three bedroomed semi and everything was ticking along nicely.
During this time my dream was still to be an author but, I enjoyed my job and the people I worked with. I was happy and, so what if my dream was never fulfilled, I had an awful lot to be thankful for.
Then 'it' all began...
One day everything was going smoothly, the next it's turned upside down.
There were so many changes going on it was hard to process and keep up. I won't go into all those details just yet, this blog is about how the book Poppy On Safari came about, not the rollercoaster that was 2015-2016.
2016 found me recovering from major surgery and chemo-radiation #cancersucks.
I'd taken a long hard look at my life during this time.
At one point I remember wondering whether I'd actually still be here in twelve months time. It was scary. There were so many things we hadn't done yet. The years had ticked by and at that time it felt like life would go on forever. Having cancer was a stark reminder that this isn't the case.
There were - and are - many things I struggle to do. I was frightened.
What now? Where do I go from here?
Once again, during a particularly low point, I found myself thinking about writing.
I needed something to do whilst Mark was at work and the children were at school. I was driving myself crazy worrying about every ache and pain - had the big 'C' come back? Worrying about work, money, the future.
Worry. Worry. Worry.
One morning, I was watching our golden retriever puppy, Poppy, lolloping around the garden. She's a big-boned girl, heavyset and, bless her, she can be very clumsy! I love her to bits, we all do.
That morning, remember sitting outside, watching her as I tried pushing these niggling worries to the back of my mind. Then, it came to me, another light bulb moment.
I remembered my old story, Willow On Safari.
Sadly, Willow had died back in 2014 at the age of fourteen. It broke our hearts but she had enjoyed a long and happy life, and for that we were grateful.
As I watched Poppy I had this strong urge to write about her.
I then had the idea of rewriting the story but with Poppy as the main character. If you know the story then you'll understand why!
So, I dug out the old copy and began rehashing it.
Instead of using my photographs, I decided to have a go drawing the pictures myself. I love drawing. OK, so some of the first drawings ended up in the bin, but I persevered.
Gradually, the days were getting brighter, I felt more optimistic. I was achieving something and yes, I could actually do it!
After having had such an awful health scare, It made me realise you only live once so seize the day. Instead of wishing and dreaming: Oh, what if? I went about setting the wheels in motion.
I'd previously contacted a great organisation called The Literary Consultancy.
Years ago, I'd written to a couple of my favourite authors, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (author of the fantastic Morland Dynasty series) and Kate Mosse. I was thrilled to hear back from both of them. They gave me much valuable advice and this included, from Kate, a recommendation to contact The Literary Consultancy.
Well, years later, I did it. I had three manuscripts critiqued and through this, I met editor Antonia Prescott.
It has been a joy working with Antonia on my book. The whole process from start to finish was how the saying goes: plain sailing. - and I mean every word.