Holmfirth's Annabel Pitcher releases new children's book inspired by watching her son

Holmfirth author Annabel Pitcher’s new picture book is a departure from her grittier works. She tells John Blow how it’s all about finding happiness in imperfection.

Annabel Pitcher on a school visit to the The Morley Academy in 2013. Picture: James Hardisty.
Annabel Pitcher on a school visit to the The Morley Academy in 2013. Picture: James Hardisty.

Inspiration can present itself in many guises but for Yorkshire-based writer Annabel Pitcher, her latest release came from watching one of her sons referee a heated debate between two toys over a piece of plastic birthday cake.

The Holmfirth woman’s picture book for children, Happy Birthday, Dog!, came out last week and marks quite a departure from the gritty young adult (YA) novels for which the former Wakefield Girls High School teacher is known.

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The latest release, which is illustrated by Fabo Santiago, involves a dog and cat who are usually friends arguing over whose birthday it is.

“All my books have tended to be about people being in less than perfect situations, but finding joy in them,” says Annabel.

“It was supposed to be funny and hopefully really entertaining but I think it’s about the less-than-perfect birthday and how even in that kind of imperfection, it’s sort of a really happy day anyway.”

She adds: “Cat and dog love each other. Then they annoy each other. Then they love each other all over again. They’re exasperating one minute; endearing the next. I’m sure many parents will relate!”

Annabel studied English at Oxford, where she says she “spent more time reading children’s fiction than I did of what I was supposed to be reading”.

She wanted to be a writer but didn’t think it would be possible to make a living out of it, so she took jobs at the UKTV press office and as a runner at Granada Studios “but didn’t really find it very satisfying”.

She became a teacher, though Annabel and her husband Stephen went travelling in their late 20s, and she decided that was the time to try and write a book.

“To my complete amazement, it got published and the rest is history,” she says.

Her first book, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, won her the Branford Boase Award, while follow-up Ketchup Clouds took the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Fiction in the USA.

Her next novels, Silence is Goldfish and The Last Days of Archie Maxwell, were both nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal.

Annabel has dedicated the latest picture book to her four sons – Isaac, Sebastian, Charlie and William, aged between eight and nearly one.

Much like in her books, Annabel, who turns 40 this year, describes her own work-life balance as “a very happy, chaotic muddle” but says that having a large family does inevitably affect productivity.

She says: “I hate the myth that somehow a person can juggle everything and that it’s just a matter of supreme organisation and discipline that separates the doers from the triers.

“The truth as I see it is that everyone’s winging it, really.

We’re all muddling through and a compromise is made somewhere,” she adds.

“I chose to have a large family and to be at home and work around the children if or where I can.

“As a result, I have been far less productive in writing terms than I might otherwise have been, but I’m okay with that.

“The compromise makes me happy, most of the time, though it isn’t without its frustrations, obviously.

“Other people make different, wonderful choices that are right for them. Women should have the right to choose but the idea that there is a super-breed of woman who is somehow doing everything is unhelpful and not a myth that I am interested in perpetuating.”

Happy Birthday, Dog! by Annabel Pitcher is available in bookshops now and has been published by Hodder Children’s Books. It retails at £12.99.