In 1994, Chris Madeley and her husband Keith were driving up and down the M1 when the thought of writing a children’s book occurred to her.
Mrs Madeley was working in financial management at the time and their business had opened an office just outside Watford to serve clients in the South.
“It was when they were making the huge junction just south of Leicester Forest,” she says. “We were stuck in traffic with contraflows and everything else, surrounded by traffic cones.”
It gave her the inspiration to bring inanimate traffic cones to life and help teach children about the world around them.
Mrs Madeley’s career began in Liverpool working for the Bibby Shipping Line but she “slowly moved closer towards Yorkshire”, where she was originally from.
After her first daughter was born, Mrs Madeley moved over to Apperley Bridge in Bradford. When her children were ready for school, she went back to work in financial management with her husband. Mrs Madeley would end up qualifying as an independent financial adviser (IFA).
“We had the IFA company for quite a lot of years,” Mrs Madeley says. “When we sold it, I decided to do something for myself.”
The couple did, however, carry on working together with Mr Madeley throwing his support behind her writing, going as far as securing sponsorship for the Cones book series.
Mrs Madeley says: “He had the company for just over 30 years. I was an IFA for probably about the last five years before we sold the business. Working with him is absolutely brilliant. We’ve continued working together ever since. We’re extremely lucky. It’s proved to be a very good partnership. I’m good at what he’s not and he’s good at what I’m not.”
Something that Mrs Madeley has always been good at is writing. It stems from her own childhood growing up in Darton in Barnsley.
She says: “I’ve always written – right from being a small child. My parents didn’t believe in having a television and as my brother was nine years older than me I was virtually an only child.
“It’s okay in the summer, when you can play out, but in the winter, when you have long dark nights, a lot of my time was spent writing stories and drawing pictures.
“I always enjoyed writing. I did the company magazine when we had the financial services business and church magazines. Generally, I just enjoy the process of English, writing and everything that goes with it.”
The hardest thing about her writing has been finding the right publisher. She published the first book in 2010 but it wasn’t until Mrs Madeley met Rick Armstrong at Fisher King Publishing that Cones became a series in 2014.
“You need somebody with experience in children’s books, not just a publisher,” Mrs Madeley says. “My publisher started his business with children’s books so it was a match made in heaven.”
The Cones books have taken on a life of their own since then with some of the books being translated into multiple languages including French, Mandarin and Portuguese. They are also being used to teach English in other countries.
Mrs Madeley said: “The fact that they are wanting to use the books in English in places like India to help children comprehend written English, I just think it’s wonderful.
“If they go into other languages, that’s fine but I feel very privileged that my books are being used for my language in other countries. It’s something that I never envisaged.”
The initial idea was to write a book about road safety but instead it became about explaining the world in general.
Mrs Madeley says: “The Cones books are about helping young children learn about the world around them, to learn friendship, manners, moral and ethical issues. To show them that there are opportunities out there.”
Researching the books is an aspect that Mrs Madeley enjoys with a lot of the elements of the stories based on real events and scenarios.
“I enjoy getting all the information together,” she says. “Then I enjoy making it into a story which flows. I find that really enjoyable.”
Writing children’s stories “you have to be quite precise”, Mrs Madeley says, and “you have to keep it short”.
She adds: “We try to keep the books down to about 1,700 words so that it’s bedtime story length effectively.
“I’m not frightened of using some words where they’re going to say ‘what does that mean?’ because I think you’ve got to stretch children as much as you can but equally you have to keep your sentences shorter.”
Having young grandchildren helps Mrs Madeley stay in tune with the way children express themselves.
The writing is showing no signs of slowing for the financial adviser turned children’s author.
Mrs Madeley says: “There’s lots more books in the pipeline. We’ve got one finished, ready to go out and be published.
“I’ve got two being written at the moment and I’ve got another six in the pipeline, which are waiting to be written.”
She is also in early stage talks on turning Cones into a children’s TV series but that will require “a lot of books” to be picked up. But she’ll only write as long as it is worthwhile doing so.
“I’m in the happy position of being able to say ‘no thank you’ if I don’t think I can get a sensible message out for children,” Mrs Madeley adds.
Having a background in business has helped her write books with more of an education focus. However, Mrs Madeley does not miss working in financial services.
She says: “I’m very happy with it being in my rear view mirror. I’d had quite enough of it.
“The young ones coming into it today are used to all of the regulations, rules, compliance and everything else.
“We found it very irritating given that we were already doing what they said we had to do. Things like treat your customers fairly. What? You wouldn’t have any customers if you didn’t treat them fairly.
“It’s that sort of thing that was really annoying and it became tedious in the end. I was very glad to leave it.”
Mrs Madeley is very much looking forward to a future of more writing, though, with her belief in the power of the written word stronger than ever.
Lives: Adel, Leeds
Favourite holiday destination: My top two would be Inverness and Whitby
Last book read: The Clayhanger series by Arnold Bennett
Favourite programme: I love watching documentaries
Favourite song: My preference is classical music and listening to classical FM
Car driven: Vauxhall Mokka
Most proud of: Definitely winning the UK Rail Industry Award for Passenger Safety in 2017 with my Cones on the Rails book, and to have this presented in London in front of an audience of 900 from the rail industry.