Vicky Clarke has battled dyslexia, unhelpful publishers and problems with printing to get her children’s books out. Catherine Scott reports.
Vicky Clarke hated school.
“I would be made to stand in the corridor with all the naughty children because I was unable to do my maths, and was punished even though I had done nothing wrong. That really affects your self-confidence.”
Vicky was in fact diagnosed as dyslexic at the age of 10 and when she moved to boarding school in Malvern she received support but still hated school.
“All I really wanted to do was ride my horse and when I left school and all my friends were going off to be doctors and lawyers, all I ever really wanted was to get married and have a family,” she recalls.
“Ironically, my friends who have gone and done their careers are now doing the same thing as me,” says Vicky, who is married to the chairman of Leeds Bradford airport, Andrew Clarke, and is the mother of three girls with a fourth (a boy) due in April.
But the one thing she was good at as a child, as well as excelling in sport, was making up rhymes.
“I remember at school I would make up rude rhymes about my teachers and make the other children laugh. I then went on to making up rhymes about all the members of my family – I am the youngest of 10 (eight girls and two boys) and so I had plenty to go at.
“I always enjoyed rhyming books, as they were easier for me to read as I could guess what was coming next as it would rhyme.”
After a brief spell at college in Sunderland studying journalism and photography, because she felt she should, Vicky decided to concentrate on horses and things she enjoyed.
“When I was 19 I had to have a back operation and was told if I didn’t the problems would go to my bowels. I decided to have the operation to fuse part of my spine. But it made me realise that life is too short to do something that doesn’t make you happy.
She met husband-to-be Andrew on a shoot she was helping to organise near Helmsley.
The pair were married but Vicky’s dream of having a big family was in danger of never happening.
“I was told that it was unlikely that I would ever have children due to a lack of a certain hormone. The only way was to consider IVF,” she recalls.
“But just as we were about to go down that road I fell pregnant with our eldest daughter, Florence, who is now eight.”
Vicky and Andrew were so thrilled that they decided to try for more children as soon as possible. Ettie, seven, and Bea, five, followed in quick succession.
“I had three children under three and half at one point so life was pretty chaotic,” says Vicky, who lives with Andrew and their children in Cherry Burton, near Beverley. It was while reading to her children that Vicky got the idea of writing her own children’s books.
“Obviously they had their old favourites but I felt that I could write a rhyming children’s picture book.”
And so once Bea started school Vicky decided to put pen to paper and within days she had written five children’s stories all in rhyme. She says rather than hindering her writing her dyslexia might have helped.
“I find it so easy to write in rhyme, and I think if I didn’t have dyslexia then I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
The books are aimed at three to nine-year-olds and include the titles Kevin the Kelpie, based on an old Scottish myth, The Biggest Blooming Beetle and Melvin the Mole.
She writes under her maiden name Vicky Cowie.
“I went about it all back to front,” admits Vicky, 37. “I wrote the books and then tried to find a publisher, apparently you should do it the other way round. Also they told me that they don’t like rhyming books as they can’t be translated into other languages, it was all quite disheartening.”
She also set about getting her own illustrator, another no-no for the publishers,
“A friend had put us in contact with artist and sculptor Charlie Mackesy, who was in a pretty bad place at the time. Charlie read the books and agreed to illustrate them. We spent two years working on the books together, we had a lot in common as we were both from the North East and his mother and my brother were both suffering from dementia.”
Charlie went on to write and illustrate the best-selling The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse which was promoted by the likes of DJ Chris Evans and published by Penguin.
Vicky had a much harder task and in the end decided she had no option but to self-publish.
“I didn’t really want to do this because I had always thought that self-published books were only done that way because they weren’t good enough to get a proper publisher. But when I looked into it, if I self-published I had so much more control over the books.”
But it wasn’t all plain sailing.
“I was advised that paperbacks sell best, but actually the box set of all five hardback books is our best-seller.”
It meant she was left with a lot of paperback copies of her book.
“And so I decided, as part of National Storytelling Week, to visit schools and hospitals in the area, do a book reading and give copies of my books to them.”
It included a visit to the oncology unit at Leeds Children’s Hospital, which had a profound effect on Vicky who is expecting her fourth child on April 19.
She has written three more books, including one for children aged nine plus, but all still in Vicky’s favourite rhyme.
“It is a shame that the publishers don’t like rhyming books. Unless you are Julia Donaldson it seems impossible to get your work published. I am lucky that I could afford to publish myself, not everyone is that lucky.”
Vicky Cowie has published five books so far with illustrations by Charlie Mackesy.
They include Kevin The Kelpie, The Biggest Blooming Beetle, The Secret of Snittington Hall. Muggleswick Wood and Melvin the Mole.
The books cost £6.99-£10.99 or a special boxed set costs £49.99.
They can be bought from Amazon.co.uk, through Friends of Joules and at Vicky’s website vickycowie.co.uk
They are suitable for three to nine-year-olds although older childern may also prefer to read them.
They are all rhyming picture books with added humour – some which only adults will understand