The next Book Club title being reviewed in the winter edition of Army&You is Seagulls Don’t Eat Sorbet: The First Adventure, a picture book for children about courage, adventure and family.

We spoke to author Babs Vinden-Cantrell, a single parent of three who is currently in her final year of service in the army, about her journey to becoming an author…

How long have you been in the military?

Since 28 August 1983 as a Regular, Reserve and FTRS. My first 12 years was spent as an instructor, which I enjoyed immensely. My cap badge is the Royal Army Medical Corps, however for the last eight years I’ve worked for the Royal Engineers in recruitment, which includes presenting at events, and running stands at shows from university careers fairs to major exhibitions.

Have you always loved writing?

I have and I have won a couple of writing competitions in the past. From when I was a child, I wrote my own poetry in birthday and Christmas cards.

What was your first experience of being published?

When I resettled from my Regular contract I used my resettlement money to attend a writing course and applied to Red magazine to be an adult intern for a month. I was lucky enough to be accepted and spent an amazing time with them. I wrote articles for both the print magazine and the online version. When I took on an FTRS contract, my work at Red really helped with the PR and media side of activities I was organising.

How did your book come about?

My role in the recruitment team takes me across the UK. Pre-Covid I was attending around 150 events a year. This meant I was spending nights away from home on my own so I decided to spend these evenings writing my book. Being away also gave me a fantastic insight into various areas of the UK, and such a mix of people that I have been able to include in my book.

How have your colleagues helped you?

They have literally been on this journey with me. I’m constantly asking them and their partners to read my latest writing and give feedback. They have edited, and decided if an illustration was okay, and also all bought my book. My first admittance of writing the book to my colleagues was to ask them: “If you were a seagull, what would your name be?”

What was your proudest piece of writing?

After my Mum died in 2020 we bought a bench for the local country park. I wrote the inscription on the plaque – it was only five small lines of writing, but sometimes saying a few words can convey a lifetime of love.

What tips do you have for other would-be authors?

  • This is a slow process and can’t be rushed. Yes, you will edit, edit and then edit again.
  • Be open to the journey. Your book may end up in a totally different area to where you thought you were going. My book started as a children’s novel, but through advice from those in the industry, it moved from a novel to a series of seven picture books.
  • Look at other work already published. Whatever you are thinking, someone else somewhere will be thinking something similar. You need to make your story different. My main seagull was originally called Sid, but on investigation I found that Sid the Seagull was a favourite name within books already and was the mascot of Australia’s sun cream campaign.
  • Network, network and network. Get involved in the industry, get to know people who are already writing and ask for their help.
  • Enjoy what you’re writing about.
  • Have a notebook or mobile phone handy. Ideas just happen, and you need to make a note straight away.

Seagulls Don’t Eat Sorbet: The First Adventure is available from WHSmith and other outlets.

Don’t forget to let us know if your service youngster would like to review a book for the Army&You and Reading Force Book Club – email with their names and ages.

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