Many of us feel that we’d like to write a book, but few give it a go while juggling everything that comes with military life. We caught up with some authors and illustrators of children’s books, all with service connections, to find out more about their publishing pursuits…

Never Alone – Carrie Knight and Lily Steel

Carrie Knight and Lily SteelCarrie and Lily met whilst their husbands were serving together in Woolwich, where a chat proved the starting point for their creative collaboration.

They talked about their love of writing and illustrating respectively and thought it would be a great idea to produce a book together to raise money for charity.

Carrie had written some stories based on mascots at RAF Lakenheath, so when they came across the initiative ‘Giraffes on Tour’ – a fundraiser for Great Ormond Street Hospital – the idea of writing a book about a giraffe named Geoffrey, who was an experienced aviator, seemed to be the perfect concept and a worthy cause.

“Juggling work and children is always a challenge and never more so than when your husband is away,” explains Lily. “Writing the book on behalf of someone else, rather than ourselves, did bring extra pressure and managing expectations of those around us, who aren’t so familiar with the demands of military life, was tricky. But despite a deployment, a demanding job, a housemove and looking after a three-year-old, we met the deadline and the launch was a resounding success! Military spouses are clearly made of tough stuff, right?

“The process was by no means easy, but working side by side with somebody likeminded made it possible.

“We’ve continued to cheerlead one another throughout the whole process and our motto is ‘anything is possible’.

“If you believe in yourself, others will believe in you too,” adds Lily. “Our life-long passions of writing and painting have been realised and we now know that this is merely the beginning of our creative partnership.”

The book Never Alone has had a phenomenal response, sold more than 1,000 copies in just six months and helped to raise more than £17,000. The Stowaway, the sequel, launches this month, another charity project for Great Ormond Street Hospital in collaboration with children’s charity Starlight. 

Arco the Bossy – Tom Cornner

Tom CornnerTom serves in the Royal Marines and says part of the inspiration for his stories came from his children’s emotions during times when he was away.

“I’ve been deployed multiple times on various exercises and operations including the Middle East, Africa, the Mediterranean and USA,” he says.

“The hardest part I found was the emotional worry my family went though until I returned. Whilst my children were young it became part of the normal routine but it only came apparent to me how much it may have affected them once they started to question things as they got older. I realised that other families and children may be experiencing similar experiences and emotions.”

Tom started writing his first book Arco the Bossy during the second lockdown. “Writing a rhyming children’s picture book was something completely new but highly rewarding and I enjoyed the challenges that came with it as it pushed me out of my comfort zone,” he explains.

“The process to complete the first storybook took a while, however, once I was in a more stable place I was able to finish the publishing, marketing and editing phases to finally release the first book. I’ve had only positive feedback since the release, which is extremely rewarding.”

Tom urges anyone thinking of writing a book to reach out to groups online, on social media and blogs for support and tips. “Above all just remember the reason you’re writing in the first place. Mine was so that my son could have a book written about him that he could hopefully read to his children one day, which is worth more to me than anything else.”

In 2023, Tom will writing three other stories in the series, in between family and work of course!

Seagulls Don’t Eat Sorbet: The First Adventure – Babs Vinden-Cantrell

Babs Vinden-CantrellBabs has been serving since 1983 as a regular and reservist. She began her writing journey during resettlement from the regulars, when she attended a writing course and is now penning a series of children’s books.

“I applied to Red magazine to be an adult intern for a month and spent an amazing time with them writing articles for both print and online.”

Babs’s role in the army recruitment team takes her across the UK to around 150 events a year, meaning many nights away from home on her own. “I decided to spend these evenings writing my book,” she explains. “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.”

She also says that her military colleagues have been with her all the way: “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?”

Bab’s next book – Seagulls Got to Dance – is out on 23 June.  


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