The city of Preston has made a lasting impression on author Mark Lowery.
The successful children’s writer now lives near Cambridge, but his home city regularly features in his writing.
His latest book ‘Charlie and Me 421 miles from home’ tells the story of two brothers who embark on an adventure travelling from Preston to Cornwall in search of a special dolphin.
It has already won numerous accolades and has been nominated for the prestigious Cilip Carnegie medal 2019 book award.
Mark, combines his writing with a part time job as a teacher.
His latest book has an unexpected twist in its tail, and the story behind the book is equally unexpected.
He explained how the idea for it came unexpectedly. He said: “I had a terrible curry and I couldn’t sleep and I got a strange waking dream in my head – a picture of a dolphin popping out of the harbour and these two brothers watching it.”
He also thought of a poem – which features word for word in the book.
Mark said: “It was a once in a lifetime experience.”
He felt the subject of Charlie and Me had ”almost chose me” but was already contracted to do another book so had to work at the story intermittently, between drafts of his other book.
He said: “It took about six months but that wasn’t solid work.”
The book also includes a series of poems written in different styles by Charlie’s older brother Martin Tompkins, aged 13.
Mark said: “I’m not a poet and I’ve never written poems at all. It’s not been something I’ve ever put into my books.
“The idea of a dolphin leaping out of the water was very much a metaphor for life.. I got an idea for that poem and the rest fell into place, I wanted to experiment with different kinds of poetry. I wanted to do different kinds of verse – a silly limerick, a shape poem , chants. The character is exploring his feelings and exploring his feelings through poetry.”
It was a challenge for Mark to write in the voice of a young teenager: “I hope the poems stand on their own two feet – what’s difficult is you are writing a poem in somebody else’s voice.”
His desire to write was born out of his experience as a teacher. When needing a text for his puils,rather than go and search for one, he wrote it himself. But he traces the origins of that passion for writing back to two inspirational teachers in Preston.
He said: “I used to write a lot at school. I had some brilliant teachers at school in Preston.
“Mrs Sanderson at the Harris junior school was my favourite. She was extremely creative, She was very supportive of boys writing as well. I think a lot of the boys were really excited about writing as well. I think she was just a very enthusiastic and very gifted teacher.. Then (I had) a wonderful teacher at Broughton High, Miss Cocker, She was fabulous. She was very supportive. You need people who give you that impetus to write, There were lots of other wonderful teachers.”
He trained to be a teacher at Leeds Trinity after attending Newman College in Preston for A’levels.
He said: “Then I ended up going back to university in 2005 to Winchester and did a Masters in Writing For Children....Eventually I got somewhere in 2010 and got published in 2011. I had loads of rejections, It was a final try. My wife was heavily pregnant ."
It was a make or break book and their determination paid off. He got an agent and was on his way to literary success.
The 39 year old dad is now busy juggling family life, writing, teaching and appearing at literary events and visiting schools to talk about his work.
He said: “I spend a lot of time with children because I work with them and I’ve got three at home. I like to think I’ve got a bit of an understanding about what makes them tick.”
While Cambridge is now home, he misses Preston: “It’s terrible! I miss the hills, I miss green, There’s not always a lot of green down here. There’s a lot of yellows in summer and browns in winter, I miss the greens, the fells, the Lakes... I loved growing up in Preston,”
He returns at least three times a year as his family still live around Preston - his mother and brother in New Longton, a brother in the city and a sister in Ribbleton.
His next book is based in Preston and Mark said: ”It’s about fish and chips. It’s called ‘Eating chips with monkey’.”
He also likes to borrow local names – hence his series about a character called Roman Garstang series.
But he quickly dispels the suggestion that his blue and white writing shed is decorated in homage to Preston North End: “ I’m an Everton fan.”
However he did support Preston as a local team: “I used to go watching PNE in the 1990s. I used to go and stand on Town End for £2.50p.”
Meanwhile his writing career also started with Preston - his first two books, entitled ‘Socks Are Not Enough’ and ’Pants Are Not Enough’ about some parents who became nudists.
Mark acknowledges ‘Charlie and Me’ raises a difficult issue. Its story is at times funny and at times sad. Martin adores his little brother Charlie, who has survived despite being born too early and he does his best to be a good big brother on their epic journey. To tell more would be to give away the plot.
Mark said: “For me this essentially a children’s book for probably aged 10 and up, but it’s also an adult book as well.
“It’s a really difficult thing – what do you expose children to when they are young? I know it’s been used as a class book...and the children have really enjoyed it. I do think stories can be used as emotional lessons for children.
"They can explore things and because of the nature of books when your read you become very close to the text, the subject and the author as well...you’re creating the people. It’s your imagination working as you read. I do think books have a massive role to play in giving children the opportunity to explore and developing their understanding of a difficult topic.”
The film rights have been sold for ’Charlie and Me’ so in the future a film version might be available too.
Happy to balance two careers, working part time at Swaffham Prior Primary School for three days a week, he said: “It’s a real privilege to be a primary school teacher, it’s a great job - and it’s an absolute privilege to be a writer. I’m so lucky to be able to do both of them.”
• 'Charlie and Me: 421 miles from home' is published by Piccadilly Press £5.99
An e-book is also available.
Books by Mark Lowery in The Roman Garstang Adventures series are: 'The Jam Doughnut That Ruined My Life','The Chicken Nugget Ambush', 'Attack of the Woolly Jumper' and 'The Great Caravan Catastrophe.'