Childhood values inspire Caryl

Caryl and Peter Hart, Barnsley 1967
Caryl and Peter Hart, Barnsley 1967
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HER start in life is the stuff of historical fiction.

Pictured above with her brother Peter outside their home on King Street, Barnsley, in 1967, this snap of Caryl Hart’s early childhood captures an era and a family in transition.

Childhood memories: Children's book author Caryl Hart spent her early childhood in Barnsley

Childhood memories: Children's book author Caryl Hart spent her early childhood in Barnsley

The terrace house, already earmarked for demolition, had no bathroom and a crack in the wall you could see daylight through.

It was later sold by Caryl’s parents for just £100 when the family moved south.

But for award-winning children’s author Caryl and Peter, this was not a childhood especially marked by deprivation.

When the picture was taken their dad was in teacher training at Bretton Hall in West Yorkshire and mum was training to be a nurse.

Caryl was one year old when the family moved away from the town after her dad got a job in Hertfordshire.

“I was born in a tiny terraced house in Barnsley,” said 45-year-old Caryl.

“There was a communal yard at the back and we had a tin bath hanging outside on the wall, which was used by all the local kids after they had finished playing on the coal heap.

“When my family left Barnsley, they sold the house for £100 and bought a cooker with the money! I don’t really remember living there although we did go back once to have a look but it was gone by then.”

Now Caryl has two daughters of her own and lives in the Peak District near Bakewell with her husband, Sheffield University administrator Andrew.

And this weekend she is up for yet another award, the most prestigious so far. Caryl is among 10 finalists for the Red House Children’s Book Award, which is voted for by young readers and which will be presented at London’s Southbank Centre on Saturday.

“It’s a massive endorsement,” she said.

Regionally, Caryl has scored success with her picture books, which are targeted at three-to-10-year-olds.

She won the Rotherham Children’s Book Awards 2011 and the Community Libraries Favourite Book at the Sheffield Children’s Book Awards 2010 with her work Don’t Dip Your Chips In Your Drink, Kate!

“That book was inspired by teaching my children table manners - it is our job as parents to teach them their values,” she said.

“My inspiration comes from my own kids and other kids - it comes from spending time with them and the funny things they say and do. I also like to challenge social conventions about how we are bringing our children up - bit of a poke in the eye to parents.”

Much of Caryl’s reward, she says, comes from inspiring children at school workshops she runs in Sheffield, Derbyshire and across the Midlands.

“The feedback I get back from teachers is that it has inspired children to want to write,” said Caryl.

“There will be children who have never picked up a pencil attempting to write, children who have never written a sentence who will write a whole page.”

Before becoming a full-time writer Caryl was the web editor for an education consultancy, worked as an outdoor education manager, conservation officer, medical secretary, barmaid and toilet cleaner. Caryl started writing after the birth of her eldest daughter Jess, who is now 14.

“We lived in Mayfield Valley in Sheffield, and I would spend time in the library in Broomhill.

“I read lots of books; some were fantastic and some were pretty rubbish. I thought that if they could get published, then so could I. I started writing in 2000 and my first book, Rhino? What Rhino? was published in 2009.

“It didn’t take me nine years to publish the book. I was working, I had a baby and other things were also happening.“

Nowadays, her book production is a two-year operation, from starting out with an idea to seeing the finished product in the shops.

She said: “For picture books I come up with the idea and write them and hand them over for other people to finish them if I don’t have the right words.

“I am at the beginning of the process; it’s a massive team effort, with a writer, an illustrator, an editor who works with a designer, an agent who helps with the contractor and the sales and marketing people.

With eight books under her belt and another due out this summer, is this budding JK Rowling sitting on a fortune?

“No,” she laughs. “It’s a decent second wage but I couldn’t live off it.”

Caryl will be accompanied to Saturday’s ceremony by husband Andrew, daughters Jess, 14, and Katinka, 10, her mum, who lives in Hertfordshire, and her agent.