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How I write- Jean Illingworth

I have been writing all my life, but only started trying to get work published in my 60’s, to give my son, Jamie, a platform for his wonderful illustrations. Those are the Danny Dragon series for younger readers, little books of kindness and friendship (which we need much more of).


I then wrote full length mid-grade children’s novels ‘Beach Beings’, and the sequel, ‘Beach Beings - Distant Shores’, which Jamie also illustrated. These were inspired by the Yorkshire coast and are fast moving fantasy adventures featuring tiny creatures, ‘beachies’ that live, unseen, on our beaches. I wanted to write stories that children would enjoy, but that would also make them think about the environment, as although beachies are imaginary, they could just as easily be any sea creature impacted by human beings (or Huge Beings as beachies (Beach Beings) call us). I loved inventing their culture, traditions and values, but once again wanted kindness, friendship and the importance of family to be central to the stories.

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In writing these books I researched seaside habitats and seaside creatures as although beachies are imaginary (although one class of 8 years old I did a writing workshop with told me they had seen them), everything else isn’t, and I think its important to get facts correct. There are bits of herbalism (as natural remedies that the beachies use for ailments) in the book as it was something that fascinated me as child, and I once again I checked that they were correct herbs for the purpose used.


Two Degrees was written during the winter of 2019/ 20, which was grey and wet, with endless rain and lots of flooding. I’d read that global warming could switch off the gulf stream and the UK would get wetter, with this kind of weather being the norm, so that was my start point. We already see the effects of global warming word wide, and I projected the story into the near future when the COP 26 target of 1.5 degrees had been reached and global warming still continued to increase (to 2 degrees).


I wanted to root the story for young adults in the North Yorkshire landscape that I know, focusing on the local impact rather than the bigger picture, as that would make it more real; I also wanted to showcase the beauty of the NY Moors. I researched the topography of the area, and what a more sustainable future could look like. It is, however, a fast move adventure and love story, as once again I want young readers to enjoy the story not just think about the messages it contains.

Cover of Two Degrees

Funnily (or not), I mention a historic worldwide pandemic in the book – a section written ahead of lockdown 1 – rather spooked me when that ‘prophecy’ came true!


My next book to be published (been a busy year!) on the 23rd of this month is The Allotments, tagline ‘a story of loneliness and love, community and corruption … and gardening’. This was written this spring (in lockdown 3) after moving to Kirkbymoorside a year ago and being inspired by the wonderful Kirkbymoorside allotments which we live just above.


It is very much an adult book, probably woman’s contemporary fiction, and as the tagline says, it’s very much about the community and growing your own vegetable, but is a moving, funny (and in places slightly rude) story featuring individual allotment holder’s stories and their fight to save the allotments.


It’s very loosely based on Kirkbymoorside (called Kirkby in the book) but is a complete work of fiction that I had great fun writing. I put in raised beds and grew my own vegetables along with the book to check I’d got my gardening facts right.


I’m now writing the sequel to ‘The Allotment’, ‘The Square’ which continues a few years later with the same character and a few new ones – this contains a murder, which is a new challenge for me to write!

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