Local author Philip Young explains the inspiration behind his new children’s book that sees animals as the central characters. Illustrations: Andy Gray

Tucked away off a winding country lane in the Ribble Valley is Spencer Fold – the setting for a new children’s book written by local author Philip Young.

While Spencer Fold, Turtle Bridge and Stonyhurst Woods form the backdrop to the story, it is the animals that live there that have provided Philip with the inspiration for the book, which is dedicated to Philip’s wife Julie and their 10 grandchildren.

Central to The Animals of Spencer Fold is Max, a Border Collie based on a sheepdog Philip and Julie had back in 2013: “One day I was looking out into the garden and there were all these animals – we had a couple of nut feeders and it became apparent that there was very much a pecking order. The birds were lining up waiting for the squirrel to leave,” recalls Philip, a retired social work manager who continues to work in a locum capacity across the UK.

“Watching the animals gave me the idea of a children’s book,” adds Philip, who knew Andy Gray, an illustrator, who at the time, was the assistant pastor of at St James’s Church in Clitheroe.

“He was very much caught up in his theology studies so didn’t have a great deal of time, so I kept the idea of the book in my head and some time later, began to write it and refine it cutting down the words until I was completely happy with it.”

However, it wasn’t until 2018 that Philip and Andy formed a collaboration in order to see the book published.

“I outlined the story to him and explained what I was looking for in terms of illustration,” says Philip.

“He began with lots of research and photos and a series of digital sketches. It was very much a learning curve for both of us. He showed me the technical side of illustrating, how things could be moved around, working on three different screens all at the same time. It was quite an eye opener.”

When Philip first asked Andy to illustrate his book, Andy admits he originally felt he didn’t have the skills necessary. However, as Andy explains: “Two years ago, through some interesting turn of events, I started to illustrate books again, and I suddenly felt that given time I could crack the skills necessary to complete Philip’s project.”

Now living and working in Somerset, Andy has gone on to create his own illustration business

The Animals of Spencer Fold: The Thoughtless Squirrel is aimed at two to six-year-olds and it has been well received throughout the region and has featured in primary school reading sessions.

“My grandchildren are absolutely delighted with it!” enthuses Philip. “It has been a hugely enjoyable project for me but it also had to be a very disciplined project – a bit like a university essay, having a big idea that you have to funnel down into a limited number of words.”

“It’s been a good exercise in refining the text too as the language I have used has to be understood by a two-year-old, yet I didn’t want to ‘babify’ it. I had to choose the wording very carefully and while I never particularly intended to set a moral tone in the book, it does give out a very positive message for children to consider.”

Self-published and printed in the south of England, The Animals of Spencer Fold is set to become a series as Philip is now working on a number of other ideas: “The book, which is written in a way that doesn’t date, features a vintage lamp on the back and I think all the books will feature this in some form or another so children can identify with the series.

“I am really pleased with the book – it’s a children’s story with a real feelgood factor.”

The Animals of Spencer Fold: The Thoughtless Squirrel is available to read at Clitheroe Library, or to buy from Clitheroe Books priced £7.99



Tedd Walmsley

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