Baobab Tree Books Blog September 2022

Hello and welcome to our first blog!  

Baobab Tree Books are the indie publishing duo of sisters Rachel Ann Walmsley and Helen McKnockiter.   

What is indie publishing? It is the process of bringing a book together and publishing it without the aid of a traditional agent or publisher – going it alone so to speak. It’s been quite the learning curve and we thought we might share some of our journey with you.  

:  I’m Rachel; wife to Simon and Mum to Freddie (8) and Ron (6) and I live in Preston, Lancashire. I am an author (it still feels strange to say this – future blog about imposter syndrome is in the pipeline) and I love reading and writing.

My route to becoming an Indie Author has not been traditional; however, it is the many twists and turns that have helped me develop a broad skill set to draw on. Initially I studied law then trained and worked as a Solicitor but this was not for me; the high pressure and distinct lack of anything even remotely involving fun impacted my health and I left the law in 2009 and decided to volunteer in schools which evolved into me becoming a Teaching Assistant and then qualifying as a Primary School Teacher. Plenty of fun to be had in this demanding role. 

As an avid reader this was the place to be and given that Primary Teachers are effectively a ‘Jack of all trades’ this exposed me to reading across lots of different genres and subjects. I started the school Book Club and we joined the Lancashire Fantastic Book Awards which introduced me to new fiction, albeit for older primary school children and I even met some authors at various events. I was inspired and the seed was planted… 

But my love of reading and children’s books grew when I had children of my own. Sharing stories with children throughout the day but particularly before bed is simply magical; it never grows old and as my children have grown and snuggled, we have laughed and enjoyed so many books together. 

Then during lockdown, I started to write some simple, very readable and quite naïve poetry – it’s considered very clichéd to write poetry that actually rhymes these days but I find that that is just naturally how I express myself and luckily rhyming couplets lend themselves beautifully to children’s picture books.  I remember the moment that I thought of my very first children’s picture book, ‘Christmas Cabaret’; I was sat outside in my pjs in the awning of the tent that was pitched in the garden during our lockdown staycation and even though it was the height of summer, I had a vision of singing and dancing vegetables having a last ‘hooray’ before they were eaten on Christmas Day. I had another glass of red wine, rolled with it and wrote the book.  

Unfortunately, prior to lockdown and due to ill health, I had to leave teaching due to an auto-immune condition – it is widely acknowledged that you need to have the constitution of an ox to work in a school environment so sadly it wasn’t meant to be. But everything happens for a reason and now I had a bit of time on my hands. So, I had the story and just needed the illustrations. No consideration needed. It simply had to be Hels. Even though as an artist she paints the most beautiful oil paintings depicting nature and flowers, I decided that she could easily turn her hand to dancing vegetables and lo and behold she actually did! Now a broccoli dancing the bhangra is not something you see everyday but what a sight to behold. She is a marvel; I love the way she can bring my visions to life.  

We decided that we wanted to inject a bit of good karma behind our new venture given the mounting number of different careers between us, so we decided to donate all the proceeds to The Children’s Appeal as part of the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Charity Trust and we raised £2,450 in total.  

And we were off. The journey had begun… 

Helen: I am wife to Mark and mother to Matt (15) and Eve (8).  I am an artist and have been drawing things since I was a child, my process translates really easily into illustrations for children’s books.  I have purposefully used coloured pencils and pen to illustrate these books because I want to inspire children to get the pencils and paper out and draw; in this digital age I just feel this style makes the pictures more accessible to children, I want them to look at the pictures and think ‘I can do that’ and give it a go. 

I believe it was during the pandemic that Rachel first started writing poetry in response to the craziness of what was happening around us and she asked me if I would provide some illustrations to go along with them. Her poetry was fantastic – her themes were very relevant, touching and poignant and she seemed to be able to translate what was happening with great empathy and wit, there’s something very British about being able to inject a bit of humour into grim happenings.

When she started writing children’s fiction I was really excited because her stories were good.  She asked me if I wanted to join forces and illustrate a children’s book she had written for Christmas called ‘Christmas cabaret’. I jumped at the chance.  When she first sent me a copy of the book, I laughed out loud because all of the characters were vegetables which make up a Christmas dinner and they all seem to be doing impossible things and I thought to myself ‘how the hell am I going to illustrate this?’.  So, first of all I spent some time looking at images and photos of people doing these things like Bhangra and Pasadoble and then I had to really use my imagination to translate this into vegetables doing these incredible things!  As I would illustrate I was sending her the images and she loved them, it turns out we really were on the same page.  We have just published our second book together called ‘Dotty the dogwalker’ which as a dog lover has been so much fun to illustrate. 

Our partnership seems so easy; we are compatible and perhaps it helps that we are sisters. We are constantly bouncing ideas off one another and I like how we can be honest and open with one another, when we feel that things need changed it’s very easy to just say.  We are both from an education background too, Rachel a qualified primary school teacher and me a qualified early years practitioner. I feel like this has helped us tailor our books to specific age ranges and inject some helpful educational themes into our books (hopefully without looking too much like educational themes, we wouldn’t want to put the children off).

Well, I hope you enjoyed that bit of background. We’ll get on to the nitty gritty of the highs and lows we’ve encountered in future blogs although we feel now is the time for a disclaimer – we are NOT indie experts; we are simply winging it! But our motto is that the only true failure in life is the failure to try.  

See you next time,


Baobab Tree Books xxx 

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