Monday 16 November 2020

Ann Hales-Tooke, née Petre 1926 - 2020: My inspiration to become a publisher


There are some special people in your life who change your future direction in a totally unexpected way. Ann Hales-Tooke, née Petre, was the person who set me onto the path to publishing back in 2005. 

Her son Hugh called me to let me know that she had passed away peacefully in her sleep on the 6th November 2020.

Before I go into my personal story, here is an insight to her life.

Ann Petre was born in 1926 at Langley Hall Farm, Norfolk, coming from a family that included aviation pioneers and WWI heroes, and lived through some of the most tumultuous decades of the 20th Century. An independently minded and active person, she followed a varied path in life, rich in experiences. 

Ann gained an Oxford degree in Modern Greats in 1947, took on various administrative jobs and work in an agricultural firm near Cambridge, leading to her marriage and to her raising three sons there. Interest in early child development and freelance writing led to her involvement with the movement to liberalise the care of children in hospital. She wrote two books on the subject and became a Governor of the United Cambridge Hospitals in 1970. In 1977, after gaining a P.G.C.E. (Postgraduate Certificate in Education), she worked in primary and special schools specialising in the teaching of sign language. For this she was awarded a Research Associateship in 1984, at the Institute of Education. She trained as a psychodynamic counsellor with the Cambridgeshire Consultancy in Counselling. She gained BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) accreditation and taught counselling for a number of years for the university.

Ann also exhibited as an accomplished artist at the Tavistock Foundation and with the Cambridge Open Studios for the fourteen years. 

Le Trepied Dolmen
All this was unbeknown to me when she first approached me as a fellow member of Cambridge Open Studios in 2005. 

Ann had recently travelled to many Bronze Age sites to make paintings of ancient sacred places. She asked for my help in photographing the paintings so that she could make cards for her art sales at Cambridge Open Studios and the important Christmas market.

It was while we were meeting to go over the images in readiness to have them printed that Ann uttered a question that was to change the direction of my work.

"Chris, I've been writing my memoirs since my 50s. I'd like to get them published next year in time for my 80th Birthday. Can you help?"

Not knowing much about publishing but good at research, I went away to find out how she could achieve her ambition.

I returned with the news that she would probably have to find a book agent who would then target the main publishing houses. The likelihood of success was small as she would be competing against thousands of others, of which only a very small number would be successful. 

However, since desktop self publishing was now possible, and she was comfortable using Word, I suggested she could produce and publish the book herself.

"I can't do this on my own - could you help me?" was Ann's fateful reply.

A networking colleague, Julie Buck, put me in touch with an Irish publisher, based in Spain, who helped authors self publish. David Cronin of Moyhill Publishing was happy to help, letting us do the layout of the book and cover and dealing with the book registration, publishing and finding a suitable printer.

Completing the final version of the illustrated manuscript and the cover was an exciting period for both Ann and me. The printed books came a bit later than Ann's birthday, arriving in July 2006, but we were both happy with the end result that was "Journey into Solitude".

It was at this point that Ann also revealed her experience of promoting herself - presumably gained from Cambridge Open Studios. She planned a big book launch and signing session and  began busily corresponding with friends and family to ensure a full house. As her book included an element of her journey in faith, its loss and then regaining faith, Ann also successfully place her book in the SPCK bookshop in Cambridge. As I would tell future authors, "producing the book is the easy part, selling you have to work at".

I was proud to be at the bustling launch party that went well, including food and readings by Ann.

Journey into Solitude was simply an interesting project for me at the time. That is, until it prompted others to come and ask for my publishing services. Gaining confidence, and with David Cronin's good will, I took on the full role of publisher for local authors. Now that I'm semi retired, it is my main activity with over 50 books published. All because of Ann's fateful question "I can't do this on my own - could you help me?"

The success of "Journey into Solitude" inspired Ann to venture into historical fiction. 

At the time, she lived in Priory Road, close to the ruins of the Cellarer's Chequer, part of the Barnwell Priory which was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1539. 

Ann made the priory the focus of a story of a murder at Stourbridge Fair in 1534, the suicide of the Manager of a Homeless project hounded in 1990, the loss of a new-born baby and the painful end of Margaret Clifton, local visionary and artist.  The story lines touched on the question, "does the Evil that men do live after them, but the Good redeem itself in many ways?"

Ann's son, Hugh Hales-Tooke, reprised his role as cover photographer. His beautiful photo, taken with infrared film had graced 'Journey into Solitude'. For 'The Lost Priory', 83 year old Ann was game to be photographed by Hugh as the ghostly figure outside the Cellarer's Chequer. 

Barnwell Priory was closely associated with the ancient Stourbridge Fair, outside Cambridge. Ann invited us (my wife Jane and I) to attend a revival event outside the Leper's Chapel, as she had a stand there. 

It was another example of her sense of fun and willingness to go out and meet people to share her art and, of course, her books.

Our final collaboration came at the end of 2016, when Ann tackled the history of the Petre family prior to and during the first World War, in her book "The Family That Flew".

1914 was a key year for Ann's family, the Tor Bryan Petres. There were seven offspring. Four sons fighting - three sons flying and the fourth, an aviation pioneer, already dead. The book vividly protrays the tragedy and sacrifice, fortitude and hopefulness in the face of loss, through photographs, letters and memories. 

The story begins in the Victorian era with the family influenced by the deep spirituality of Ann's grandmother, Elise Sibeth. It portrays the excitement of aviation in the Edwardian years and something of the sadness and horrors of WWI.

The seven siblings, Ann's aunts and uncles, mirrored their times. The eldest, Mary, the family ‘carer’, was imprisoned by Edwardian mores. They all shared a passion for flight that led to the untimely deaths of Edward and Jack. Henry went on to found the Royal Australian Air Force. Sybil, the youngest, enjoyed more freedom as an ambulance driver and considerable artist.

The book was also the story of Tor Bryan, Ingatestone, a unique Arts and Crafts House, built in 1850 by Ann's grandfather and destroyed by developers a hundred years later. In Ann's mind, the demise of the house mirrored the lives, and deaths, of its occupants.

At 90, Ann had thrown herself fully into the project and the burden of bringing the story to paper would occasionally weigh heavily upon her mind. Illness too interrupted her progress. Then she would recover, regroup and progress. Despite the minor hurdles, we started working together in August and managed to get the final draft of the book to the printers by the beginning of January 2017.

Extract from the press release: "The Author, Ann Petre, (married name Ann Hales-Tooke), aged 90, is launching ‘The Family That Flew’, to an expected audience of 50 guests, at St Andrews Church Hall, Chesterton, on Saturday 21st January, 2017, at 2:30pm."

Yet again, Ann, with the help of friends, organised a launch party with tea and cakes, book signings and readings. Her children and grandchildren were involved and it was a memorable day! The photos below reflect how I will remember her.

All throughout the time between books, we stayed in sporadic contact and I was happy to help with other matters as they arose. As the first author I ever worked with, a fellow artist, and the initiator of my change in direction, Ann has always had a special place in my heart that went beyond the purely transactional. 

Ann, thinking about you passing does make me melancholy and regret losing a friend. But this is balanced by the positive memories of our working together over the 15 years, the shared cups of tea and biscuits - and your smile when all the hard work was done or a hurdle overcome.

It has been a privelege to be a part of your life, Ann. Thank you.

Chris Thomas 16.11.2020