Inspirational Women – Berlie Doherty, writer

 ‘I remember and let’s pretend – I remember is where you start, it’s what gives the story vitality and truth. Let’s pretend is what the imagination does with it, the lies that a story-teller is allowed to tell.’ [1]

There are not many people like Berlie: quiet and thoughtful, kind and gentle, extremely articulate, when you met her, you realise immediately that you are speaking to the most extraordinary person. She cares passionately about everything – her very talented family (her daughter is the singer Sally Doherty[2], her husband is the children’s writer Alan Brown) ,her friends, her community – she sings, she is an active and well-respected member of the village in which she lives. And, unsurprisingly, she has the most enormous passion for Literature. Author of over sixty books, she has won many awards, including the prestigious Carnegie Medal, not once, but twice.

Berlie has to be one of the UK’s most loved novelists: Children of Winter, Granny Was a Buffer Girl and Dear Nobody, are to name but a few of her works. She writes in different genres: children’s, young adult, adult, she even writes poetry, plays and for the screen. Her novels have been translated into more than twenty languages. It would seem that there is no stopping her!

Originally from near Liverpool, Berlie now lives in the Peak District. Her father was a railway clerk, but a man who was clearly interested in stories, particularly the oral tradition, and it is he who first encouraged her to write, as she now encourages others to do. Originally a schoolteacher, Berlie can often be found in schools talking to classes about writing, (her old school have named their library after her). She recently took part in a Walk The Write Way charity, a 9 mile hike along the Wirral with local writers and walkers.

Berlie began writing as a young girl, and her stories were first published in the Liverpool Echo. Later, whist she was a teacher, she wrote, How Green You Are, reading chapters to her class (who didn’t know she was the author). Like many women, marriage and family came her way, and it wasn’t until she did a post-graduate course at Sheffield University, where there was a creative writing course, that she started to write again.

‘The tutor asked us to write a 1500 word story, and he said the subject was to be Black and White. My thoughts flew to the black and white habits that the nuns at school had worn. I thought about how the colour of the habit reflected the philosophy of their teaching – evil and good, sin and sacrifice, punishment and reward, hell and heaven. I wrote a short story called Requiem, about the death of the nun who had taught singing at my convent school.’[3]

 Berlie’s tutor really liked the story and recommended that Berlie tried to sell it, which she did. Twelve years later it became a full-length novel for adults and a radio 4 play. Although, in the time from them to now, she has produced many novels, Berlie has had to squeeze her opportunities for writing into her busy life – grabbing the time whenever it came her way.

‘I love to have several things on the go at once – plays, novels, stories, poems. Always, always, my children have come first. But the spare minutes, the early and late hours, the quiet day-time hours, were all writing time. I’ve never worked so hard, nor felt so creatively fit.’[4]

 I think it is this determination, her need to write and taking the risk to give up teaching that I find most inspirational. Imagine, having written over sixty novels, how much dedication, how much imagination, skill and passion this takes to achieve.

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Berlie, what do you consider your greatest achievement?

Being able to earn my living by doing the thing that I love the most.

Who are your favourite writers?

Ted Hughes, Gillian Clarke, Edna O’Brien, Charles Dickens, Helen Dunmore, Hilary Mantel, to name but a few.

 What is the best thing that has happened to you?

Having my children, and being able to write while I was bringing them up.

What is your greatest strength?


What was the best advice given to you?

Write as if every word costs a bob. Barry Hines, in the days when a bob was a shilling and worth a lot more than 10p!

What is the one word you’d use to define you?


What is the best gift you could receive?

I’ve already had it.

What makes you laugh?

My husband.

Which living person do you most admire?

Malala Yousafzai

What is your most treasured possession?

A diary written by my grandfather in 1892.

What is your motto?

Make it work.

How would you like to be remembered?

A friendly person who loved to write.


For more information about Berlie you can visit her website




References and Further Information



[1] 21/10/17


[3] 21/10/17

[4] 21/10/17

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