Gill Garratt: Moving into educational writing

Counsellor and therapist Gill Garratt discusses her writing career and creating mindfulness resources for schools.

What prompted you to take time out to write your first book?

Clients had often asked me if I had written a book to accompany some of the sessions they had with me as a counsellor. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) includes lots of practical teaching strategies to help people find constructive ways of dealing with the problems they may be encountering. Like any new skill, though, CBT takes practice.

One Christmas when we were snowed in for a few days I decided to start writing the book, but it was only ten years later when I was sixty and had already started an MA in Professional Writing at Falmouth University as a treat for myself that it became an actual book. By coincidence and within the first month of starting the course, Icon Publishers contacted me to ask if I would be interested in creating a proposal for a book, 'introduction to CBT for Work.

After completing their proposal form and the first chapter of the book that I had already written, it went on to be published. I think they found me through my website which I had created two years before. 

How have your publications enhanced your professional career?

My publications have enhanced my professional career by raising my public profile. This has given me more contacts to work with in the industry, training people in CBT for transition management, and lecturing – including as a guest lecturer on cruise ships, which is fun! Most rewarding of all, many people have told me how much the CBT books have helped them in their personal and professional lives.

You have recently written a mindfulness course for primary age children. Have you found that schools’ attitudes to mental health issues have changed in recent years? What challenges are involved in writing with a younger audience in mind?

When I started teaching in the 70s, mindfulness was not something that was ever discussed. However, I did use relaxation techniques and exercises for the primary children and later for work with teenagers in special education units in the East End of London, who struggled with emotional issues such as anger, anxiety, depression and guilt. It felt intuitive to me that these youngsters needed some downtime and some space to take time out and calm their minds.

I was trained in the era of child-centred education which lent itself to including a holistic approach to life and education. I have seen the educational world change radically over the last 40 years with many more pressures on children to work towards achieving nationally recognised empirical targets, which can bring associated mental and emotional stresses. Fortunately, there are now many well-organised professional bodies employing suitably qualified counsellors who are being brought into schools. One example of this is Place 2 Be.

My CBT training, combined with my affinity with the philosophy of child and person-centred beliefs, led me to write materials to use in primary schools. My training and experience of having worked in primary schools for ten years in the UK and in California informed the writing of suitable materials for the youngsters. I wrote and developed a course on mindfulness for teachers of primary age children and piloted it in a school in Cornwall, where I live. When drafting materials, it is vital to keep the sessions at the appropriate level for the facilitators, bearing in mind their probable skills and training.  

What advice do you have for authors at the start of their writing career?

I am advising non-fiction authors here…

  1. Work out what you really want to share with the world at large and why. 
  2. Consider what makes you qualified and experienced to share this knowledge, and the purpose. 
  3. Focus on the specific topic, audience, genre or USP (Unique Selling Point). 
  4. Map out your proposal – working title, introduction, chapter headings, conclusion. Then work to subdivide all of these before your work progresses. 
  5. Use a template of a professional proposal outline to help you prepare the book. 
  6. Never stop researching. Your research should be up to date, use other publications. 
  7. Build up your networks – for example, I started with a website ten years before I started the book. Use LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, whatever works. 
  8. Attend book fairs to get to know the publishers. 
  9. Join the Society of Authors. 
  10. Keep going. I have now had four books and two audiobooks published and my writing career only got started when I was 60.

Gill Garratt is a member of the SoA's Educational Writers Group.