news

'Even though I have a terminal illness I’ve never been happier in my life'

Bill Forde, the Mirfield probation officer, discovered a talent for storytelling

Author Bill Forde presented a painting by artist Bob Shawmarsh to the pupils of Nields Primary School(Image: tmc)

He is the adored author whose stories have entranced children across the Broad Acres and beyond.

Now Bill Forde, the Mirfield probation officer who discovered a talent for storytelling that drew celebrities to his tales like moths to a flame, is using his skills as an writer to combat debilitating ill health.

Diagnosed with not one but three types of terminal cancer, he says penning stories gives him a reason for living, not dying.

“I have a blood cancer that is terminal,” says Bill, 74, who now lives in Haworth overlooking the Bronte Parsonage.

“Last Christmas it transformed into a more aggressive cancer. It means I have no immune system, so I have had to readapt my life.

“Every time someone is near me with a cold, I risk myself. It’s like Russian roulette: for me it could turn into pneumonia.

“I have to be careful now. The main struggle with the illness I have got is the time factor. But if you are going to focus on dying then you are never going to live.”

Last year Bill spent two months in hospital. Twice he almost succumbed to his illnesses. The year before he was confined to his house for six months.

His poor health galvanised him into resurrecting work he had written and completed a quarter of a century before: two novels aimed at adults entitled Rebecca’s Revenge and Come Back Peter. The latter is a gritty tale of life in the West Riding that spans a 20-year period from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Author Bill Forde at Golcar St John's(Image: @TarkId=3932)

“I was a prominent children’s writer back then. Releasing these novels would have sullied the memory of that.

“I stopped writing before I met my wife, Sheila, who I married on my 70th birthday. She encouraged me to start writing again. In the past five years I’ve written 12 romantic stories. They all form part of Tales of Portlaw, which is a reference to where I was born in Ireland.”

Bill’s reputation as a prolific writer of children’s stories gained pace when he began recruiting celebrities to read them to rapt audiences of schoolchildren. Among the famous faces that volunteered their time and vocal talents were actresses Diana Rigg and Prunella Scales, broadcaster Michael Parkinson, novelist Stan (A Kind of Loving) Barstow and many more.

Both Nelson Mandela and Diana, Princess of Wales called Bill personally to request copies of his books. In total he has written more than 60. The royalties, estimated to be hundreds of thousands of pounds, go to charity.

The reasons for Bill’s generosity are deeply personal. When he was 11 he was run over by a lorry and almost died. “When I was in hospital I promised that if I got fit I would do something to pay back. As a probation officer I got into relaxation training, which also became very popular with schools. The best way of doing that was with a story, so I used to make them up.”

Bill wrote stories that focused on timeless issues such as bereavement, bullying and loss. In 1990 he sold books in aid of Children in Need, raising £10,000. Suddenly it mushroomed.

Mirfield children's author Bill Forde is pictured with children from Reinwood Infant School after pupils sold £170 worth of Bill's book Everyone And Everything, to raise money for Children In Need in 1990(Image: tmc)

“By the time that was over I had local celebrities going into schools every day reading my stories to 5-11 year-olds. Then I was contacted by organisations asking me write books that would raise money for them. Local celebrities became national and then international celebrities. Once people like Mandela support you it’s easy to get people to read your stories.”

Dame Catherine Cookson funded the publication of Action Annie in the 1990s. Magician Paul Daniels read stories on the radio.

But eventually the thrill of it all began to pall.

“At first when you get your stuff in print you are over the moon,” observes Bill.

“And when you get famous people reading them you’re full of yourself. Famous people were meant to make children feel special. Parents would come as well as the kids. The kids might not know who the reader was. I started asking myself what I was doing it for: me or the kids.”

Eventually Bill stopped asking celebrities to take part and took over the readings himself. “You start off on a bit of an ego trip and you end up with cold reality.”

Since coming to terms with ill health Bill has devoted his time to writing material that might resonate with others. One of his daily tasks is to pen a thought for the day. He puts them on his website where they can be read by his thousands of followers.

Mirfield-based author Bill Forde reads his latest story to children of Lindley Junior School, 1992(Image: tmc)

“The fact that I have a terminal illness means there may be people out there that have it too. My purpose is to help people to live and to die better.

“Of course I’m proud of my children’s books and my legacy. But I think in a roundabout way that what I am doing now keeps me alive longer.

“If I wasn’t doing what I’m doing now, what would I be doing? I would be confined to a bed.

“I’m enjoying writing more today because it doesn’t bother me how many books are sold. Every time I write I get some pleasure out of it. I’m doing it for me as much as for other folk.

“Each of us have to work against selfishness – against our own ego. The thing I’m most proud of is that I’ve always carried a bucket of hope, and I try to share it around. Even though I have a terminal illness I’ve never been happier in my life.”

Read Bill’s stories on his website www.fordefables.co.uk

View full mobile page