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Full steam ahead as self-published children's yarn sees Bill Kerr raise £10k for charities

By Brett Campbell

An author who self-published his debut novel in 2014 has raised £10,000 for charity after selling thousands of copies of his adventure story inspired by an old Belfast train network.

Bill Kerr (65), who was born yards from literary hero CS Lewis's childhood home in Strandtown, Co Down, penned Charley Farley And The Last Steam Train three years ago.

He planned to raise money for Tearfund, but has also donated a significant portion of the proceeds to the Northern Ireland Children's Hospice.

"I'm delighted; I was told if I sold 100 copies I'd be doing well," Bill told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It has sold around 1,000 hard copies and the same on Kindle, although you don't get as much money for online sales. I couldn't afford to order 10,000 copies and not sell them, so I just print as I go."

The slow-burning success of the 130,000-word novel has left Bill, who has lived in Newtownards since marrying in 1978, feeling proud of his work, which has only been sold locally.

"It's difficult to break into the big bookshops because they are interested in profit, not helping me make money for charity," he explained.

"I was fortunate enough to have opportunities to visit schools and I was even the guest speaker at a prize night at my old school, Regent House.

"Children of that age group are always very keen if they hear that an author of a book is coming to speak to them, so it was very nice."

The story follows five children on a mysterious adventure in 1950s Northern Ireland.

Although aimed at children, Bill hopes his writing appeals to adults, as the book is littered with references to places they may recall from childhood.

The father-of-two credits his memories of growing up in Dundonald, his late father Charles Farley Kerr and a free rail pass for inspiring the book, which reimagines the old Belfast to Newcastle route.

"I was on the train coming home from my daughter's house on a day that I had visited my father's grave," he added.

"Charley Farley came into my head just before I wondered when the last steam train was. When I checked, it was 1950. The rest of the story came to me bit by bit."

The heart-warming tale, reminiscent of Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven series, revolves around the friends and the steam locomotive Maid Of The Mournes. The train takes them along often treacherous tracks where deceit and danger wait at every turn as they find themselves at the centre of a seemingly unsolvable mystery.

"It's a book of fiction, but there's a lot of fact to it," Bill said.

The old railway bridge and his former village school play a prominent role in the story, which follows pals Charley, Poppy Downs, Pete Hedley, and siblings Billy and Abby Chew.

"They are good friends, but they are also bad wee rips," he joked. While not wanting to give much away, Bill did admit the story was incomplete.

"All children's novels end with the words 'The End', but I left a question mark - the story isn't finished," he said.

"I have two chapters of the second book already written and I would hope to write a third, but I'm not pursuing them at the moment, I will wait until this book is a success.

"It's set around Eastertime, the sequel would be set over the summer and the final instalment would take place over Christmas." Bill said his only regret was that he wasn't able to support more charities.

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