Sue's been brought to book at the age of 73...

AT 73, Sue Stern has not only just published her first children's novel, but also formed her own publishing company.

Former French and special needs teacher, mental health support worker and university lecturer, Sue has been writing for most of her life.

But she only decided to pursue it as a serious career option at the age of 58 when she took her now-late mother, Efra Merrill, to a writing group on her retirement.

She recalled: "When I was seven I made my first book about a girl called Polly Palaver. It had a red cover, fashioned from my mother's old diary and was very, very small. I wish I had it now.

"At 12, I wrote The Square Pudding, my first play for children. Like every girl in her teens, I kept extensive, secret diaries, written in exercise books and in the wonderful shiny-coloured diaries you could buy then.

"A complete archive of being young and growing up in the 1950s and 60s. They're now beseeching me to type them up."

She continued: "Sometime in the 1990s I discovered Commonword, the Manchester writing resource agency, and began to write seriously, publishing poems and short fiction in magazines and online, here and in the USA."

Sue has also gained an MA in writing children's fiction at Manchester Metropolitan University and had 20 poems published in various anthologies, including Painting a Picture with Vanessa, about Sue's late daughter Vanessa, who died aged 15 of cerebral palsy.

This poem was included in The Best of Manchester Poets, which was launched last week.

Sue's children's novel Rafi Brown and the Candy Floss Kid, which will be launched at Yeshurun Synagogue, Cheadle, Cheshire, on Sunday, April 14 (8pm), tells the story of a dyslexic 11-year-old tormented at school by his teacher who does not recognise his unconventional talents.

Rafi teams up with a mysterious pink-haired girl Candy, who he meets in Didsbury Park, and the two pursue their education informally at the Manchester People's History Museum.

The exhibition they visit - on the origins of the Russian Revolution - and the cartoons which Rafi draws on the same period evoke memories of Sue's own family history.

Her maternal grandparents Sophia Kretchevsky and Adolf Lottenberg were Russian anarchists who met in London in the early 20th century.

Her Mancunian father Hymie Merrill became an atheist at the age of 21, after the death of his mother, which followed Hymie's difficult childhood fighting the debilitating illness of tuberculosis and having to leave Manchester Grammar School at 16 due to family poverty.

Hymie went down south to sell antiques and met his wife Efra. They settled in Prestwich, Manchester, after the war.

Sue recalled: "My parents were both left-wing and active members of the Labour Party. I recall Labour Party meetings in our front room and Left Book Club books filling our revolving bookcase.

"At our annual visit to the Daily Worker Bazaar at the Free Trade Hall we bought books printed in Moscow on thick whitish paper. Imbued with socialism, till I was 18 I was a member of the Labour League of Youth.

"But once I went away from home I got more into other things. I was brought up as a vegetarian. My family ran the health food shop on Cheetham Hill Road, Manchester. But I am not now a vegetarian."

Brought up an atheist, Sue later became an active member of Yeshurun Congregation, studying Judaism and comparative religions at Manchester University where she taught extra-mural courses in Jewish women's life-styles.

She said: "Coming from a secular background, I've made a long, spiritual journey into Judaism and my cultural roots."

After studying French at Leeds University, Sue lived for some time in Aix en Provence in France and in Israel. On her return she taught French, English and drama to people with special needs.

Yet throughout all her teaching, lecturing and support work, as well as in her writing, Sue feels that she was greatly influenced by her parents' idealism.

She said: "Both my parents had very strong social views about the need to leave the world in a better place.

"My parents' views influenced my life. A lot of my poetry is political. I seem to write, especially in poetry, about people who are outsiders, alienated and who don't fit in. I have a strong connection with children and adults with problems."

This is especially so because of her late daughter Vanessa.

Together with south Manchester dramatist Deborah Freeman, Sue used to run women's writing workshops.

She is currently writing the tragic story of her Russian maternal grandmother Sophia Kretchevsky.

Also in the pipeline is adult novel Babyday and the children's historical novel Mayvli and the Mysterious Machine, set in an East End sweatshop.

Setting up her own publishing company, Red Bank Books, was a totally new venture for Sue.

Wishing her success are husband Sidney and sons Anthony and Richard. She also has a young grandchild.

Sue will read from Rafi Brown and the Candy Floss Kid for Cheadle and Gatley League of Jewish Women on Monday (8pm) at 1 Brantwood Lane, Cheadle, Cheshire.

© 2013 Jewish Telegraph