A MUM who became a pied piper of stories when she worked in a Barry school, has published her first book – A Cracked Imagination.

Mum-of-two Penny Richards, sister of Gibbonsdown rooftop protester Rick ‘on the roof’ Canty, has drawn on her time working as a teacher’s aide in All Saints Church in Wales school, Cwm Talwg, where pupils would queue to be next in line to discover her stories, to finally get her grown up tales into print.

Widow, Penny was also inspired to write by childhood memories of her dad’s World War Two stories, but before she could begin she took a college course in English and gained some typewriting and computer skills.

Penny, 66, was left to raise her two daughters – Michele and Lois – when her husband Mike tragically died in a works accident in October 2001.

The former St Helen’s RC pupil left school, aged 15, and worked in shop retail at Chic Fashions and Lloyds in Holton Road before becoming a blue coat at the Barry Island holiday camp and working at Rhoose Airport for the private Bristol Air Taxis company.

She said: “As my dad had suffered his eighth heart attack, I was drafted in behind the counter of 'Allparts' a motor accessories shop my mother and father owned at the top of Holton Road. After marrying Mike my two daughters came along and I needed a job which allowed me time to write, so worked as a midday supervisor.

“Later I was offered a teacher's aide post. That position fired my imagination even more as the children would want stories and drawings etc the next day. Often I'd give them pieces of paper with a numbers written on so as to denote who was next in line the following day. Having no written qualifications for that position it was later filled with someone who did so I left to study at Barry Further Education College on a full time course for English language, typewriting and computer skills. Learning to touch-type was invaluable to me as using pens and pencils was not only laborious, but my wrist would ache with all the writing. Suddenly writing became instant and I never looked back.

“I don't think I ever decided to write, the passion has always been there. It was certainly encouraged listening to my dad tell stories especially about the monkey he and Gaffa Williams had during World War Two in Egypt. They would fill me with excitement as the monkey's job was to creep behind enemy lines, steal food and cigarettes which he'd bring back thus saving Gaffa and my dad's life. Once my dad mistakenly told us the monkey died of pneumonia, his knitted coat was thin and the desert was cold during the nights. But when my mother saw Rick and myself crying inconsolably she quickly told my dad to magically bring him back to life - which he did!

“Deciding to publish a story book was never far away in my mind and when my daughter Michele and my school friend Sandra McCabe both gave me the telephone number minutes apart, I remember thinking 'Penny, it's now or never'.”

The number was for Candy Jar Books publishers in Cardiff .