Howard the healer


15 August 2023
Sales rep turned children’s author Mark Taylor tells Joanne Bednall how his Bearded Collie, Howard, rescued him from rock bottom and transformed his life.

With his knuckles white from gripping the car steering wheel, Mark Taylor leaned forward and closed his eyes, only for a second, to review the decision he had just made. With his life in turmoil due to family and work issues, the building supplies sales rep had resolved to end it all.

Mark, from near Guildford in Surrey, had been tipped over the edge by the pressure of sales, and concern about his elderly mum’s dementia and deteriorating health. Revving his car engine, the 59-year-old planned to drive at speed straight into a brick wall.

“But two things saved me that day,” explained Mark, recalling that near-fateful morning early in 2021. “The first was taking a moment to rest my head on the steering wheel, and the second was a person tapping on the windscreen.”

Looking up, Mark was surprised to see a familiar face staring back at him. Despite the man wearing a postman’s uniform, Mark recognised him as Gary, an old schoolfriend.

“Are you all right, mate?” Gary asked, concerned, as Mark wound down the driver’s window. Gary’s timely intervention prompted Mark to go home and finally open up to his long-term partner, Annette. “I’d been under a lot of pressure but being a typical bloke, refused to talk about my problems,” said Mark.

“I felt I should just ‘man up’ and bury everything, but all this stress made me very irritable and sent my anxiety through the roof. Gary saved my life, and I feel quite emotional thinking how close I came. But I know now it wasn’t my time to go.” After confessing how much he’d been struggling, Mark sat down with Annette and they cried together.

“Before, talking had felt like a weakness but the weakness is not talking,” continued Mark, who booked an appointment with his GP and handed his notice in the next day.

“From this point on, Annette took charge of my recovery. It was her decision to get a dog — ‘you need a puppy’ she told me in no uncertain terms.” The couple had previously owned Bearded Collies Flo and Billy, but after Billy died aged 17, five years before, Mark couldn’t face the heartbreak of losing another dog.

But Annette had other ideas, and started to research Bearded Collie breeders in their local area. After finding and viewing a litter in West Sussex, she sent a photo of the smallest male pup with a splash of white on his nose — and Mark knew he was ‘the one’.

“‘Mr Lonely’ was sitting in the corner on his own and I fell in love with him there and then,” admitted Mark, who felt an instant connection with the four-week-old pup. When the pair went to see the litter, the same pup ran up to Mark and licked him on the nose.

“Having Howard helped concentrate my mind,” continued Mark, who brought the pup home just before the pandemic hit. As soon as restrictions were lifted, the trio headed off on a much-needed break to a cottage in West Wittering, one of Mark’s favourite destinations. One day, while sitting on the verandah, Mark started writing anecdotes about a local cricket club he had formed, but he was distracted by the playful pup and his amusing antics.

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“Howard sparked an idea for a children’s book helping three- to seven-year-olds understand the importance of love, kindness, and sustainability,” continued Mark, who spent a couple of hours fleshing out a storyline, focusing on his central canine character travelling through ‘Pawsland’ and solving an ecological problem in each place.

On his return from holiday, Mark started researching self-publishing options and illustrators, finally connecting with a talented artist via a Bearded Collie forum.

Soon ‘Howard of Pawsland on his Magical Journey to Whistledown’ was ready to be published through Amazon. But first, Mark wanted to wrap up a first edition as a birthday gift for his granddaughter Elaya.

“Annette sent me up the road to a shop that had recently opened because she’d heard you could design your own wrapping paper there,” explained Mark. “But as it turned out, they publish train books instead. Just as I was about to leave, the woman behind the counter asked why I wanted the wrapping paper, so I explained about the book. ‘Can you put a train in the story?’ she asked.

“‘Only if it’s sustainable!’ I laughed.

"Then you’ve got 24 hours,’ she replied.”

Incredulously, Mark’s research uncovered a train in America that runs on recycled cooking oil, so he duly added this to the story and submitted it the next day.

A few days later, Mark received a call inviting him to a meeting with the head of publishing at Middleton Press. He was astounded to be offered a six-book deal, and couldn’t believe he actually replied: “I’ll think about it…”

When he got home, Annette stared open-mouthed at his response, telling him: “Well, get back there now, and say you’ve thought about it — and the answer’s ‘yes!’” Mark ran back to the office, and immediately signed the deal. Already, three books have been published, with outlines firmly in place for the remaining three.

“It’s been quite a journey!” laughed Mark, whose dream is to see ‘Howard of Pawsland’ turned into an animated series. “The whole process has been cathartic — I always enjoyed writing at school but thought only ‘clever bods’ became authors — never someone like me. But more importantly, Howard has helped heal me and show there’s a way out of the darkness. He got me walking and talking to people, and makes me smile every day — I love that boy so much.

“We’ve really struck gold with this dog and I don’t know what I’d do without him. I still google ‘Howard of Pawsland by Mark Taylor’ because I still can’t quite believe I am now a published author in my 50s!”

‘Howard of Pawsland on his Magical Journey to Whistledown’, ‘Howard of Pawsland on his Magical Train Journey to Tastlybud’ and ‘Howard of Pawsland Saves Fishlypool’, by Mark Taylor, are available in hardback priced at £11.99 – £12.95, from Amazon, and