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In conversation with Sophie Ground, illustrator of De Vries book jacket

Sophie Ground lives in Spalding in South Lincolnshire, in the area where all the DI Yates novels are set. She’s a very talented artist who studied Art at both GCSE and A level at school, although subsequently she did not choose a career based on Art. Sophie works as a special needs teacher at a school where some of the children are very severely disabled.

She says she has never before been asked to design a book jacket. She mostly draws and paints for her own pleasure, or to delight her friends. She had a still life phase when she was much influenced by seventeenth century Dutch paintings and there was another period when she mostly drew cats. She is a cat lover and tends to paint things that mean a lot to her.

She almost embarked on a career as an artist before she decided on teaching instead. She applied to study Art at Lincoln College, but couldn’t get a grant for the foundation year, so accepted a place at the University of East Anglia instead. She chose UEA because, although she wanted to spread her wings and leave home, she also didn’t want to move too far away. She returned to Spalding quickly after she graduated: “I really wouldn’t want to leave Spalding now; I’m in awe of it.”

Teaching is in her blood – both her parents and her grandfather worked in schools. Sophie’s first teaching post was at a mainstream primary school. She says of the year she spent there, “I didn’t struggle, but I didn’t relate to it, either. So I answered an advert to provide maternity cover in a special needs school and thought I’d try it – and I loved it. The kids are amazing. The progress they make is not the same as for other children, but the job satisfaction is immense. I particularly enjoy working with them to develop their communication skills. Although it sounds clichéd, we really are more like a family than a group of colleagues teaching classes of children.”

The children at the school have very complex needs, categorised as “Severe Learning Difficulties” and “Profound Multiple Learning Difficulties”. Many are physically disabled – wheelchair bound or needing intubation or regular medication. The aim of all the teachers at the school is to enrich these children’s lives within a happy and safe environment.

Asked to say more about her feelings for Lincolnshire, Sophie adds, “I really like the sunsets. I have never seen anything like the amazing Lincolnshire skies anywhere else. And I love the flat landscape – you can see for miles. There’s something comforting about that. And at certain times of year we get very misty mornings, which are thought-provoking. Sometimes people who live here forget to appreciate Spalding; then, when friends visit, we realise how special it is and how the buildings haven’t changed in centuries. The river is beautiful, too – I’ve always like the weeping willows on its banks.”

Sophie has yet to read De Vries, but plans to take the book on holiday with her this summer. She says there’s something special about taking a book on holiday and being able to immerse yourself in it. In her case, there are good practical reasons, too – her son, born in lockdown, is just over a year old and can be demanding, but her parents will be there to divert him during the holiday. She has read some of the other DI Yates novels, and says she particularly likes Chasing Hares and Fair of Face.

She has no plans for Art to take a more central role in her professional life but says if anyone else approaches her with a commission, she will probably accept it. “I like to please people with my work.”

Looking after her pupils, her own family and fitting in some time to draw and paint doesn’t leave Sophie with much time for other hobbies, but she says she enjoys all the arts, but is especially keen on reading; and, when she is able, she likes to travel – but not for too long. Her ultimate goal is always to return to Spalding.

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