AN author and film producer with dyslexia from Old Town has released her first novel.

Shelaagh Ferrell struggled with writing for years because of her condition but has now written a book of historical fiction which she hopes will entertain and educate audiences about black British history.

La Petite Negress follows a woman who escapes slavery in Jamaica with her brother and flees to England in 1772, where she tries to survive with no money, no contacts and no papers.

Shelaagh has fond memories of growing up in Swindon.

She said: “I’m very proud of my Swindon roots, my family home was in Old Town and I had a great childhood in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

“I was sent to the Tanwood School of Dance when I was just two years and nine months old, I participated yearly in the Swindon Dance Festival, and my picture appeared in the Adver many a time.

“When I was seven years old, I did panto at the Wyvern.

“I was the Ugly Duckling in Mother Goose and was in Cinderella when I was 10, then came back to play the genie in Aladdin in the ‘80s.

“The Wyvern is a lovely theatre - I remember when it was first built - and I’d love to do panto again.

“It was a fun life, I was really geared towards the arts and after I left school I went on to train in musical theatre.

“My Jamaican mother was a midwife at Princess Margaret Hospital and my dad was an aircraft engineer in the RAF at Lyneham and Brize Norton.”

Though she looks back fondly on her time here, Shelaagh faced a gruelling battle with her at-the-time undiagnosed dyslexia while at school until she found an unusual way of coping with it many years later.

Shelaagh added: “I had a really bad relationship with writing in school, I found it painful, it was a struggle and my mother and I found it very distressing.

“My dyslexia plagued me for many years and neither I nor my teachers could understand why my grades in English were so disproportionately bad when I had no problem with reading, comprehending and speaking.

“I thought I had a writing phobia, even of writing letters, then my mother suggested I see a psychologist and he diagnosed me.

“I never imagined I could be an author but I discovered that when I wrote in verse, it wasn’t painful - it was relaxing and therapeutic.

“This book started as just a couple of pages of verse but I really enjoyed getting into the world and it got longer and longer.”

Her novel was released just in time for Black History Month and she hopes that it could be used in schools to teach children about an overlooked period of British history.

The inspiration for the story came when Shelaagh herself learned about a court case in the early 1770s which ruled that no man was allowed to deport another.

Shelaagh added: “I’m a black British person and I’m of an age where black British history was not really taught in schools.

“We were misguided into thinking that black people didn’t come to Britain until the 1940s and I knew that didn’t sound right, then I learned that there was a black minority population of 20,000 in London during the 18th century and some of them held a ball at Westminster to celebrate the result of the James Somerset case.

“My imagination got to work, La Petite Negress came into my head, I wrote about her journey in this unfamiliar place and I knew this ball would be part of the plot.

“I hope that through reading this book, one’s curiosity ignites and they will inquire more about this really fascinating period in black history.

The book is available on Amazon and an audiobook will be released later this month.

Shelaagh is now working on two more books following her protagonist through key events of the 1780s.