THE heartbreaking experience of losing her young daughter prompted Evening Times Scotswoman of the Year Laura Young to set up art therapy charity The Teapot Trust.

Now her husband John has published a book based on some of the stories he wrote when Verity was ill.

Farewell Tour of a Terminal Optimist is about a teenager called Connor, who has cancer, and the crazy road trip he embarks upon in a bid to track down the father he has not seen for almost a decade.

It has already been hailed as a 'bold and brilliant debut'.

“It’s fiction, of course – it’s not our story,” says John, who lives in East Lothian with Laura and their other two daughters Nina and Isla.

“But almost everything in it is true. I have met children who battle on regardless of what life throws at them, and I have seen doctors and nurses who make heartbreaking decisions every day.

“And I have watched and waited with a weeping heart as a child slowly succumbs to illness, yet seeing her never giving up and never wanting to miss out on anything.”

This is the heart of the novel, a funny and moving tale which is being marketed at teenagers and young adults. Verity Young died, aged eight, after a long fight against lupus and cancer.

“Verity was always upbeat and wanted to have adventures, despite what she was going through,” smiles John, who is originally from Bangor in Northern Ireland.

“She reminded me a lot of my granny, whom I used to look after on Wednesday afternoons when I was a young lad.

“She had Parkinson’s and was quite poorly, had to use a walking frame to get about, but when I turned up and asked her what she wanted to do that day, she’d just laugh and say – let’s go hang-gliding, John, why don’t we?”

John adds: “Verity was the same – she wanted to dive with dolphins, do exciting things. She got frustrated, I think, because people saw her with her bald head, after her hair fell out, or the tubes all over her and could only see the illness, rather than the person behind it. She was always of the opinion - well, this is me. I'm making the best of it.

“That’s what the book is about – why shouldn’t sick children or disabled children want to have adventures too?”

John, a former lawyer, left school at 16, but quickly completed his qualifications at night school.

“It wasn’t the learning I didn’t like, but the environment – school just wasn’t for me,” he explains. “I did different jobs, then moved to London when I was 18 and started working for a law firm.

“My job was to drive around different prisons and police stations taking statements for court. I think that’s where the character of Skeates in the novel partly comes from. I met a lot bad characters, but I also met many who had good sides, who had maybe just lost their way.

“And then one day, in court, I was watching a barrister who was representing our client, and doing a woefully terrible job of it, and I thought – I could do that better. So I became a lawyer."

He adds: "When wee Verity died, we battened down the hatches. I suppose writing became my escape. We saw what art therapy had done for Verity – she became a different person when she was drawing and painting, because it took her mind away to a different place.

“That’s what the Teapot Trust was about – getting art therapists into hospital to help children who were frightened or stressed to relax before their appointments. So as art became their escape, I suppose writing was mine.

“It was a cathartic experience for me, taking me away from her suffering and the tedium of the hospital ward.”

A friend persuaded John to enter the Scottish Book Trust New Writing Awards and he was astonished to win one.

“It gave me confidence to keep writing,” he says. “It’s a fantastic organisation and has given me such support.

“It’s a little weird now that the book has actually been published – writing is quite a lonely thing to do, and now suddenly I’m sharing what I have written with everyone else.”

He grins: “People get really different things out of the book – sometimes things I haven’t even thought about.”

In the book, the characters get into all kinds of scrapes and some are based on John’s own exploits as a teenager.

“I had to tone them down a bit for the book, but I have climbed out of buildings and slept in buses, and I really did go ski-ing in a gale in a t-shirt and jeans, in Aviemore,” laughs John.

“My eldest daughter Nina helped me keep things authentic, as it’s told from teenagers’ points of view, and I wanted it to be realistic.

“I’d actually taken some of the worst stuff out, but she told me to keep it all in.”

The Teapot Trust, which came from an idea John and Laura had in the old Yorkhill Sick Kids’ Hospital Glasgow, now funds art therapists in hospitals and hospices all over the UK.

Laura won the title of Evening Times Scotswoman of the Year 2016 for her tireless work running the charity.

“Creativity is a great way of increasing positive feelings and one of the reasons we started the Teapot Trust was to use creativity to help children come to terms with illness,” says John.

“There has been huge interest in and demand for the service and it’s been a very busy year so far.”

John and Laura are touched to receive letters from parents whose children have benefitted from the work of the Trust.

“These are children like Verity, who were scared or anxious about treatments, who would curl up and hide rather than go in to see the doctor, until they spent time with the art therapist,” says John.

“Those letters mean everything to us.”

Farewell Tour of a Terminal Optimist is out now, published by Floris Books.