Bringing a charming children's character to life has been a long-term ambition of army veteran Roy Dunford and in retirement he has made Mortby the Mole a reality. He tells Joanna Davis more.

ARMY veteran Roy Dunford never thought his future would lead to becoming a children's author.

The 77-year-old, of Winfrith Newburgh, between Dorchester and Wareham, has created the character Mortby the Mole and written a book about his adventures.

Talented Roy, whose father was a painter, has even done all the illustrations himself.

The mammoth 137 page book, which has been 11 years in the making, tells of a curious mole called Mortby, who, with his grandfather, has to leave his safe underground home because of a flood.

Together the pair struggle through the heat of the day and meet many interesting friends along the way.

When they finally reach the magical, lush pastures known to the locals as 'Happy Valley', they breathe a sigh of relief as they finally feel at home. But will 'Happy Valley' turn out as good as it seems?

Happy Valley is a completely fictional creation, not based on anywhere in particular, and certainly not on the somewhat bleak TV programme starring Sarah Lancashire of the same name, Roy says.

Roy thinks that his Army background led him in a rather inadvertent way to writing about moles.

He said: "I think it must have been my Army background that got me writing about moles. When I was in the military I seemed to spend a lot of time digging. And Mortby was the name of an Army buddy of mine. I think that the inspiration for the flood which forced Mortby and his grandfather to leave their home was some of the weird weather we've been having lately."

Weymouth-born Roy did 12 years' service in the regular army, three years with the Territorial Army and 19 years training army cadets. He trained cadets while employed as a housemaster at Thornlow School in Weymouth with the responsibility of up to 235 children.

Roy said: "I spent a lot of time with children for whom boarding was the way of life placed upon them, for some returning home just three times a year while others returned home each week. This required helping them with homework, ensuring there was interesting activities available.

"Art played an important role when outdoor activities in the winter months became difficult. Working as a team we painted murals in the common room."

When the school closed in 1998 Roy transferred to a school in Yeovil.

And that isn't the only artistic experience that led Roy to bring Mortby to life with his illustrations. Art runs in his family.

He said: "My father Fred Dunford was an artist - he did painting, decorating and anything with a brush - and he used to paint scenic backgrounds for the shows in Alexandra Gardens in Weymouth. I used to help him out quite a lot."

Touring comedian Charlie Drake, who performed at Alexandra Gardens regularly, would come and help the pair with the paintings, Roy said.

Mortby the Mole has been a long time in the making.

Roy said: "I started the book when I was working at Thornlow. However I didn't continue with it until after I retired at 65.

"I actually had my first book published a few years ago, which was actually the first chapter of this book, but I wasn't so happy with the quality of it. This one has been done by Print Team Portland and I'm delighted with the quality of it. The grandchildren love it."

The book was created after many hours spent in Roy's study creating the illustrations with poster paint. Roy was supported by his wife Pauline who became a fan of Mortby the Mole, he said. Roy was able to self-publish with Print Team Portland after getting in touch with them through a contact at Thornlow.

But Roy isn't going to rest on his laurels - he's already busy on his next book.

"I'm working on a follow-up about Mortby, he said. "I've done about half so far. I've also got an idea about doing one on tadpoles."

*Mortby the Mole by Roy E. Dunford priced at £10 is available from Poundbury Garden Centre, Martinstown Village Stores, Winfrith Village Stores and Books Beyond Words in Dorchester. Or contact Roy to buy a copy on 01305 852935.