In 2020, Mark Taylor’s 89-year-old mother was suffering with acute dementia. He felt like he had a grip on things, but things began to just get worse. His mum had a fall which left her bedridden, meaning she required 24-hour care.
At the same time, Mark had had to take a new job in sales, and while he was trying to look after his beloved mum, the pressure from his job began to mount. He found himself overwhelmed in his professional life and despairing in his private life, and felt like he had no where to turn.
“I guess, being a bloke, I kind of buried my head in the sand when everything was getting on top of me,” he recalls. “And rather than talk to anybody – and I’ve got the most beautiful partner, Annette, who’s wonderful – I guess I didn’t want to put the pressure on her either.”
READ MORE: Woman with cancer says pet dog saved her life after realising she was ill
One night while in his car, Mark says, it had all become too much to bear, and was so “low” that he decided to take his own life.
Talking about it now, Mark gets tears in his eyes. He says: “I can’t believe I let it get to that stage. I can’t believe I let it get that far without telling anybody.”
Mark had chosen a place he thought no one would find him, but by a miracle, someone did. With Mark’s head over the steering wheel, he heard a knock on the car window on the driver’s side. A local friend of his, who works as a postman, was peering in, asking if he was alright.
You don’t have to suffer in silence if you’re struggling with your mental health. Here are some groups you can contact when you need help.
Samaritans: Phone 116 123, 24 hours a day, or email email@example.com, in confidence
Childline: Phone 0800 1111. Calls are free and won’t show up on your bill
PAPYRUS: A voluntary organisation supporting suicidal teens and young adults. Phone 0800 068 4141
Depression Alliance: A charity for people with depression. No helpline but offers useful resources and links to other information
Students Against Depression: A website for students who are depressed, have low mood, or are suicidal. Click here to visit
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM): For young men who are feeling unhappy. Has a website and a helpline: 0800 58 58 58
For information on your local NHS urgent mental health helpline, visit here
The postman’s name is Gary, and he insisted on ringing Mark’s wife Annette, before watching Mark drive all the way home, making sure he stayed safe. Mark didn’t tell him what he’d been planning to do until four months later.
From then, Mark, who is originally from Surrey, was open with his wife, who is from London. She took him to the GP and began to work through some of the problems he’d been facing. And there was one thing that she was adamant about – she was going to get Mark a dog.
At first, he was wary. “The thing about a dog,” he says, “is they give you unconditional love. But when you lose one, it’s like losing part of the family. And when you’ve had them for as long as we had our last ones, I thought, I just can’t go through that again.”
But all that changed when Annette showed him the dog she had in mind – a beautiful black and white bearded collie. When they visited the dog home, one little dog spotted Mark straight away. He says: “He ran up my chest and ran back down and kissed me.” It was the exact dog Annette had showed him on her phone.
“It’s him,” Mark said to Annette. And they bought him. The couple then took the dog, who they named Howard, home to their place in Surrey. “Annette knew it would sort of help heal me, take my mind off things, give me something else to concentrate on.”
After Howard came home with them, Mark’s mood immediately began to change. “Howard kept walking past me,” Mark said, “and every time he walked past me he’d do something funny, and I began writing it down. He was only a little pup.
“When he yawned, he made a whistling sound. And I’d write down Whistle Down. Bearded Collies have got these big bottoms, you know, because they’re all fur – they’re like a big English sheepdog. And so I wrote that down. And all these funny things I wrote down.
“Annette walked past and picked up the piece of paper and said, ‘Wow. What is this?’ And I just said that I’ve been writing all these things down about Howard, because he keeps making me smile. And she said, ‘You’ve got to write a children’s book.’
That was where it began – the next stage of Mark’s journey. A dad and grandad himself, he began writing a book all about his beloved dog – Howard of Pawsland: on his magical journey to Whistledown. A few months later, Mark has secured a six-book publishing deal with Middleton Press for the Howard of Pawsland series.
Mark says: “The thing is, when I wrote the books, I wanted to do Howard’s love justice. Because he made me smile every day, and he still does. And, it was a master stroke by Annette really, she’s a genius. Because she knew it would help me. She knew he would help heal me. I literally smile every single day. He is the most beautiful dog. Beautiful boy.”
Mark had his two-year-old granddaughter in mind when writing about the adventures of Howard. He’s also passionate about sustainability, but is keen not to preach to children that age. Instead he writes about love, kindness and curiosity, and plants the seed in his books of thinking about the environment.
He beams: “He’s got the kindest heart. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, that dog. He wants to play with everybody. He wants to cuddle everybody. You can’t help it – when you look at him, you want to write something about him. So I wanted to write books.”
“And now here I am,” he says. “A published author in my 50s. I have to pinch myself to be honest. I still Google it because I can’t quite believe it myself.”
He adds: “To anyone who finds themselves in a place I was, talk, to a friend, to your family, 111, Mind, Calm, just pick up that phone and talk. There’s a way out the darkness.”
Howard of Pawsland is available to buy on Amazon, WHSmith, Waterstones and more.
Got a story you’d like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want more from MyLondon? Sign up to our daily newsletters for all the latest and greatest from across London here.
Join our brand new website TeamDogs now.
When you get there, make sharing a picture of your dog in our Top Dogs feed your very brilliant first job.
Maybe when you’ve done that, leave a recommendation to help fellow dog owners in the TeamDogs community.