Dare to dream, you could up somewhere magical.

Hannah Russell, award winning, best-selling children’s author, devout animal lover and down-right inspirational countrywoman, began her entrepreneurial journey back in 2014, at just aged 17.

“I can still remember the first proof copy coming through the door. At 17 years old, holding my [self-published] book; The Magical Adventures of Little Alf – Discovery of the Wild Pony in my hands, just meant the world to me.”

Hannah Russell, award winning, best-selling children’s author, devout animal lover and down-right inspirational countrywoman, began her entrepreneurial journey back in 2014, at just aged 17.

Most recently Hannah was awarded Businesswoman of the Year and Author of the Year 23/24, a far cry from the ambitious and passionate teenage writer she once was. In the years that followed her first book, Hannah has produced a selection of books both via the self-publishing route and under a publishing house. In 2017, Little Alf: True story of a pint sized pony who found his forever home was published by Little Brown Publishing and listed on Amazon.

Reminiscing on the experience, Hannah shares, “I remember waking up at 6:30 am in the hotel room, we were due to go to HOYS that day and I saw on Amazon that it was a #1 Best Seller, I was so excited. It was all I had dreamed of since 2014.”

Whilst Hannah’s writing career may have kicked off in 2014, like all the best success stories, the inspiration for this was found in the most unlikely of places…

A lady pulled up to the gate whilst I was poo-picking the horses,” Hannah began sharing, “would you be interested in another horse? He’s about way-big and she showed me with her hands. She went on to explain how he’s super tiny because he’s got Dwarfism, was 7 months old, and had been rejected by his herd.

On Christmas Eve of 2012, without telling her parents (been there!), Hannah went to meet the mystery miniature, recalling how, “he looked like he belonged to a rock band when I went to meet him because he had dreadlocks in his mane,” she told me how she ‘had to have him’, not knowing how mischievous he’d turn out to be!

Sneaking a pony past your parents on Christmas Eve is a far cry from sneaking out the house to get away from your parents. After the big reveal on Christmas Day, Hannah explains how, “Alf’s just got this effect on people, they just melt into a smile, you can’t not find him endearing.”

Shortly after Alf came into Hannah’s life, followed both a riding and kayaking accident in quick succession, it was discovered Hannah had fractured four vertebrae and cracked two disks in her lower back, at the age of just 17. What followed was a year long rehabilitation programme –  a devastating blow for an active, outdoor activity loving teenager.

Alf was exactly what I needed in my life at that time, and he needed me. He had been rejected by his herd, he was looking for extra comfort and reassurance in the wake of that, which got me out of bed and up on my feet each day. I’ll be forever grateful to him for that.”

Little Alf inadvertently saved Hannah from herself, describing him as her ‘saving grace’ during a time where change was cropping up all around her. Friends were heading off to university, going on nights out, learning to drive and generally gaining their long-awaited independence, whilst she was still “feeling stuck in this lull. I couldn’t learn to drive initially, I was still having rehabilitation for my back and I couldn’t shift this haunting feeling that, they were moving on with their lives, and I just really didn’t know what that would look like for me. Everyone else seemed so sure.

Having spent much of her time, when able, photographing Alf and her animals and writing about their antics on her blog, Hannah began to feel the stir of creativity and an idea brewing inside her. Despite failing English at school, and knowing nothing about how to write a book, Hannah confesses how she just “loved the thought of it, having spent so much time regularly writing short stories about Alf’s life on my blog which people were enjoying.”

In 2014, Hannah committed to bringing Alf’s story to life, “looking back now, it was always set in stone that I might become an author one day… but I never noticed the signs back then. I used to make up wild stories with my young imagination, I had such a creative mind I think I used to drive my parents crazy!”

As her writing career began to take off, and her books began taking over the house, Hannah began to look for ways of switching off from her work, which she loved so much.

I started doing a lot of running, it gave me a way to escape the physical demands of work for a short while but still allowing me the space to think and work ‘mentally’ on the business whilst doing something productive: exercising.”

Hannah began suffering from regular pain in her right hip, which was initially put down to her earlier riding accident, so the advice was ‘stop running’. That didn’t fix things, Hannah explains she felt tired all the time, which wasn’t like her, she had become a shadow of the usual vibrant, chatty and energetic Hannah. What followed was something no one expected.

Hannah was diagnosed with Stage 3 Sarcoma Cancer. She had a cancerous tumour in her right hip, which explained the pain. What followed was four years of health scares and battles.

Hannah shares how, “I can remember getting out of the car with my little back pack on, having to say goodbye to my parents because they couldn’t come with me… That was one of the worst experiences, I was in floods of tears. At 23 you don’t expect to get diagnosed with cancer.”

With steroids bloating her body and recovery the only focus, she downed writing tools except the bare necessities, sharing how she, “got better for a while,” before discovering she had skin cancer. 14 operations later, and two more gruelling years of fighting, Hannah finally got remission in June of 2022.

My battle with cancer put life into perspective, as the pandemic did for many also. I won’t spend every day working like I used too. I take full weekends, schedule social media posts and I’ll skive off work now to go hiking, spend time with the sheep or groom the horses if it’s nice weather. I no longer force anything. My social life and businesses are flourishing.”

With this in mind, in 2023, Hannah, her herd of animals and parents moved to Swinton Green, a picturesque area of the North Yorkshire countryside and home to Swinton Park Estate, “we live for every day now. Dad’s a passionate gardener and mum’s a renowned artist, we can bring all of our creative skills and passions together and create something special in one place which we can also call home.”

Imagine, sheep husbandry courses, small holding workshops and a rural sensory experience like no other, Hannah is on a mission to create something incredibly special at Swinton Green. “I want to help people discover the powerful connection between animals and people. Alf was a great therapy pony for many, Issy and Ida (my sheep) helped me through my own radiotherapy, and I want to be able to show other people how special animals can be.”

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