Laurie Farnell has gone from sleeping rough to writing a book. He tells MAXINE GORDON how he has turned his life around

WE all love the arrival of spring – that first burst of sun on our faces or the sight of banks of daffodils standing to attention on the bar walls of York never fails to lift the spirits.

But for Laurie Farnell, who has been homeless for large chunks of his life, it always means so much more.

"Winter, for me, was always a terrible time. When spring came, it was always a tremendous relief to have winter over," says Laurie, aged 67.

Sleeping rough is all about survival, he says. Sometimes, he would find somewhere to sleep outside of the city centre, where he felt safer.

"People would come out of nightclubs in a drunken state and beat you up. I've had people spit on me, crack a bottle over my head and burn me with cigarettes."

Laurie spent 15 years, on and off, homeless. "I couldn't settle down. I would find odd places to live where nobody would bother me. I lived in old barns, tents – I used to camp a lot – and I even lived in a telephone box.

"When you are homeless, you don't really sleep. You rest. Often, homeless people don't sleep at night – they just wander around, then sleep during the day."

Luckily, he says, he was never into drink or drugs. But he has lost close friends to both. Often he would scavenge inside skips outside of food shops to find something to eat.

He traces his problems back to his childhood. His mother died when he was small and he was in an orphanage from the age of five to ten, until his Dad remarried and brought him up. As a child, he felt unloved. He had a stammer and suffered from depression.

The disease plagued him his whole life, but he didn't know he was ill until he was diagnosed eight years ago and ended up going to see a doctor. "I was crawling around in mental torment, in total agony," he recalls. "Things started to improve after I was sent to hospital and treated."

He takes meds now for his depression, and says he feels like a new man. While homeless, and in the depths of despair, he always wrote poems, thoughts, and did line drawings.

As he started to feel better and found somewhere to live, he began attending classes at Converge, a free-of-charge education programme at York St John University for adults either receiving help for mental health problems, or who have had them in the past. Courses cover the arts, music, theatre, film, creative writing and horticulture among others.

Laurie began by attending a creative writing class. Then an art group. He also joined the theatre troupe. Now he teaches other Converge students on the drawing course and has just had his first book published: Words From The Well of Wisdom. The pocket-sized book is packed full of aphorisms: pithy, insightful observations, most of which were written while he was on the streets.

There are 20 subject areas, from life, loss and love to money, health and happiness – taking in politics, music and creativity along the way.

And there are hundreds of thoughtful ponderings packed into the 200-page book, many of which will chime universally.

Open a page randomly, and you can't fail but find a sentence that resonates.

"You may have had a loveless life, but nature loves you." This one really rings true when you speak to Laurie and find out about his connection to the great outdoors. "I never really liked living in a house, I liked living outside," he says."Nature was my thing. Nature replaced my parents: mother earth and father sky. I know it sounds corny, but I really related to that. I'd look at the stars at night and they comforted me. I would write poems to the moon."

Even today, Laurie finds it difficult to live in a house. He hates having curtains or blinds. "I have to look out and see the sky and the stars at night."

Laurie still likens living in a house to being in a prison, and he has written a poem about it: Wild Geese.

Wild Geese

Moved to my bungalow

three years ago

I’d lived in a caravan

before that time

at first I resisted

then went with the flow

this strange cul de sac

felt more like death row

felt imprisoned by bricks

mortar and lime

I felt so distant from

the things that shone

like the moon's slow orbit

and the shining stars

and the wonder of dawn

and the setting sun

and the flight of wild

geese and their winter song

now I write this villanelle

through a window in a cage

my wild geese have gone

to another book, another page.

He writes poems and sonnets, producing one every morning. Plans are afoot to publish more of his work.

Meanwhile, Laurie will be launching Words From the Well of Wisdom at York Explore Library on Tuesday, May 1, from 6.30pm-7.30pm. The event includes readings, poetry, performance, and a Q&A session with the author.

Free tickets are available at or visit York Explore.

The book is available to buy from independent York-based bookseller YPD Books ( and is priced at £7.50

It is also available on Amazon