HEATON Park has certainly made its mark on writer Emma Jane Unsworth.

Not only does the historic greenspace continue to inspire the novelist’s work but she reveals she recently got a tattoo of one of Heaton Hall’s lion statues on her arm.

As she prepares for the launch tonight of her second book Animals — a dark comedy about two women resisting “growing up” in the ways society expects them to — Emma Jane tells how nature helps fuel her creativity.

She said: “My dad used to take me and my sister to Heaton Park every Sunday and we’d climb trees, fall out of trees, let squirrels run up our legs to collect nuts from our jeans pockets — that kind of thing. Idyllic or what? Who needs a childhood in Kent?

“I recently got a tattoo on my arm of one of the big metal lions outside Heaton Hall — we used to sit on them and pretend we were in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, like most kids in the area.

“Now, I write about nature a lot even though both of my books have been set in cities, and I go to the park wherever I am in the world to plug back into something fundamental; that’s how it feels.

“Nature is very calming and humbling. I’m a bit of an urban hippy. I’ve been known to hug trees.”

Having grown up in Prestwich, another place special to her is the library where she will appear on June 1 for Prestwich Book Festival.

She said: “I’ll be reading from Animals, answering questions, signing copies of the book and later on taking part in a panel discussion.

“I’m chuffed to be doing a festival in my hometown.

“As a kid, I spent a lot of time in Prestwich Library, where the event will be held — my mum used to take me and my sister every Wednesday after school, which was a highlight of the week.

"Then we probably went home and ate some Findus Crispy Pancakes – another highlight. Well, it was the 1980s.”

Tonight a launch party is being held for Animals at Waterstone’s Deansgate, Manchester, along with Robert Williams, who will launch his third novel Into the Trees, Greg Thorpe, who will be reading from his first, The Shakespeare Girl, and a performance by Les Malheureux, writers David Gaffney and Sarah-Clare Conlon who combine short story-telling with original music and visual presentations.

Mary Ellen McTague, co-owner and head chef at Prestwich’s award-winning Aumbry, will be giving a sneak preview from her upcoming collection of semi-autobiographical stories about working in a restaurant.

Emma Jane said: “Mary-Ellen is a natural storyteller with a wicked sense of humour and has lots of great stories from her time working as a chef.

“Also she’s working with a top editor, a good friend of mine, Katie Popperwell, who has sorted out so many of the knots I’ve tied myself in with writing over the years.

“I’m so proud Mary-Ellen is reading for the first time at the launch. That woman is knockout. She’s always got about 20 projects on the go, is a brilliant mum to two small boys, and doesn’t take any nonsense from anyone, ever. She’s a real idol of mine, as well as a friend.”

In recent months, Emma Jane split from her partner of 10 years, Elbow frontman Guy Garvey, with the parting influencing lines in both of their work.

She said: “We agreed to put some lines that were the same into the book and album respectively (he wrote a few and I wrote a few), to amuse ourselves more than anything. He’s the greatest. That is all.”

Emma Jane, who went to Bowker Vale infants, Crumpsall Lane Junior School, and Bury Grammar School for Girls secondary school and sixth form, said she wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember.

She has worked as a journalist and a columnist for The Big Issue and her first book, Hungry, the Stars and Everything, won a Society of Authors Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Portico Prize 2012.

She said: “I wrote terrible poetry in my teens and made quite a few quid one Valentine’s Day writing bespoke poems for school-friends to put in cards for their boyfriends. I probably could have got a job with Hallmark, as they say. As for why — it must have been reading that set me off — I don’t really see how it can start any other way. Then an ongoing curiosity about people and the things they do.”

With more events being planned throughout the year and lots of creativity to celebrate, what does Emma Jane think of Prestwich as a place?

She said: “I think of it as home so it’s hard to see it objectively, but it’s a vibrant little village for sure.

“I love the great places that have sprung up there recently like Cuckoo — have you tried their cocktails? They’re something else.

“The book festival, too, is such a valuable event, and the huge response it’s had shows what a keen, cultured bunch we Prestwichers (Prestwichians?) are.

“My favourite pub in Prestwich is the Church. I did an event there last winter with five other writers where we read ghost stories from a collection we’d put out ourselves called The Longest Night.

“There’s a back room in the Church that used to be the morgue for the church over the road, so it was the perfect setting and the audience were lovely and engaged and suitably terrified. We’re hoping to do an event again there this December.”

Animals will be launched tonight at Waterstone’s Deansgate at 7pm. The event is free but e mail your name and number to events.manchester@waterstones.com to attend.