Tony Britton, Fundraising Manager, ME Association.
A love story about a remarkable Telford family and their sailor dad, who went missing from home after being suddenly struck down with M.E., has been turned into a book that could well become a children’s publishing sensation.
The picture book, ‘Supercharged Superhero’, goes on sale at the end of March. In it, Navy wife Gemma Everson explains how the fears of young children can be calmed even if they have sick daddies who never seem to get well.
Her husband Tom, a chief petty officer in the Royal Navy, went down with M.E. in 2017. He’d just heroically completed a successful bike ride all the way from Land’s End to John O’Groats.
At the time, older daughter Georgia was two years old and Gemma had just given birth to Gracie.
The Navy threw every support they could find at 36-year-old Tom to help get him better, including many months in a rehabilitation centre at the naval base in Plymouth.
They tried everything they could, except the dreaded graded exercise which he declined. Occasionally there was improvement and at one stage he could manage 8,000 steps a day. But he would still go home some weekends, feeling shattered.
“For six months, we kept saying that Tom was ill, poorly, not well and Georgia’s anxiety went through the roof”, said Gemma, a primary school teacher.
“We learned to accept that this illness was not going to disappear, and we would potentially be living with this for life. That’s when ‘Supercharged Superhero’ came about.
“The story is about a superhero daddy who is full of energy and fun. One day his ‘battery’ suddenly and unexpectedly fails and will not charge properly. The family try everything to fix it but to no avail. One day the girl realises that her daddy isn’t gone – things are just different, and life needs to adjust.”
Tom, an Afghanistan veteran and IT specialist, is waiting for his Royal Navy discharge board hearing to happen any day now.
In the meantime, Tom is trying out a work placement with a bank some distance from home. He stays there during the week and works one day a week at home.
“He’s still far from well and needs to rest when he comes home”, said Gemma. “But Georgia now knows she is getting her daddy back and is more accepting and our little one, Gracie, is beginning to understand what is going on.”
The 32-page book has been keeping Gemma busy for months now. She has written the storyline in rhyming prose with the real heavy lifting being done by two graphic designers, Hope Gwilliam and Becky Rawlins, who live nearby and haven’t yet charged her a penny for their illustrations!
“They’re both arts graduates who run their own businesses. They’ve been absolutely terrific, full of ideas and prepared to rework pages to get them right. The book will be a real credit to them”.
Early on, planning hit the buffers. Gemma realised something was missing from the narrative arc. She then hit on the notion of working with the idea of a run-down battery which needed re-charging. It became her Eureka moment – the battery motif pulled everything together and gives very young readers a simple explanation for why their parents are not getting over their illness quickly.
The original plan was to launch the book with a bit of a fanfare involving military and civic dignitaries in public rooms in Wellington. The timing in May would have coincided with the 75th anniversary of V.E. Day and the eve of ME Awareness Week.
But coronavirus fears put paid to that and Gemma is now pinning her hopes for victory in the marketplace through an online launch on Amazon on March 28. Good luck to her!
The ME Association
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