Sharon Marie Jones from Aberystwyth is an inspiring Mum. In 2016, she lost Ned, her five-year-old son, in a terrible car accident and, since then, she has shared her experience of grief and her mental health issues in a blog in order to help others. During these dark times, Sharon has been able to write and publish two children’s stories the second of which, ‘Grace Ella – Witch Camp’ was launched recently ready for Halloween. In an interview, I had the opportunity to learn more about the book and learn how she copes with the grief while raising two young sons.
First of all, huge congratulations on your brand-new book in the Grace-Ella series – for those who haven’t yet read the first book, tell us a little about the character.
Thank you very much! I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that there are two books with my name on them out there in the world!
Grace-Ella is a nine-year-old little girl, and she discovers a secret … she’s a witch! The first book, ‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’, follows Grace-Ella’s adventures as she starts to learn and practise magic spells. Although Grace-Ella is a witch, she must go to school like everyone else. She’s not too keen on school because of Amelia the bully. There are experiences and themes here that many children could identify with.
What can we expect in the new book?
A cauldron full of magic spells! In ‘Grace-Ella: Witch Camp’, Grace-Ella and her faithful cat, Mr Whiskins, go to Witch Camp for the first time. While there, she makes new friends – Dilys, Mati and Aisha. There are new spells to learn, magic drinks to mix and a magic broom to fly. But, Grace-Ella finds herself on a far scarier adventure one night, in the middle of a dark forest…
Where did the idea for the character come from?
I used to be a teacher and while I was driving to work one morning, the name Grace-Ella popped into my head… and stayed there! Slowly but surely, I got to know Grace-Ella. Once the character came alive, the magic spells followed. This is the type of story I loved reading when I was a child. My favourite books were Enid Blyton ones, especially, ‘The Enchanted Forest’ and ‘Faraway Tree’.
I was raised in Dolgellau, North Wales. I loved to listen to local tales about giants and fairies. We had an apple tree in the bottom of our garden and, believe it or not, there was a fairy door on it, half-way up the tree trunk. I only had to close my eyes and knock quietly on the door three times and I was in the world of fairies… It has been a dream of mine to be an author all my life, but I now write full-time and have given up being a teacher.
You have managed to write and publish the two books during a very difficult time, but you mention on your blog that writing helps you deal with the grief…
My world fell apart on Good Friday, 2016, when my little son died in a car accident. There are no words to describe the pain of losing Ned. It is unbearable.
In the months following the accident, I had to do something to try to ease the pain, and I turned to writing. Not writing creative stories but writing about what was happening to me. All the complex feelings and questions would swirl around in my head relentlessly. Nothing in my life made sense, so trying to put my feelings into words helped a little.
The response was positive, and many people read about my experience on the blog and I had the opportunity to contribute to the excellent book ‘Galar a Fi’ (‘Grief and Me’). I wrote a letter to Ned – that was the only way I could write it. I wrote entirely honestly and openly, talking about the mental health issues which had got hold of me on top of the grief. I had an incredible response to the piece – people talking about how brave I was and saying that they hadn’t read such a frank piece before.
Grief is painful. It is cruel and nightmarish, and I didn’t want to hide that. I believe that it’s important to talk openly about our experiences. There’s no pain like the pain of losing a child. Although three years have passed, the pain is still as unbearable but writing gives me peace of mind. I can escape the nightmare that is my life for a while, escape to my imaginary world. This has helped me to cope better with day-to-day life and helps me to be here for my other two sons.
Ned loved stories and read from a very young age. He was so excited to think of a book in a shop with Mum’s name on it. This gives me some comfort as I continue to write. And also, in continuing to write children’s books, I can show Tomi and Cai (my other two sons) that I haven’t given up on the dream of being an author.
What advice would you give to other parents living with the grief of losing a child?
It’s nearly impossible to offer advice. Nobody grieves in the same way. Everyone must find their own way through the nightmare. Everyone will experience grief in their lives, but losing a child is a pain that you can’t compare with anything else. No parent should have to bury their child.
The only thing I can do is be honest about my own experience. I am suffering. Not a day goes passed when I don’t cry about Ned. I am ill and I’ve been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD. I take medication and I have psychological therapy. It’s so important to acknowledge our feelings and ask for help.
Life will never be the same after losing a child. How can it be? But life goes on somehow, I must find a way of carrying on. And if that means having professional help, then ask for help. Don’t suffer quietly. I wouldn’t be here, writing this today without the help of my GP and my psychologist – that’s the truth of the matter.
With their help, I’m slowly learning how to live in this new world without little Ned. For me, writing helps – maybe drawing would help someone else, or playing an instrument. I’m firm of the belief that having a creative outlet can help ease the pain.
There will be bad days. There will be days when getting out of bed is too much. There will be days when the tears won’t stop flowing. There will be days of lying in a tight ball trying to squeeze the pain. But that’s okay. That’s natural. Grief is the love for your child. It hurts; it hurts so much. But there are days when the pain eases. There are days when I smile when thinking of Ned and his character full of life; the way his laugh and performances filled the house. I can enjoy being with Tomi and Cai and my husband, Bleddyn. They deserve that. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think about Ned. Ned is in my thoughts every second of every day, he lives in my heart. I carry him with me wherever I go.
Are Tomi and Cai fans of Grace-Ella?
Tomi is in Year 8 and hates reading fiction! But I know that he’s quietly very proud of seeing Mum’s name on the ‘Grace-Ella’ books. When we go into book shops, the first thing Tomi does is look for a copy. Although Tomi is in that age when Mum is completely embarrassing, the smile on his face when somebody comes up to me to say something about my books tells a different story!
Cai is still quite young at only five years old. But he is starting to understand that it’s Mum that has written these stories. I look forward to sharing them with him when he’s a little older. Cai also gets very excited if he sees a copy in a book shop, he jumps up and down shouting ‘Hooray!’. I must admit, they are pros at promoting the book by now!
Are there more adventures in the pipeline in the Grace-Ella series?
I’m currently writing a third Grace-Ella adventure, so ‘watch this space’ as they say…
Thank you so much to Sharon for sharing her experiences so openly. If there is one mum who has the #MamPower, it’s you, Sharon, and I look forward to enjoying Halloween with my daughter, Elsi, in the company of Grace-Ella! The book is a bargain at £5.99 and available here.
By Heulwen Davies, Mam Cymru