I’m so delighted to be interviewing Gemma Everson, the author of brand new children’s book Supercharged Superhero, and a very good friend of mine. This book is about a little girl and her daddy, who suddenly finds his battery flat due to ME, and how they discover a new way of being and finding out what’s important. Today Gemma is launching her book online – have a look at her page here. She had put in some wonderful plans for a launch party, but obviously this had to be shelved – which I completely relate to, having had to cancel my own launch party due to my chronic illness. So I’d love as many as possible of you to support Gemma today, to buy this beautiful book over on Amazon, to give her a big resounding cheer.
And here’s why you should….
Interview with Gemma
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Of course! My name is Gemma Everson from Telford, Shropshire. I wear many hats: I am a wife to Tom and mum to two girls aged 5 and 2. I am a primary school teacher and also involved in my local church with the children’s groups. More recently, I have acquired a new hat which is that of a ‘children’s author’ (which still sounds very strange!) My first book has been published this week and I am very excited to share it!
2. I love your new children’s book, Supercharged Superhero, and wish it had been around when my children were little. Could you tell us about the story behind the book and what prompted you to write it?
Thank you so much Liz! I have been so encouraged by other families who feel that the story speaks to their own situation. If it hadn’t have been for these individuals honesty the story would never have made it out of my notebook.
So our story really began in the long, hot summer of 2017. We had just welcomed our second daughter into the world and we were settling down as a family of four. My husband was often away during the week working for the Royal Navy but was looking forward to his leave throughout August. Just before this began, Tom was invited (or coerced?) into joining a team of military guys to cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats: 1000 miles in just 5 days! It wasn’t great timing but he felt it was something he really wanted to do and we were so proud to welcome him home at the end of what had been an excruciatingly difficult week. On his return, he was obviously exhausted but over the summer it just didn’t seem to lift. Most onlookers saw this as him needing a break from work or the result of having a new born at home but I knew that it was different. Something had gone wrong. In the months that followed he became more and more fatigued and eventually found himself mostly bed bound, only able to shower or go to the bathroom before collapsing in a heap for the day. After six long months and many tests, scans and appointments no one was any wiser and so a diagnosis of M.E/CFS was given. A label which really didn’t change a thing because there was no treatment or cure and the outlook seemed bleak.
In the meantime, our eldest daughter (then 3) was picking up on the anxiety and uncertainty that was filling the air at home. She has always been a worrier and I was acutely aware of how she was starting to make sense of this sudden change in her own head. Most days she would ask if Daddy was coming out with us. My reply was always along the lines of ‘no because Daddy is ill/sick/poorly/not well/fill in the blank’. One day she just stopped asking. Instead her questions began to include things like ‘When will Daddy get better? Will he get better?’ and then heart wrenchingly ‘will Daddy die?’. We needed a new narrative and that’s when I had the idea for Supercharged Superhero. A story about one little girl and her superhero dad who’s battery suddenly and unexplainably runs flat and will not fully recharge. It is about change, grief, acceptance and adjustment and throughout the book runs the theme of love in all circumstances.
When I first wrote it, I printed it at work and by the time I got to the photocopier, three colleagues had read it. One was in tears as she had guessed it was about our family and two others were in tears because they felt it described perfectly their family’s personal circumstances of which I had no idea. Before I knew it, it was shared with others who were living with chronic illness, physical disability, long term injuries, mental health conditions and each and every one of them told me how relevant it was to them. This story was special, it could help other families and I needed to do something with it.
3. Tell us about the ‘battery’ analogy for living with chronic illness – how can it help family members and others to understand?
So most people who live with any kind of long term, fatigue based condition will be familiar with the spoons theory. Tom had been trying to use this to help him pace and work out his limitations. I tried explaining this to our daughter and she just didn’t get it. It was so abstract for a child who had had little experience of measuring with spoon at that point. Naturally, I tried to think of a concept that was relevant to her and the battery on a phone or tablet seemed the obvious choice. She knew what the consequences were of a battery running flat, she understood the limitations of a partly charged battery and the endless possibilities of a fully charged battery. As soon as I started to talk about ‘Daddy’s battery’ the penny dropped. I later found out that this analogy is widely used alongside the spoon theory and I can understand why. We shared this with family and friends and they too started to appreciate what Tom was going through. It wasn’t simply a case of ‘have a good sleep and start the day new’ or ‘shake yourself down and get on with it’ – his battery was ‘broken’ and it was unable to be fixed or replaced so we needed to make the best of what he did have.
4. How has your Christian faith sustained you during this time?
When all of this first happened our world was tipped upside down. I was definitely struggling with some post-natal anxiety and almost grieving my maternity leave as each week slipped by. I felt scared, stressed, guilty, incredibly anxious and most of all angry. Especially with God. I just couldn’t feel him with me at all. Not one bit. I continued to go to church in the early months but felt less and less engaged. I had only returned to church when our first daughter was born after a 15 year absence and now I could feel myself stepping out of it again.
One particularly bad day, I went along to a local toddler group at another church where I knew a friend of mine worked. She gave the best hugs and always knew what to say. It was a lovely morning and as I was leaving, I was approached by one of the church leaders who asked me if I wanted to join their Alpha course which was due to start that week. I had been advised by my doctor to find some ‘me time’ which seemed impossible with a baby, pre-schooler and bedbound husband so I took the invitation as an opportunity for just that. I had never heard of Alpha before and I had done little research before I found myself I the first meeting. I watched the first video and sat rigid and tense as we discussed the goodness of God. I was bubbling. I found myself back there week, after week and spent most weeks either crying in desperation or anger as I heard shiny testimonials about how God was amongst serious criminals. One week, we talked about prayer and I realised I hadn’t really been actively praying. We talked about how prayer didn’t need to be formal or at a set time in a set way and it really opened my eyes. I drove home that cold November night screaming at the top of my lungs at God and begging him to show himself to me. The thunderbolt moment didn’t come. Everything stayed the same. Or so I thought.
In the month or so that followed a number of things happened which I did not see as God at the time but on reflection was so clearly God – I must have been blind to miss it! A new family moved to our church and I was introduced to them. Dad worked for the church and Mum was at home with her youngest. We began to hang out together almost daily and go for long walks where I began to share what was happening in our family. Her faith is so strong and I learnt to pray with her and read the bible in a way I hadn’t before. Scripture made me realise that suffering is not new. There is so much suffering in the Bible – far more that we can comprehend in our day and age but throughout it all God’s people remain faithful. Every time I read my Bible I would find something new that would speak to me and very soon I had armed myself with words and verses that would lift me and encourage me through the darkest times. God led me to Alpha which was hard but ultimately strengthened me and my faith. I am so grateful to my church family and all of the friends who have supported and prayed for us over the last 3 years.
Even Tom started to ask questions about God which he never had before. We firmly believe that all of this has and continues to be part of God’s plan and we have no choice but to trust Him. He hasn’t let us down so far and on reflection we can see so many ways that God has used this period of our lives to do good. Supercharged Superhero being just one example of this.
5. If you could give any advice to parents of small children coping with chronic illness in the family, what would it be?
I have given this a lot of thought and I think back to the advice I have been given time and time again which is: ‘Look after yourself’. After all, if the only fully functioning parent were to break then the family really would be in trouble. I still struggle to see myself as a carer, particularly as Tom has made some steps towards living a more ‘normal’ life but I do have to do more than I used to, especially when his ‘battery’ is running flat. I wouldn’t say I have perfected this – Mum guilt is a very real thing! However, I do try to prioritise some time each day for myself. Whether it is reading, listening to music, going to a church group, a bath or a TV show – even if it is just 10 minutes. It helps me to recharge so that I can be the best I can be for the girls and for Tom.
The other advice I would give can be captured in this one verse from my book:
“Thing’s are just a bit different now, That doesn’t mean I should be sad. Time together’s more precious than ever, Slowing down’s not really so bad. We get to enjoy the little things, The bits we used to miss. When we were always rushing round, Doing that and this!”
This is speaking to me so much at the moment as we sit in isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic. The whole world is having to stop and rethink their way of life albeit temporarily. Life has changed as we know it, much like when Tom first became ill and a big part of coping with and accepting what was happening was to focus on what we had. Filling our hearts with gratitude and seeing the blessings that God has given us each and every day. A gift that isolation will give to many in the coming weeks or months. That and a better understanding of the isolation and grief for many who suffer with chronic illness. That is one of my prayers at the moment.
6. Finally, tell us what your favourite children’s books are, and why you love them?
Ooh this is tough… It changes day to day! Picture book wise, the girls and I love anything by Nick Sharratt. His books are so colourful and bright and full of humour that it is impossible not to giggle your way through them. A particular favourite at the moment is ‘Moo-Cow Kung-Fu-Cow’ which features a cow that needs the loo. Always a winner! His rhyming style definitely influenced me to write in this way.
We have just started reading longer books to our eldest daughter and I am loving revisiting all of my childhood favourites by Roald Dahl, Jill Murphy and Enid Blyton. Reading is something that Tom can always do with the children so we treasure these special times together.
Here’s my review of Supercharged Superhero – as I’ve said to Gemma, I really wish this had been around when my two were small, to explain to them why I struggled so much with energy. It will help families who are living with any kind of chronic illness – not only ME.
And here’s the official video – how fab is this?
If you want to connect with Gemma and find out more, check out her website and social media here:
I love this book so much I want to give away a copy! To be in with a chance of winning all you need to do is sign up to my mailing list here – at the moment you will get a set of 16 free printable postcards, prayers for contentment – particularly pertinent at this time. I only send monthly newsletters, I promise not to bombard you 🙂 If you’re already on my list, just drop a message into the comments here and I’ll enter you into the hat.