This week’s blog is about our member Jess and her Mum Jo Allmond, who together released books that are about being disabled and highlighting subjects that are close to their hearts.
Jess, the inspiration for the books, has achieved so much in her life, it has not always been easy as she is disabled. Jess wants people to realise that it is okay to be different as we are all the same inside.
Her Mum Jo has been sharing the authorship journey with me, Jo started of with her initial ideas: “I have always wanted to write about Jess and her disabilities, but not in the normal way, I wanted to share as a Mum what it is like to care for her. This came about while I was at home, recovering from an illness. I found myself getting very bored and happened to find some little drawings that Jess loved to do. One of the little characters had some crooked wings, this image sparked that light bulb moment!
I phoned Jess and said do you fancy writing a story about a disabled fairy. Jess in her usual way said ‘Cool mum” and so Jess the Goth Fairy was born!
We discussed what Jess the Goth Fairy would look like. Jess wanted her to wear black and red as they were her favourite colours at that time. Jess wanted to talk about things that had happened in her life, like bullying and looking different.
So we decided that Jess would share what happened and how she felt about these situations, whilst I would help putting all that into words.
At first we thought we would just write the story for fun and see how it turned out. However, as we were doing so, I thought that this would be a way to help others with disabilities, as Jess came up with the saying quite early on, ‘It’s ok to be different, because we are all the same inside!’ This is something Jess always adds at the end of her public talks.
I think this was because she looks different and had a friend at her first school who did too. Jess has also never given up, even at an early age if there is something she really wanted to do, she would see it through.
Jess decided the first book was to be about bullying, something Jess was subjected to from an early age. Jess wanted to include the element of helping others, again something she loves doing. She told me how she felt at the times she got bullied and I will never forget when she said ‘The reason I always wore a hat was because I hated being looked and laughed at’ I thought it was because she loved hats which she does. However, now she wears them with pride.
When the draft book was finished, I just didn’t know whether it was any good, so we decided to show it to Jess’s Dad who is very well read. We knew he would tell us if it was rubbish or not and we were so surprised when he liked it!
So very nervously I found a local publisher who also liked it, who then said ‘you now need to go find funding etc then come back to me’. I knew nothing about any of this and as Jess will tell you my IT skills are lacking, there wasn’t much call for computers when you are a dancer!
So for me, self publishing was not an option. Fortunately, someone we knew had a friend who’d recently had a book published . Our friend very kindly put us in touch with him and so the journey of publishing a book started.
Ed put me in touch with his publisher and once again to our amazement they liked it! Now we had to find the finance, as that is how it is done, unless you are a famous author whose already got the collateral.
I was told we would need about £5,000!!!! So, after talking to Ed again, who was a brilliant source of inspiration, he told us about crowdfunding and kickstarter.
I can honestly say I was terrified, to put these requests out there, but we did it and actually raised £7,000!
The funds raised were through Kickstarter, which was a very scary experience for an IT dunce like me!
One of the things we had to do was promote ourselves on social media, again not something I am good at, but I thoughts, ‘needs must’. I did the Facebook and Twitter promotions, then I also got in touch with local newspapers and radio. BBC Radio Shropshire were great and we were featured on there a few times. Jess loved it and once she got going you couldn’t stop her! If you meet or know Jess as you can see how determined and confident she has become in the limelight.
The first time we were on the radio, was before we had secured all the funding, so we spoke of Kickstarter, as well as the reasons why we were so passionate to publish the books. Once we had finished the broadcast, we went home excited from it all. A few days later I got a call from BBC Shropshire, saying that a gentleman wanted to donate to the book publishing fund! Obviously we were delighted, yet a bit puzzled as to why he hadn’t done through the links the radio had given out, but then again I wouldn’t have done it that way!
It was explained to me the gentleman was blind and would like to meet us in person, so I said yes and was given a password to say once we got to his house. Jess and I went along and were greeted at the door by a very beautiful energetic dog who were learnt was called Rosie, who took us in to meet the gentleman. He was so pleased to meet us and asked us to sit down. We chatted as if we had known each other for years. I asked why he wanted to donate to the book and he said he loved books, especially children’s books and bless him he said he like the sound of my voice!
Then he handed me a folded cheque. When I spoken to the guy from the radio I thought the amount was perhaps a few quid, so when I opened the cheque to find it was for £1,500 I couldn’t believe my eyes! Jess just burst into tears, as with this generous amount, it meant we had all the money we needed. The gentleman asked us to promise, that when the book was in print, for me to visit again and read it to him. This sparked the beginning of a long friendship, until sadly, the gentleman passed away a few years ago. We will never forget the kindness and friendship made, however I still find his generosity just astonishing!”
As the writer of this fabulous human kindness and determination story, I wonder what the challenges of getting the book published may have been.
Jo shared: “When I asked Jess if there were any and she said no! But then she didn’t have to try and get her head round the technical side, which as I have said, I found so daunting. With our donators on kickstarter we had to give rewards to them, so to take the pressure of, this was done in stages. We decided to give back based on what they donated, ranging from a thank you card to a signed copy of the book and at top end donations,
invite to those to the book launch.
Once we had the all the money, we had to go through the script and decide where we wanted to include pictures. We were asked by the publisher if we could do them ourselves, though I can draw a bit and Jess did the original character, we knew we wouldn’t be able to do the illustrations for a book. So the publisher sent us 6 illustrators they thought would suit the book. When we were deciding,
Jess had no doubt and chose Emily Daly immediately and she was brilliant!
Next move, was to agree on her fees and sign contracts. Then we sent her the story with spaces for the images and sat back with the exciting wait for the pictures to be created. Emily sent sketches bit by bit and we looked at them, anything we didn’t like she would change but to be honest that very rarely happened. Finally, when the coloured images came and once we were happy with the final creations, Emily sent it to the publisher. I always remember the cover image for ‘She is Still My Nan’ as it came it was on Mothers Day, which coincidentally, was the day before my mum had passed away. I was on my own, I just sat there looking at this image with tears streaming down my face. The image on the front was a cartoon style drawing of my Mum, wearing a pink dress, which was one Mum’s favourite colours and I hadn’t mentioned this to Emily!”
As I write this blog, it reminds me of how when we take actions outside our comfort zones, oftentimes people just appear, like the blind man, his generous donation and the coincidence of Emily choosing the pink dress. It is heartwarming for me, to ponder, if these things are coincidental or whether something bigger than us has these rewards lined up, like the phrase ‘Fortune favours the brave’ would suggest!
Having purchased a couple of Jess & Jo’s books, I was interested to find out who the other characters, featured in the books were inspired by. Jo told me: “When we were putting initial ideas together, I asked Jess what characters she wanted in the book, she instantly choose all her friends! Jess is very popular, so I did say that we couldn’t put 100 or so people in the books! Jess had the idea of wanting her friends to become creatures for the books, which I thought was a lovely idea.
In the first book, Helen, one of her friends became the bird who was bullied, Rich the Stag Beetle was someone we have known for many years and in other books Dr.Paul became Badger. He is Jess’s osteopath who she loves so much. We even got Richard and Rosie the generous gentleman and his guide dog, who donated to us into our last book because it just felt right to honour them.
As Jo mentioned earlier, promotion and all that comes with being new Author’s can be daunting. I asked Jo to elaborate on the process, as I know we’ve some budding authors, amongst our members at Designs in Mind and also maybe you our readers have aspirations to pen a book or two!
Jo was delighted to expand on their escapades: “As for book launches and promotion. I did my best with Facebook and Twitter. We had launches in Ironbridge and Waterstones. We chose to do a launch at the library in Worcester, as Jess was living in Redditch at the time.
We also did regular road shows with Jess’s care provider Macintyre Group, which Jess loved. BBC Radio Shropshire had us a back a couple of times and there were articles in the Shropshire Star. Jess was fabulous and just took it all in her stride, it was lovely to watch.
We went into schools and colleges with the books too, we did quite a lot at Worcester College. In schools it was so interesting to hear students open up to Jess, oftentimes sharing things that their teachers weren’t aware of. For example after school talk in Yorkshire, where as always, Jess answers questions. A young boy put his hand up and said: ‘I want to be like you when I grow up and live on my own’. We learnt afterwards that he was autistic and rarely spoke out.
I remember a young girl talking about visiting her dad in a home, stating that he was in a wheelchair. After Jess’s talk, a teacher said they had no idea that students Dad was in a home.
I also received a message after a talk from a mum saying that her daughter had always felt she was different and is very shy. However, when she came home from meeting Jess, she wouldn’t stop talking about her and kept saying she wanted to be like Jess. I also remember after talks to students, nurses and social workers, seeing them in tears from listening to the battles that Jess and I have been through.”
As a writer of Jess’s story, I feel the huge impact she is having on others, she is really giving others permission to speak up, which is raising confidence and giving folk a voice.
Jo continued to share: “We would love to do more with schools, however they suddenly started saying that they couldn’t afford it ,even though we charged very little, which was a shame, then of course in March 2020, Covid arrived.”
I asked Jo how it felt after everything sank in, on how completing the initial idea felt, what it was like when the dream became a reality. Jo lit up and said: “It made me become very passionate about giving people, such as Jess, a voice. It felt good to inform people, that with the right support, anyone including people with disabilities, could do so much for their community and beyond. I also wanted to share with the public what it is like to be a parent of someone with disabilities, from the downs, the fights but more importantly the highs!
After year and a lot of ups and downs our first book arrived and we were very nervous as we were opening it, the feeling was just amazing and very emotional! We reflected on the journey we had. Those few years and with another 3 books, the talks at schools, colleges and groups. It was wonderful watching Jess standing up in front of a whole school, seeing that by the end of the talk, everyone loving Jess. Producing these books with Jess for me has been wonderful, it has been a fabulous journey.”
So know we know all about Jess’s Author status, with Jo’s help and valued input. So that leads on to how she became a member with Designs in Mind . Jo told me: “Jess found Design in Minds through her advocate, who thought she would love it. I remember Jess coming back from a visit to look around the Designs in Mind studio. Jackie who accompanied her said: ‘Jess just fitted in immediately’. Jess says she loves doing the crafts but more important, are the friends she has made and she says feels safe there.”
I asked Jo what’s next in Jess’s journey. Jo shared: “Well I know Jess would like to go into schools again, to tell students her favourite saying, ‘it’s ok to be different, because we are all the same inside’. Jess wants to continue to show other’s not to give up no matter how small your dream may be, to just go for it. We did have a long list of titles but it is a lot to fund and as I said my IT skills are rubbish, however we do have a plan possibly for another book, so watch this space!”
I know that being an Author and public speaker are just the tip of the iceberg with Jess’s life achievements. So I asked Jo what else she’d like to share. Jo said: “Jess has been my inspiration in many ways, watching her get gold medals with the National Special Olympics, leading a Zoom about sign language and working with Macintyre Group has all been great achievements for her. The one thing she would love to do is start a dance group, as dancing is something she loves so much. Currently she is a dance leader for Shropshire with Macintyre Group alongside her care provider. For me it has just proved that, as I have said all along, that with the right support vulnerable people can live a life they want and achieve so much, not only for themselves but for the community they live in.”
Jo went onto share a quote from Jess:
“Jess says I am so proud of my books and what I did with them, I love talking about them to others. I like working with mum and she helps lots. I wish I could do more!”
Big thanks to Jess and Jo for sharing this awesome, inspiring story with us. We are very proud to know Jess and have her as a valued member at Designs in Mind.
If your interested to purchase copies of Jess & Jo’s books they are available on Amazon, links below
The titles of Jess’s books are:
Jess the Goth Fairy: https://amzn.eu/d/fpo42Iy
Jess makes a new friend: https://amzn.eu/d/7trrw8d
She’s Still My Nan: https://amzn.eu/d/8eqKECy
Jess guides the way: https://amzn.eu/d/fc3jomx
All the above books written by our Member,Jess Hiles and her Mum, Jo Allmond and illustrated by Emily Daly
Blog Written & researched by Willow, Member & Social Media Coordinator