Hope. It’s the innate and invisible concept we continue to learn, practice and share; recalled upon time and time again as we move through the challenges and hardships of life. A familiar theme to children’s author, Wenda Shurety, we chat with Wenda about the meaning behind her latest book Pear of Hope in celebration of MS Readathon 2021. Beyond the pages of fiction, we also chat to Wenda about her personal journey of living and parenting with multiple sclerosis (MS) and the role that hope has played for her along the way.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in London and raised in the beautiful county of Norfolk, England. At school, I excelled at maths and science (not writing) and was promptly steered towards a career in science. After much studying, I became a scientist researching cells. However, having MS has put me on a different career path.
I’m now a children’s author who loves to write from the heart about nature, diversity and the magical world of the imagination. One of my highlights was when my picture book, Eva’s Imagination, was read out on Play School. My other passion is archery and I’m a classified para-archer. I live in Brisbane with my husband, daughter, two rescue dogs and a cat.
What influenced you to write children’s books?
When I was young, I used to make up stories for my sisters when the lights went out. After my daughter was born, I would read to her every day. I loved how picture books could say so much with so little words and how the pictures complemented the story. Reading children’s books helped me to discover the joy of words again, and I soon started writing my own stories.
What were your favourite books to read when you were a child?
I loved Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Forest/The Magic Faraway Tree books. These fantasy places were a catalyst for many ‘let’s pretend’ games with my sisters.
Please tell us about your latest book ‘Pear of Hope’.
Anna, the protagonist, loves the old pear tree that lives at the bottom of the garden. When she becomes seriously ill, her relationship with the tree provides comfort and peace on her journey, particularly when she plants a seed from one of the tree’s pears. Pear of Hope is the story of a little girl with cancer and her tale of recovery. This is intertwined with the growth of a pear tree, which symbolises the concept of hope.
Why do you think the voice and story of Anna was an important one to write?
I feel hope is an important topic to be included in a picture book and would have a wide appeal providing comfort and inspiration to both children and adults, whether they have a serious disease or not. Also, some would say hope is something children need a lot of these days, in light of world events and concerns. A psychologist, C.R. Synder, wrote that hope is a way of thinking, rather than just an emotion. It is something that people can work to develop, that perhaps we can train our minds to be hopeful.
Where did your inspiration for Pear of Hope come from? What was the process like in writing this book?
Friends and family members living with serious diseases, such as MS and cancer, have inspired me. Some recovered, some lost their lives and some still live with their condition. In all situations, hope played a vital part in their journey. I realise that hope isn’t a cure, but I feel it is a vital part of acceptance when living with serious health issues. There are scientific studies describing the positive effects of hope when living with a disease.
Do you think reading can help children develop compassion and other positive life learnings/skills?
Yes, and this is clear in the scientific literature. Research shows reading improves kid’s emotional intelligence and increases empathy, meaning they can learn to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Both fiction and nonfiction reading offer a unique experience to become engrossed in the stories and life experiences of the characters in the book.
What does ‘hope’ mean to you? How has hope played a role in your own personal journey?
Living with MS, I desire a full life and if that means compromising, then so be it. Hope has been instrumental in my healing process. I am full of determination and try to remain positive during bad times. I have faith that my choices and lifestyle are helping me to be the best I can be.
Could you tell us more about your diagnosis and journey with MS?
I was diagnosed with MS when I was 30, two months before my wedding day. I had been experiencing numbness in my legs and I kept missing the step in a step aerobics class. An MRI confirmed I had plaques in my brain and spinal cord. I started to lose my mobility seven years later and was at my worst after my daughter was born four years after that. I’ve since changed my lifestyle, including my career, exercise, diet and stress management and can now walk without a stick as of this year.
The purpose of the MS Readathon is to help raise funds for kids who have a parent with multiple sclerosis. From personal experience, what is it like being a parent living with MS?
When MS affected my mobility, I had to use a wheelchair, mobility scooter, a walker and crutches. With a baby, this was a tough challenge. I look back and can’t think how I managed it. But I did, and now my daughter is eleven years old. She’s grown up with a mum who can’t run around with her and who tires easily. Sometimes, this can be extremely frustrating for both of us, however, I think having a mum with MS has had a positive effect on her compassion and empathy.
Are there any words of advice or encouragement that you would like to give to parents living with MS?
There’ll be times when you’re frustrated and have to make compromises. Be kind to yourself and identify what makes you feel valued and what brings you joy. I feel I’m a better parent when I’m happy and fulfilled.
Why do you think initiatives like MS Readathon are important?
I love how the MS Readathon raises both awareness and funds for a condition that affects over 25,000 Australians. Equally, it encourages children to read, increasing their literacy skills and teaching them about the world around us.
Registrations for the MS Readathon 2021 are now open here. The MS Readathon will be running from Sunday 1 August to Tuesday 31 August.