21 April 2020
Baller Boys author Venessa Taylor describes how blogging about her leukaemia treatment led to writing children's books
One very ordinary day in February 2016, leukaemia came into my life without any notice or warning, or so I thought. In fact, looking back there had been signs and symptoms, but I just hadn’t recognised them. On the actual day of my diagnosis I was immediately admitted into hospital and into isolation where I would spend the next six weeks. The day after I was admitted, my friend Joanne who knew of my love of writing came to see me.
She gave me a diary, a fancy pen and a knowing smile and I immediately began writing prolifically.
I tried to keep a daily diary about what was happening to me, every detail of what I was going through, from the complete disbelief and denial of my situation, to every procedure, every visitor. I wrote about my hallucinations and about my inevitable hair loss, everything. This proved to be both cathartic and therapeutic. I was often so fatigued that I could hardly pick up a pen, never mind write, but I persisted. My concentration and memory also suffered; chemo brain is a real thing, but only served to encourage me to want to write. My family and friends were shell-shocked and scared. I didn’t want to burden them further by adding my own worries and fears to the ones they were already holding, but I needed to express my thoughts, so I wrote.
I nearly filled up two journals before I switched to blogging my leukaemia diary online. Strangers were interested in my journey and I often received lots of likes and supportive comments. However, the most important comments were usually the private messages which came from other leukaemia sufferers or their families. Baring my soul for everyone to read allowed anyone who wanted to know how I was really getting on, because in my blog I could be honest. I am not entirely sure of the reason but although I began to blog about every detail of my leukaemia journey online, I have never shown anyone my leukaemia diaries. Maybe one day I’ll write and share my story but right now I don’t feel ready!
Several months after my diagnosis, during my second extended hospital stay, to change my mood and uplift my spirit, my daughter Shenna and son-in-law Reece shared an idea with me for a book series they’d created, and asked me to write it. Shenna and Reeces' ideas reminded me of the conversations I’d had with the junior boys I taught about the types of stories and characters they wanted to find in books. I jumped at the chance.
As a teacher I had worked with boys to find out what types of stories they wanted to read. This mirrored what Shenna and Reece had suggested. My work with boys made me realise that it is crucial that we begin to get to grips with boys' reading as the gender gap continues into KS2 and beyond. I want to encourage boys to develop positive early reading habits by engaging them in reading for pleasure by introducing them to interesting and relevant books that will ignite and have them shouting for more and inevitably help to close the gender gap that continues even today.
So, this is how the Baller Boys Series started. After my engagement with the boys in my school I got the idea of themes that they would be interested in. The setting of the books was going to be centred around a football club and the players in a team. The main themes would be inclusion and acceptance because feeling included and understanding difference is especially important for children as this helps them to learn acceptance of each other.
The characters would reflect the diversity football brings to a community and the stories written would mirror the lives and experiences of the children we hoped would read the books. I feel diverse and inclusive books are important for all children, especially children who are often under-represented in books. They help to promote empathy and perspective. They allow children to see their own experiences and situations mirrored and reflected in characters and story lines. At the same time and equally as important, they give children the opportunity to glance through the ‘window’ and see and learn about other people’s lives outside of their own families and community. This was exactly what the boys at school had told me they wanted to read.
With my family's input and insight from the children I’ve taught over the years, I am proud to have crafted an authentic, original, inclusive series that I hope all young readers will enjoy in and out of school.
Baller Boys is published by Hashtag Press.
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