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Lasting legacy for a daughter: what it's like to write a children's book

By Heather Large | Weekend | Published:

Sharron Zarelli was so unimpressed with the children’s books she was picking up to read to youngsters that she decided to write her own.

But as well as telling a fun and entertaining story she also wanted to create a lasting legacy to her daughter Gina.

The 11-year-old, who was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and attended Orchard School in Oldbury, died in 2005.

Following Gina’s death, Sharron, who lives in Smethwick, started to work for the charity Midland Mencap, which provides support to children, young people and adults with a wide range of learning disabilities.

“As a support worker I work with children and young people aged five to 19 and it was whilst reading books to children that I became frustrated because sometimes these books had little or no story or made any sense to me.

“I reasoned that if the book made no sense to me then it was likely that it made no sense to the young people that I was reading to, even though they may not be able to communicate this to me.

“As a result, I became motivated to write my own book and I thought that I could write a book that was more interesting, entertaining and relevant because it is based on Gina, who was a wheelchair user,” says Sharron.

Her self-published book Gina Goes on Holiday has been inspired by one of her many happy memories of their time together.

“It is a light-hearted recollection of a wonderful memory of one of our many holidays.

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“We went to Torquay on holiday and we were having a nice day on the beach when the tide started to come in.

“We had to make a mad dash off the beach but we had great difficulty moving Gina’s wheelchair off the beach. On dry sand it was fine, but it was hard to move it on wet sand. We managed to do it in the end and it’s a funny memory.

“It makes a nice light-hearted story for children and the pictures are big, bright and bold. It was illustrated by my friend’s niece Jamie Hardy and the illustrations are beautiful,” says Sharron, who is also mother to 24-year-old Alex and grandmother to 20-month-old Freya.

Despite Gina’s disabilities, which meant she needed a ventilator at all times, the family always made the most of the time they had together.

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“Gina loved the water and the time she spent in the hydrotherapy pool or the swimming pool when we were on holiday.

“She also found it funny when children in her class got told off for misbehaving. She’d really laugh out loud. Alex her sister would help her with things like painting and making cakes and messy play,” says Sharron.

Gina, who was a big fan of the Teletubbies, also met the Queen when she opened Birmingham Children’s Hospital in 1998.

“They wanted children to line the corridor as the Queen walked past and Gina had a flower posy for her. We were very fortunate that the Queen stopped to take the flowers, it was very sweet.

“Alex also met Prince Philip that day as he was downstairs for the unveiling of the new stained glass window,” says Sharron, who also works for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.

The youngster also enjoyed her time at The Orchard School and Sharron still keeps in touch with staff today.

“Annually, I attend a memorial service at Gina’s school, which is held to remember all of the children that have passed away over the years. I am so very grateful for this opportunity to come together and reflect and keep the memories of our children,” she says.

Sharron now has ideas for more books all based on true stories including follow-up Gina Goes To The Zoo.

Although her first book was self-published she hopes to have the next one done professionally and has set up a crowd-funding page to reach her goal.

“Because I wasn’t writing the book to make any money but more to realise a dream of mine I needed to keep the cost to an affordable price, therefore I self-published my book on Amazon.Whilst the book presentation is OK, it could be so much better if it had been published by a professional publisher, hence,for my next book, Gina goes to the Zoo, I’d like to see if I can raise enough money to pay a publisher to publish my book, not least to do justice to the brilliant illustrations of Jamie Hardy,” says Sharron.

But most of all Sharron is delighted to be keeping her daughter’s memory alive and hopes her story inspired by Gina can reach the length and breadth of the country.

“My motivation for writing the book was not to financially benefit but to keep Gina’s memory alive in something that is tangible, not only in my heart, or in the heart of her school, but to extend her memory to the wider community,” she says.

Anyone who would like to support the project can visit the crowd-funding page:

www.gofundme.com/gina-goes-to-the-zoo

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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