Children’s fairy tales aren’t always princesses, frogs, castles, and a knight in shining armour – and, as life goes, that too isn’t always a bed of roses. Lichfield first-time author Jaime Craven has written and created a different kind of children’s book, as Jaspreet Shergill discovers…
Jaime Craven’s debut book, My Magnificent Memories, may have been written for children – but it definitely doesn’t have the typical fantasy storyline. Instead, the book – which has already hit the Amazon top ten best seller list in its genre – looks at feelings of grief within children, and how difficult topics can be spoken about.
Although mum-of-three Jaime first started writing her book 12 months ago, it was something she had long wanted to do. The idea of writing a book had stemmed from her own experience of a traumatic event while she was on holiday as a youngster which, she says, consumed her teenage years.
“When I was 13 years old, my family and I went on holiday to Sri Lanka in 2004 for Christmas as we had family living there,” explains Jaime. “We were on a boat and the skipper realised that something wasn’t quite right. We were in a remote part of Sri Lanka and communication-wise, he didn’t really know how to tell us what was happening.”
It was Boxing Day, and Jaime and her family were caught up in one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.
A massive tsunami with waves up to 30m high, now known as the Boxing Day Tsunami, devastated communities along the surrounding coasts of the Indian Ocean, killing an estimated 227,898 people in 14 countries.
“The skipper sailed us out as far as he could because tsunamis actually travel on the seafloor so the further out at sea we were, the safer we were,” says Jaime.
“The tsunami went straight underneath us,which was an absolute miracle. But of course, I had seen a lot of things that any 13-year-old should not have had to see because of the impact the disaster had caused.”
After travelling back home to the UK, Jaime said she was able to deal with what she had experienced and felt okay, mentally. But around five years later she went travelling to Malaysia with her partner and found that visiting that side of the world again brought back thoughts and memories which impacted her physical and mental wellbeing.
“Going to Malaysia just triggered something in my brain and as soon as I got home, I had PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” explains Jaime.
“I had it for about a year and I just couldn’t shift it. I couldn’t leave the house and I just felt frightened of everything, it was just a feeling that I had. I learned a lot about myself and my brain-grief, loss, guilt-through all those years.
“And now I’m an adult and I can reflect on it a little bit, I realise how little support there is for children suffering with grief. You don’t really know what it feels like to be a child going through grief unless you’ve been that child, so I think that was a big driving factor for me.”
With the support from loved ones and professional help, Jaime found her path to recovery. Having experienced this, she was able to notice and relate to a younger family member who was also going through a difficult period in their life.
“I’ve got a younger family member who’s been through grief recently and I recognised in her some of the things that I felt,” says Jaime
“Although it was a different type of grief, I could see the cycle that she was going through, and I’ve done it. So, I told her this story because what used to work for me was understanding why I felt the way I did and that I wasn’t unusual and that it wasn’t something that was going to be with me forever. It was literally a trigger response to a trauma. It’s your brain trying to protect itself, and it’s a very normal and a very healthy thing for your brain to do.
“This story was me basically explaining to her, through a child’s story, that an event will happen, you’ll feel rubbish for a bit, then you’ll feel better because you’ll start to heal from the trauma with your friends, family and your memories. And then once that cycle is finished, you’ll realise how much better you’ve become as a person, how much you’ve learned and if this was to happen again, you would know how to handle it, you can grow through these terrible things; although they are terrible, they don’t define you.
Jaime had carried the effects of her history and past experiences throughout her life. She no longer wanted them as reminders and writing a book was a way for her to channel that energy into creating something positive to help others.
“My past was rubbish, and I was fed up with it being like that,” Jamie says. “I knew that I always wanted to do something and when this family member of mine went through this difficult period as a mother who has a young daughter of a similar age, I really felt for her and that’s what triggered it off. It was me sitting with her and saying ‘I know what you’re going through’ and that is the story that is in the book, My Magnificent Memories; it’s exactly the same story I told her.”
Themes of feelings are represented throughout My Magnificent Memories, which are broken down in a way for a child to have a better understanding of the experiences they may be going through and a way to deal with it and process it.
“I explained it as having a castle in your brain and then when something happens in your castle, everybody living in your castle is going to feel a little bit on guard which is the anxiety you feel,” says Jaime. “You may be a little bit worried about things, and normal things that you would do every day can make you feel worried because of what has just happened. Then it turned into this story, and it helped her at the time, and she felt better. It was my husband that said you should write this story down.
After writing the initial story, there were many changes made along the way because Jaime wanted to ensure that the story was written for children. So her 6-year-old daughter Mila had her creative input – which was exactly what Jaime needed.
“Because it’s a story about grief I didn’t want it to be too sad and I had to be careful around the wording that I used because of the age range and I rewrote it quite a few times,” says Jaime. “I’ve got three children and two businesses, so we did a lot of this in the evenings – and my husband has heard this story a million times!
“My daughter had a big input with the characters, and she’s got such a good imagination. I think we write something that we think that a child is going to perceive as brilliant, but actually a child’s input is exactly what you need when you’re writing a children’s book because my daughter would think about things like the fact that the character Amelia has a pet hedgehog and that’s something that I perhaps wouldn’t have thought of. My daughter was very involved, and she loved it.”
After getting the story just right, it was time to bring the vision to life, Jaime wanted to include a little piece of her own life experience which had a deeper connection to her as the author of the book – and representation was at the heart of it.
“The character Amelia has got a hearing aid and I wanted to include this because I used to be a sign language interpreter and deaf communities do not get represented very often, so I wanted to make sure that if I was going to do something, they would be represented in my book,” Jaime says.
Jaime had initially planned to give the published book as a present to her young family member who was the root of inspiration to write the story. But she soon found out that it wasn’t only her shelf the book was about to be sitting on.
“My young family members’ birthday was very close to the publication date, she knew that the story was based on her and she gave me the inspiration and I wanted to make sure that she had that book for her birthday,” says Jaime. “I wrote a message in the book that when it’s World Book Day, you’ll be able to go as yourself because the book is based on her. So, my goal was that she would realise how fantastically amazing she is and hopefully it would help her through anything she went through and that she could go as herself on World Book Day because that’s all she needs to be.”
Since the release of My Magnificent Memories, it has reached number seven in the Amazon best sellers list within its genre and Jaime has received a lot of support around it.
“I didn’t really think that I would get the support that I have,” she admits. “It started out as a book that would be on my family members’ and daughter’s shelf, I didn’t really think about it, and it was literally one of those bucket list things to write a children’s book. I hadn’t planned for it to be like this at all, but it’s been great.”
Moving forward, Jaime said that she would like to write another book purely out of passion, but for now, if there is something that people can take away from My Magnificent Memories, then this is it:
“I feel responsible, as a child that went through grief – that grief is normalised for our children. When I went through the tsunami, at that time, mental health was not talked about, and I was ‘the tsunami girl’ which made me feel different to everybody else and I hated it. What happened to me was not my fault, and how my brain reacted to that was not my fault – and this happens to children everywhere and there is not enough in our day-to-day life to support children with those absolutely ginormous feelings. There isn’t enough, so this is my contribution, and I would hope that any child that reads the book would realise that grief, guilt and loss are a part of everybody’s life and there are days past the darkness.”
My Magnificent Memories by Jaime Craven is available from Amazon now.