TJ - The Inspiration Behind the Book
TJ and his Wheelable Chair is my debut children's book and is based on my 12 year old son Tadhg who has a physical and learning disability. It was written one morning sitting at my kitchen table, after returning from our summer holiday to Italy. I had all these feelings and thoughts running through my mind and I needed to empty them on to paper. I started scribbling my thoughts down, and as I did, I started to enjoy that feeling of really thinking about things from Tadhg's perspective and what he would love people to know about him. I listed all the things Tadhg enjoys doing and started to put it all together in a rhyme so it would be an easy to read book for children and also help develop an understanding of Tadhg's condition and how his disability doesn't stop him having a happy and fulfilling life.
I remember when I had it completed, I felt like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders. I had finally found a way to express what Tadhg would like other people to know about him. It was so important that I conveyed the message that Tadhg's disability didn't define him. Yes, he needs help doing things and may have to do them in a slightly different way at times, but he still loves to play and have fun just like every other child his age.
I asked my husband to read the 'story' I had written and he encouraged me to send it off to a publisher - I had not at this point considered it as a children's book, let alone send it off to a publisher! The more I thought of it, and after much encouragement from family and friends, I came round to the idea and decided there was nothing to lose in sending it off and see what happens!
TJ and his Wheelable Chair was first published by Austin Macauley Publishers in December 2016 and was the start of this incredible journey for myself and Tadhg. We got to visit many schools and libraries in Ireland, the UK and America where we did book readings and afterwards we would have a Q&A session allowing the children to ask any questions they wish to help create more understanding and awareness. I wanted to give children a platform to discuss these issues and let them know they could ask whatever questions they wished to ask in the hope of developing a better understanding and awareness. It was really wonderful for me as a parent, seeing these children coming over to Tadhg afterwards and including him in their games - Tadhg is non-verbal and after reading our book, the children would know that even though Tadhg cannot talk, he still loves to be spoken to and can understand what is being said. With this in mind and as part of our school visits, we would demonstrate to the children some lámh signs and they had to guess what sign Tadhg might use if he was hungry or thirsty for example - the children loved this and learnt how we can communicate in many other ways and how our body language and expressions can tell a lot about how someone is feeling. Tadhg loved these visits and listening to me read his book as for him everyone could see he was just like them and just needed help from time to time.
In 2017, 2018 and 2020 I took part in the Orange County Children's Book Festival in Orange County which was a fantastic experience. I was invited to speak on the Early Reader's Stage where I discussed the story behind my books. Again something I never would have imagined myself doing!
In 2019 I was invited over the the People's Book Prize Awards in the UK as TJ and his Wheelable Chair had made it in to the final for children's books - what an amazing night and experience to be part of these awards - something I will never forget! We didn't win but being in the final was amazing and something I will never forget.
in 2020 I wrote my second children's book 'The Adventures of TJ and his Wheelable Chair' which continues Tadhg's journey and takes him to London to see the sights and go to a concert. Again the message portrayed in the book is that TJ's disability is no barrier to a happy and fulfilling life.
I often reflect on that time when I was at my kitchen table and scribbling on a sheet of paper - I never anticipated the journey it would take me on and how much it would help Tadhg. Sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zone and by sharing our experiences it can open up our world in so many ways we never could have anticipated!
To listen to our latest book reading which we did for the Orange County Children's Book Festival 2020: