Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed children’s book author and actress Mari Sherkin about her career, what inspired her to start writing, and her latest book, A Fairy On My Sleeve.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I am an actress, model and children’s book author. I live in the country with my husband of 34 years, our two dogs and six chickens. I have a mini fruit orchard with apples, peaches, pears, cherries, plums and grapes. And yes, I make jam.
As well as children’s books, I am in the process of writing a movie script with Shannon Robertson of Georgian Bayou Productions and Lee Chambers of Jetlag Pictures. We hope it is ready to pitch in 2022.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I have been writing stories and poetry ever since I was a young girl and think that in the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted to publish a book. I actually wrote A Fairy On My Sleeve along with several other stories about 20 years ago.
I had been spending a lot of time outside in my garden. I had created a beautiful English Country Garden and spent most of my mornings there. I would sit under the gazebo with a cup of tea and gaze over the garden. I found the garden to be a place of inspiration.
It was there, watching the bees and the butterflies, that these stories came to me, and I wrote them down. It was only about three years ago that I started to think of putting my stories into book form, and it wasn’t until a year and a half later that we began working with illustrators.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I really got serious about writing in 2018, when I was performing live theater in Southwest Florida and writing some scripts with my friend, Shannon. Around the same time, I thought it might be fun to try to publish some of my stories.
My publisher felt that out of all the stories I submitted, A Fairy On My Sleeve was the best story for a standalone book.
It was a fun story to write, and we thought that it would appeal to children in various age groups.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
A Fairy On My Sleeve was literally written in 15 minutes. Of course, I tweaked the prose on and off for 20 years but the main story took around 15 minutes. Once I finally decided to publish it as a children’s book, it only took about a year and a half. We had started working on it just before the pandemic hit, which of course, slowed things down considerably.
Being a children’s story, I felt that the illustrations were imperative to the book, so I really took my time when considering artists, as well. It took a lot longer than I expected because there were so many talented illustrators to choose from. It was a very difficult choice to make.
I had looked through what felt like hundreds of artist portfolios before I came upon David Gnass. David really seemed to understand my vision of the book and his illustrations truly bring the story to life. Once the illustrations had been approved, things moved along rather quickly.
What was it that made you write A Fairy On My Sleeve?
When this story was first written, I think I knew deep down that it would be a book. I love the story myself and I think it should appeal to anyone with an imagination. I also think that the timing is right with this book. The past couple of years have been so difficult for everyone, particularly young children, who perhaps don’t understand why they can’t see their friends or relatives. I just hope this story makes people smile and forget about their problems, if only for a moment.
What were your biggest challenges when writing A Fairy On My Sleeve?
Writing it was the easy part. Poems and stories have always come very easily to me in my head. Getting it down on paper wasn’t even that hard, but I think that the most difficult part, for me at least, was to let other people read it. The fear of rejection was very real for me and that stopped me from submitting it numerous times. When I finally did submit it, I was both relieved and excited by the reaction that the book received.
Who or what inspired you when you were creating your Protagonist?
I was in the garden, as I tend to be, enjoying a sunny day and a gentle wind. There were fluffy white dandelion seeds (which we called ‘fairies’ as children) dancing around on the breeze and as they floated by me, one of them landed on the sleeve of my shirt.
Out of nowhere, I suddenly imagined a shy, bookish young girl and wondered how she would feel upon discovering that the magical fairies she loved to read about did indeed exist.
The story blossomed and was written, in longhand, right then and there in the garden.
Did you plot A Fairy On My Sleeve in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely.
Absolutely by the seat of my pants!
Basically, ideas or prose will pop into my head, and I write them down roughly and worry about editing later. I love it when inspiration hits and I can barely get the words down on the paper fast enough. I also use voice memos to record ideas quickly, which is very handy because ideas pop into my head at the oddest of times.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did A Fairy On My Sleeve need?
Surprisingly, there was very little editing done to the story itself. We mostly focussed on illustrations. Being that is a story for younger children, we felt that the illustrations were important.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
If you have a story in your head, write it down and share it with the world. Take a chance, you never know what will happen.
On a whim, I took a chance and submitted A Fairy On My Sleeve, to ‘Storytime With Fergie and Friends’, a Youtube show starring Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. Every day at 4:00 pm, the duchess reads aloud a different children’s storybook.
Four days after her office received my book, I was contacted by a member of her staff, who told me that the Duchess loved it and wanted to read it the next day on her show. I thought it was extraordinary that she chose to read my book out of the hundreds of submissions she receives every week. All because I took a chance.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I hope to release my next children’s book, called Fairy Day Games, sometime next year.
And, finally are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I must say, I’m a bit chuffed, yes. I am proud of myself for finishing and publishing this book. I have, in essence, started a brand-new career as a children’s book author at the age of 58.
I am also very proud of the recognition it has been receiving, particularly for a first book. David Gnass, our illustrator, worked very closely with me to get the illustrations just right and the fact that Sarah Ferguson, the duchess of York, loved it enough to read it on her show will always be one of the highlights of my career. It was totally worth it.
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