Interview with Cheryl Gillespie

Did you go to regular public school in Canada?
Yes, no, and yes! Being frequently in hospital as a child, I didn’t start grade 1 until I was 7 years old, and even then, it was halfway through the school year. I clearly remember entering public school on February 2nd, in Woodstock NB, Canada. It was a struggle for me since my vision was quickly fading. By the time I reached grade 3, I attended a segregated school for the blind in Halifax Nova Scotia. After 6 lonely years spent away from my family back in New Brunswick, I, as a stubborn teenager, called home and with great resolve told my mother, “I will either go to school at home, or I will simply quit!” My mother, knowing my determination, made all the arrangements, and I successfully completed my public school education from grades 9 through 12.
What gave you the idea for your book?
I use to read a lot of stories to my niece when she was very young via print-braille books. After experiencing some of the antics of my cats, Tigger and Jasper, I thought that this would be a great story for kids, and at the same time give children a glimpse inside the life of someone who is blind.
Who most influenced your love of reading?
My mother instilled the love of reading in me at a very early age. It started with a large book of fairy tales like, Jack And The Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, The Gingerbread Man, Hansel And Gretel, Goldilocks And The Three Bears, Chicken Little, Cinderella, and many more. As I got older, she would read mysteries like, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. My mother has even read books to me in my adult years, if the book wasn’t available to me in Braille, which is my preferred method of reading.
Who was your favourite teacher, and why?
I had a lot of teachers that I really liked, but the one that stands out to me, was my grade 12 English teacher, Mr. Hayes. I smile when I think of how stern he was with the class, but when talking to him outside of class time, he was warm and friendly. He really gave me a boost of confidence when, after I wrote a poem, he liked it so much that he circulated it to all the faculty in the English department. High praise coming from him.
When you write, do you start with a theme, character, setting or an action?
I begin writing with a theme or idea. Most times I know what I would like the end result to be. It’s always surprising however, to see how that theme develops as I write.
What do you like to read about?
I like reading on various topics, but I think I am most inspired when I read biographies of people who have overcome great difficulties in their lifetime.
Who's your favourite literary character?
That’s tough! I like the spunky Anne Shirley from the Anne Of Green Gables series, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, or the powerful yet gentle, Aslan, from the Chronicles Of Narnia book series, by C. S. Lewis.
What do you like to write about?
Here is some honesty for you. I’m not truly gifted to create something out of thin air, as many very talented authors do. Instead, I like to write about my own personal experiences, and share my deepest thoughts and feelings.
How did you meet your book illustrator?
I was fortunate to have already known my illustrator, Mike LeBlanc, since he is my brother-in-law. Mike has a special connection with kids, is artistic in drawing as well as music, and was the perfect choice for this book.
How did you decide on the illustrations?
When I approached Mike about doing the illustrations, he asked for photos of my cats along with the manuscript, and he took it from there. The rest is history, and I’m so grateful that he agreed to be part of the project.
Do you have a lot of brothers and sisters?
I am the oldest in the family with one brother, and two sisters.
Do you think that people in large families have more creativity than those in small families?
I feel that creativity is a personal gift, no matter if you are from a large or small family. I do think that perhaps having a number of siblings, may encourage or spark some of that imagination or creativity.
Is writing fun?
I enjoy writing, as it is a wonderful outlet to express my feelings.
Why do you like cats?
I like cats because they are very cuddly, lovable, and easy to care for, but I also love many other furry friends, like dogs, rabbits, or horses.
How can you tell your cats apart?
I can tell my cats apart by their different size or shape. For example, one may have a longer tail, or bigger head, and of course, they each have their own unique “Meow”, some higher pitched, and some lower pitched.
Which is harder; reading Braille or playing the piano?
Interesting! I think that playing the piano is more difficult than reading Braille. Playing piano involves a lot of intricate details, like using good tone, rhythm, tempo, volume, and coordinating each hand to play different things all at the same time.
Is music, or reading, more important?
Oh, both of these items are very important. Reading is essential to further one’s education, and for a successful career later in life. Piano or any musical instrument is valuable too, as it stimulates our brain, and teaches us discipline, another important ingredient in achieving life’s goals.
How do you use the braille machine?
I learned to use my braille machine when I was 9 years old. It’s kind of like learning to type on a computer. You just memorize the right combination of keys to hit, which will make the dots. Then you learn how to read the shapes of the dots, like when 3 dots up and down in a row make the letter, L.
What has been your greatest challenge, and how did you overcome it?
Ooo! Life is full of many challenges. One of my biggest challenges was learning to cope with (JRA) Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, which is painful, swollen joints that started when I was 2 years old. I had to learn to walk a number of times in my life, and as a child, it was sometimes hard to play with other kids, because they could run and be more active than I could.
I’ve had other challenges too, like being the first totally blind student in New Brunswick to go to school with all the other kids who could see, or moving into my first apartment and learning how to live on my own. All these things from my childhood until now, have made me a very independent person, so I guess I have overcome a lot in my life.
What is your favourite past time or sport?
Some of my pastimes outside of music, are knitting, reading, and playing Scrabble with my braille/print Scrabble game. My favourite physical activities would be going for walks, swimming, and tubing down the river in summer.
Published 2017-01-15.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Tigger and Jasper's New Home
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 1,550. Language: English. Published: February 12, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Animals
A heart warming story of two KITTENS who through amusing happenings in their new home, soon learn that Christie, their guardian, is BLIND. Sharing her TRUE experiences of Tigger and Jasper, author Cheryl Gillespie,blind from early childhood, gently acquaints children to Christie, a young blind woman.