During our infertility journey, a book was recommended to me time and time again. It was a book recommended by other women that had also struggled to fall pregnant, those that had undergone IVF, those that had experienced unexpected loss, and those that truly understood the emotional toll that infertility takes on not only your body, but also your mind. This book is called “The Underachieving Ovary”, and honestly I feel it is a book that everyone should read. I cried, laughed, got excited, and had my heart shattered – all in one book. And once I had finished it I did some more research into the author, JT Lawrence, and was amazed to discover that she is South African.
I have always been a bookworm and love nothing better than curling up in a spot of sunshine to devour my latest book. My husband often returns home over a weekend to find me cuddled up under a blanket with a cup of tea in one hand, and my book in another. And JT Lawrence has been one of my favourite authors ever since that first book of hers that I read. I couldn’t believe it when she responded to my email requesting a short interview for my blog, and feel so honoured that one of my role models took the time to answer my questions and come on board. So without further ado, here is the amazing JT Lawrence!
Your name: Janita Lawrence – known as JT Lawrence to readers
I’m currently obsessed with growing food in my victory garden
I’m addicted to walking and podcasts
I went to boarding school
I used to be an art director in advertising
I wear a wolf hat in winter
I bake bread and make kombucha
I grew up with Roald Dahl bedtime stories (thanks, Mom!)
I wear black almost all the time
I love Agnes Obel’s music
I’m fascinated by psychedelic medicine
I read gardening books to unwind
I used to draw and paint
I’m currently volunteering for the Covid-19 vaccine trial
I was on a billboard once
My 8-year-old son says I’m the “strangest mom he’s ever met”
I’ve been skydiving (and scuba diving with ragged tooth sharks)
In January I met a cow on a mountain and I haven’t been able to eat beef since. Lasagne used to be my favourite dish. Now we eat a lot of lentils.
Tell me a little more about you: I’m a mom to 3 free-range children, 2 cats and a kitten, a hamster, and a dozen happy chickens. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have been able to imagine a life so full of chaos and magic.
In our house we believe that love is love, black lives matter, feminism is about equality, trans women are women, science is king, kindness comes first, and it’s great to grow your own food.
How did you get into writing: I’ve always written–and always been delighted by peoples’ reactions–apart from a family friend who used to recite a poem I wrote when I was 8 every single time we saw him. 30+ years later, my whole family still know the rhyme.
Twinkle twinkle little dragon
How I wonder about your wagon
Going sixty miles per hour
Eating people sweet and sour.
What genre are your books: I hop between genres. I’ve written psychological suspense, thrillers, sci-fi and non-fiction: memoir. At the moment I’m focusing on urban fantasy due to the success of BLOOD MAGIC.
Which book holds the most meaning for you: This is like asking which child is my favourite, the answer to which is usually the one who is not currently crying.
Who do you think these books would appeal to: Anyone who enjoys escapist page-turners and staying up all night reading “just one more chapter”.
Where can people purchase your books from: Amazon is the best place, but I do sell signed paperbacks to local readers.
What do you wish more people knew about you: I hate phone calls.
The first book of yours I ever read was “The Underachieving Ovary” & it helped me through my infertility journey – what inspired you to write this: My underachieving ovary! I hoped that getting the story out there would be healing for me and helpful to others. Infertility is a lonely place to be.
Why are you proudly South African: At the moment, my favourite thing about SA is the long growing season and the blue sky.
Quote you live by: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” — Einstein
Anything else you want to add: If any of your readers would like to try out my work, they can grab this bundle of stories, free of charge. http://eepurl.com/cm-QVf
I am still pinching myself that I have been able to feature the one and only JT Lawrence here, and can highly recommend her books to you. Even husband (who is not a reader at all) has really enjoyed the books that he has tried, and he currently has one sitting on his nightstand.
I really enjoyed getting to know JT Lawrence better, and adore her honesty and sense of humour. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and please let me know when you manage to read one of her books yourself.
Even if you are not directly part of the Rare Disease Community, I am sure that you have heard of Jenna Lowe. Perhaps you were even lucky enough to meet this young lady. Maybe you have visited her website, & became an organ donor when you heard from someone waiting for her lungs how dire the situation is.
Gabi & Jenna Lowe
Jenna was an inspiring young lady who never allowed her diagnosis to hold her back. She lived life to the fullest, encouraged & inspired others, & was constantly striving to create awareness around organ donation. You see, Jenna had Pulmonary Hypertension.
Jenna was young, bright, beautiful and articulate. Lead SA’s Youth Hero of the Year in 2015, her death was mourned by thousands of people whose lives she had touched. During her short but full life, Jenna and the Lowe family raised much needed awareness around this rare and devastating disease, highlighting the dire need for access to medication and organ donors locally. Although desperately ill, Jenna became the face for organ donation in South Africa through the hugely successful #GetMeTo21 campaign in which she invited all South Africans to attend her 21st birthday celebration by clicking on a link to become an organ donor. Tragically Jenna died three months before reaching her milestone.
Brilliantly written, riveting in all its terrible truth and pain, in this brutally honest memoir Gabi Lowe shares her family’s desperate fight to save Jenna’s life. Despite their tragic loss, Get Me To 21 will inspire you to believe that the ability to face even the darkest and most unimaginable lives deep within us all.
Author: Gabi Lowe studied a BA before embarking on a successful career in media and marketing. In 2011 she was catapulted into a totally new world, that of rare diseases, big pharma and transplantation, filled with massive challenges, learnings, losses and love. Gabi is now a sought-after life coach, facilitator of workshops on emotional resilience and inspirational speaker. She lives in Cape Town with her husband Stuart and daughter Kristi.
When I heard that Gabi Lowe was coming to Joburg for the launch of her book, I knew I had to be there. #RareWarrior friends would be there, as well as the CEO of Rare Diseases SA. Jenna’s story had touched me & I was desperate to learn more about this girl who has left such a footprint on the world.
I had tissues at the ready, & appreciated the courage of the entire Lowe family for allowing us a glimpse into the battle they went through as an entire family. Gabi read from the book for all of us (this is where the tears started), & told us the hard truth about the lack of resources & awareness in South Africa. There were fellow PH patients in the crowd, as well as another mum who has lost 2 of her children to this dreadful disease. When I saw Shaakira, my heart broke – I had known her daughter & here she was supporting her “family” & standing up in support of the Lowe’s. They had leant on one another throughout their journey’s & now they are both grieving the loss of their precious children – how is that fair?
Gaby reading for us.
Gaby discussing the book with us.
Following the launch, I needed some time to process what had been discussed before beginning the book. I knew it would be a tough one to work my way through, & emotionally I did not know if I was ready. Realising that a lot of this fear stemmed from the fact that I am relapsing & fearful of what this means for me & my family, I knew I had to just suck it up. This is a book of bravery, a book of loss, a book of pure love.
Within 2 days I had finished the entire book. I literally could not put it down, except to clear my head for a few moments when it all became too much. I felt completely drained as I finished the last page & I was amazed at the strength of the Lowe’s. Jenna’s story needed to be told, & needs to continue to be shared. This book was honest & raw, & included excerpts from Jenna’s actual diary. It showed the truth of what it is like to have a Rare Disease & the fear of the unknown. It showed the hope of a miracle, & the emptiness that follows a loss that cannot truly be explained. It showed courage.
This book has changed my life – for the better. And it is a book that will keep Jenna’s legacy alive, whilst continuing to touch everyone who reads it.
The book is available online, or from local book stores in South Africa – I got mine from Exclusive Books at the event itself, & have seen it many times since then.
I leave you with the song that Jenna wrote, & her sister Kristi performed.
Sometimes there are things that I come across that just touch my heart, & that I wish had been around when I was a child. When I first saw “Happy To Be Me”, it was something that drew me in immediately & I knew that I had to find out more. Then I saw that one of my favourite small businesses (Charlie Loves Studio) was involved as well & I took this as another reminder that I needed to reach out immediately!
I absolutely adore the look of this book & definitely want to order one for my friend’s little girl. I think it is so important to encourage kids to see that being different is ok & that they should love themselves for who they are. It is something I still battle with so I wish this book had been around when I was little.
Your name: Jessica Smith
Business name: My business, which I suppose it is now (still cannot believe it), is called Love for a Little, or Have Love For A Little Heart, in full.
What do you do: I teach in a Grade 1 classroom as an assistant teacher and am in my final year of studying Foundation Phase Education. I also Au Pair for a family with three little girls, who are 7,5 and 4 years old… I started there when the youngest was 18 months old, so I am extremely close to them and share an amazing bond with the family, loving the girls like I would my own. My first book is dedicated to them. I then also run Love For A Little, which started as, and occasionally still is, a blog where I document my journey of working with children in all settings, and has now become my business, where I sell my books and now character doll as well. I write children’s books and illustrate my own as well. I am hoping to develop my “brand” to one day have my own store, fully stocked with my own books, dolls of all my characters, pajamas, nursery prints and all sorts, all to do with my characters. (A girl can dream).
Tell me a bit more about your book: My book is the first of my range that will deal with emotional issues and topics. It is about a little fox, Daphne May, who is a little smaller than the rest and she struggles to find her place in her big, wide world. There are unkind words and confirmation of her fears dragging her down, and although the calm and constant reassurance from her mamma is there, she cannot seem to shake needing approval from others. She decides to move on and focus on finding new friends, when she ends up being needed and helping BECAUSE of the very reason she felt odd, and so she learns the worthiness of herself, despite the odd challenge it may present. Loving herself was important and those who did not, simply lacked understanding, but one day they will know, one day we all will. I am only 23 and struggle all the time to stop negative self-talk and terrible thoughts about myself and the parts of me that I so wish to change… It has become really important to me to stop this and to start loving and accepting myself for who I am, because let’s face it, what we are so hung up over, is often not even noticed by the people around us and we end up wasting so much time worrying about ourselves, that we forget to be happy and to LIVE comfortably and confidently and to be ALIVE in our amazing bodies, that do so much for us.
Why do you think the theme & lesson from your book is so important for everyone: Since working with little ones is my absolute passion, it became so important to me to try and change this body image struggle that we face in today’s society and with today’s social media pressures…
How did you come up with this idea: My girls that I au pair and the children that I teach always tell me how beautiful I am and compliment me on every little thing I do and move I make… One day, I actually felt so guilty about the way I felt about myself, because how dare I see myself as anything less than perfect, when I have a thousand little eyes loving on me and all that I do, everyday? So I thought to myself that writing this story would hopefully feed them so much self-love and help them to realize that it is completely okay to be different and to look different, and that we need to embrace our own uniqueness and accept ourselves, and also accept those around us, for all that we are, and for all that we are not. That is not to say that there won’t be unkind words and comments from others, dragging us down, but we need to teach our children that despite what others may think, do or say, what truly matters, is what comes from within. I wanted to give children the tools to understand that they are special and that they are needed in this world and to also understand how important it is to realize that accepting themselves and others is important for us to realize our importance. I could go on and on and on, but in the end the message is strong, bold and extremely simple: JUST LOVE. I have loved children’s books from day one of working with them and being exposed to it again in my adult life. It takes you on a journey of humor and hidden messages that we never quite stop needing to hear. I love that I can reach adults and children through my books, as they read to their little ones.
How long has it taken for this to come into being a physical book from your first idea: I wrote the book one evening and it sat around for a year and a bit, needing illustrations… I didn’t believe that I had what it takes, but when I realized that no one was going to make my ideas come to life, I got to it myself, and I was surprised as what I could create. I always wanted it to be child-like, imperfect, watercolor happiness and I tried to achieve just that. In about two years from when I wrote the story, I published it myself.
Have you always wanted to write & illustrate a book: I have always loved writing and never knew what to write, so when I found this passion and love for children’s literature, I knew I had a dream to harvest.
I see another one is in the pipeline – can you tell us more: In a couple days, my second book will be printed and on sale, called “See You Later Alligator” It deals with separation anxiety and coping mechanisms for children, promoting independence and confidence, reassuring them…
I am super excited to see that you have done a colab with Charlie Loves Studio. How did this come about: When I saw Charlie’s work, I immediately had a vision and acted on it. It started with me sending her an Instagram message and when she said she was keen to take on the challenge, I knew I would not stop until we could make it a reality!
Where can people buy your package (book & doll) from: If people want my book, they can buy it from Blume co. (boutique in Port Elizabeth) or Summerlane and Little Things (both stores in East London), otherwise our online stores are Bella Poppelina, Nordic Munki, Baby Bug Boutique, Laatlam Gifts and now of course, Charlie Loves Studio. To get the book and doll package, you can message or email me or Charlie Loves… We are currently promoting the package at a special price of R395 for both, IF your order is in before Wednesday! (The book retails for R120 and the doll for R325, with a combo deal of R425), So R395 gives a great discount and saving! Please, anyone who is keen, can contact me for any questions, I am always so happy to help (email@example.com or 0835559204).
Quote you live by: I have all these wild dreams and started with nothing and it all seemed impossible, but I did not stop until it was done and now I just dream all day and work so hard to make sure that I realize all my dreams for the future, because I want to make a difference, and I want to keep living out my dreams forever… So I would say, on that note, that something simple I love to hear and to believe in and to preach is: “YOU CAN”, you are never too old, too young, too poor or too bad at something. Believe in yourself and always remember that “YOU ARE YOUR MINDSET”.
How did you become involved in this project: Jessica messaged me and asked if I would make her a doll based on her lead character. I had to check it out and loved what I saw – the message was about self acceptance and self love and it appealed to the Charlie Loves brand as well as the heart of a mother.
What made it really stand out for you: The message. We all want to be loved and accepted, its a basic human need. But the reality is that we live in a world where there is far too much opinion and comparisons. If I asked you if you wanted to created a different reality for your children, one where they are confident and love themselves in a balanced way, and not let the opinions of others shape their worlds – I’m sure you would raise your hands and say, “yes, yes, yes”. So when Jessica brought the book to me – I said YES! As a mother of a 3 year old and 5 year old, I know that I have a key job in laying a solid foundation on which my kids can ground themselves when life happens. Many habits are behaviors that instilled from little and are hard to break as we progress – self love and acceptance (not arrogance and entitlement) is a gift that I can try to instill in my princesses and books like these make it able to not only tell little ones, but also show them. I know that this book is going to touch parents lives and little hearts in such a big way. To think that I had a part in all of this is a huge blessing – am so grateful that Jess asked me.
How long did it take you to bring Daphne May to life: Gosh, I think it took as 3 to 4 months to get here – it was between my peak season and holidays too – so perhaps that’s why.
That and I suppose my dolls are trial and error – this means that I design my dolls from scratch and there are a couple of flops before we get it right.
Tell me more about JAM: Joint Aid Management – or JAM, is an institution that helps Africa help itself – by teaching them to farm the land and feed the most vulnerable. Children. My heart hurts when a child (born in innocence) has to suffer the pains of not only impoverishment, but undernourishment and hunger – I also feel for the parents – I can only imagine the emotion pain a parent goes through when they find themselves in circumstances so desperate, that as much as they try – its never enough. (If you have Netflix – watch the story: “The boy who chased the wind” – a beautiful program of perspective and hope). I cant save the entire world, but I can do something, no matter how small – and that for me is JAM – one meal at a time.
How does buying this combo benefit more than what people realize: Daphne becomes more than a fictitious character – because she is tangible, children find her all the more relatable.
I wont be surprised is Daphne soon becomes a close friend and lovey.
I see unfold in my minds eye – a mommy notices that her child has been very quiet and excluded at play school (I’ve met enough mummy friends to know this is a reality :). Then, just as if by magic, mommy comes across a little fox named Daphne May and her story – that night mommy and her child go on an adventure with Daphne May – they both unravel a real life lesson as they read the book together … the next morning mommy hands Daphne over to her precious little one and whispers something in her ear…Daphne is a symbol of courage and like all of her dolls, she is more than just a doll.
Oh be still my heart – if this is what a book and a doll have helped accomplish, it is the greatest reward.
Anything else you want to add: I love what I do and it is such a pleasure and honor to work with Jessica Smith 🙂 – I’m sure there are many more characters to come and more books too.
Today (27/03/2019) is the last day you can place your order for the special offer at their discounted price, so make sure you get in quickly! I really think this is a book that we can all learn from – no matter. Plus the fact that Daphne May has been brought to life makes it all that much more exciting. I can’t wait to cuddle my very own…