After calling time on her career as one of Great Britain’s most successful Olympians, Jessica Ennis-Hill has turned her hand to the world of children’s fiction. As she prepares for her appearance at the Oxford Literary Festival on 25th March, the three-time World Champion talks about the inspirations behind her debut book series, Evie’s Magic Bracelet.
When Jessica Ennis-Hill ended her incredible track and field career last year, she had a secret weapon in the battle against the boredom and listlessness of retirement: her young son, Reggie.
“So many sportsmen and women struggle when they retire and sometimes get depressed because it is such a change in their lives,” the 31-year-old explains. “If I didn’t have Reggie I would feel a bit lost, because I’d have a lot more free time. When you’ve had that structure to your life of training and competing for so many years, it’s such a big change.
“Having Reggie – he’s just like 100mph every day from six in the morning to seven o’clock at night, always on the go – I don’t really have that time to think about what I was doing before, training and all those things. It’s a great distraction – the best kind.”
But having Reggie around hasn’t just smoothed the journey from elite athlete to regular mum, it has also brought with it a whole new world of possibilities. Ennis-Hill has just released her first children’s book – The Silver Unicorn – which focuses on protagonist Evie receiving a magic bracelet from her aunt in Jamaica that allows her to talk to animals, and the Sheffield-born star already has plans for six further instalments in a series co-written with author Elen Caldecott.
“Since having my son I’ve been kind of thrown into that world of children again,” she explains. “When I was asked if it was something I would think about doing I said ‘Yes!’ straight away because it’s just a nice thing and of course hopefully my son can enjoy the book one day as well.”
And in children’s fiction, Ennis-Hill has not only discovered a way of encouraging kids to get active but has taken a welcome trip down memory lane in the quest to create her characters.
“Evie is loosely based on me as a child, and it’s got some of my friends in there who I grew up with and things we used to get up to when we were little, all our little adventures,” she says. “And then there’s a massive sporty theme and a nice magical twist in there as well.
“There are going to be seven books and they are all pretty much planned even though they’re not all finished yet. It’s obviously tied in with the heptathlon – with seven events. I’d hope that kids would read the book and enjoy it together with their mums and dads – to enjoy reading as a family firstly. But hopefully they can also take a bit of sportiness from them and encourage their kids to be a bit active and do something sporty as well.”
With Ennis-Hill settling into her role as a World Book Day Ambassador, the former gold medallist is looking forward to promoting the wonderful world of the written word at this year’s Oxford Literary Festival – which will take place from 25th March to 2nd April and will feature famous faces such as author Hilary Mantel, poet Simon Armitage and actors Simon Callow and Toby Jones.
“I think reading is just so important for so many reasons,” Ennis-Hill enthuses. “Obviously now having my own son, I see how important it is in helping him develop and get talking and everything like that – you get so much from reading and it stays with you for life. I think it’s so important that families sit down, whether it’s before bed or in the morning or whenever, just to have that time away from iPads and TVs and all those things that are just on all the time, and just read and enjoy a book.
“We don’t want books to die out. We’ve got all sorts of Kindles and eBooks and everything like that now, but I just love the fact that you can sit down and read a real book and I want my son to be able to do that as well. I’m really trying to encourage him to engage with reading from the off so he’ll always enjoy it.”