Insights from a shell for blind author

LAURA EDWARDS meets a Canberra woman diagnosed with an eye condition which left her blind, who has had her first book published

LEONIE Pye may be blind, but that hasn’t stopped her from writing a children’s book with a powerful message.

Her debut book, “The Little Shell”, tells the story of a broken shell washed up on a beach that becomes the treasured possession of a blind woman.

Author Leonie Pye with guide dog Franklin.

Author Leonie Pye with guide dog Franklin.

“The shell feels worthless and unattractive because she is different, until the woman tells the shell she is beautiful because she is unique,” says Leonie, of Page.

“The story has many underlying layers, but the real message is that everyone is precious, beautiful and worthy of love and respect.

“It’s a very important message, not just for children but for adults, particularly in this day and age when so much emphasis is on appearance and materialistic things.”

A former accountant, Leonie, 51, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at just 19, a condition that affects peripheral vision. Ten years later she was told she had early onset macular degeneration, an eye disease which attacks the central vision.

Now legally blind, Leonie can only “faintly” see objects from an extremely close distance, and uses a guide dog on a full-time basis.

She used special magnifying software to write “The Little Shell” on her laptop – a “slow and frustrating process, as it only shows one word at a time,” she says.

The mother of two says the story is also linked to her struggle with depression, and was inspired by a damaged shell she found at a silent retreat on the Gold Coast in 2010.

“We had been given a shell at the retreat, and mine had a hole in it, and I was almost going to put it back because it was damaged, but I kept it with me,” Leonie says.

“A few days later I just started writing on my laptop. As I wrote I found the story was similar to my journey with depression; going from a dark place and coming out the other side.

“I had originally put the story away not thinking of publishing it, but when I joined [Belconnen writers group] Scribblers, I submitted it there, and one of the group members said it would make a fantastic children’s story. I would have never thought of making it a children’s book unless they had said that.”

Local photographers, graphic designers and illustrators from the Belconnen Community Centre also came on board to help create the book, which took about two years to publish.

And while it’s aimed at children, Leonie believes “The Little Shell” could have a place in Canberra’s mental health facilities.

“When you’re in the depths of depression, it’s hard to take anything in… but this book is short, it’s got vibrant colours and pictures, and it’s got a simple message. I just feel it could help someone in a dark place, and give them a glimmer of hope,” she says.

“The Little Shell” is dedicated to Leonie’s much-loved former guide dog Buffy, which died in 2012 after almost eight years by her side. Twenty per cent of sales will go towards Guide Dogs Australia NSW/ACT.

“If we sell 15,000 copies of the book, that would be enough to train one guide dog, which I would be ecstatic about,” says Leonie.


The Little Shell, $16.95 from Paperchain, Manuka, and Belconnen Dymocks, or $15 direct from Leonie and guide dog Franklin will appear at a book launch at Paperchain from 11am on Saturday, February 22.

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