Mabel Murple, dolls, and writing through grief

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RIVER JOHN — It’s been a whirlwind of a few months for local author and poet Sheree Fitch.

From the third season of Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery, to the publication of a new book, Fitch has been kept on her toes. She even collaborated with a Maritime business in the launch of board books for children.

She said the latter opportunity came out of the blue a few years ago via an email from the company — Lulujo. The company was launching two Waldorf inspired dolls, and wanted to include a book. They approached Fitch about working together, and two books – one with each doll as the character – were born.

“I went on their website and thought, ‘this is really beautiful’, and then I found out their story,” said Fitch.

Lulujo’s founder is a female entrepreneur from Yarmouth, who created a product while on maternity leave. Ten years later, Lulujo’s products are found in 35 countries throughout the world.

“It came out of a mother’s necessity to invent something so when she was pushing a stroller on one hand, she had something else,” said Fitch. “Just the story itself, and I loved the look of their products.

“I love their authenticity, I love the quality of their product, I love their approach to business…everything about it.”

The award-winning author said she wanted to experience the products, so she took a Lulujo blanket on the road with her. She wanted to feel it on her skin.

Over the summer, the board books to go with the Lulu and Jo dolls were launched at Mabel Murple’s.

Fitch said she remembered when her own children were little, and the popularity of Cabbage Patch Dolls.

“They were for girls and boys,” she said. “I see these dolls as the same thing. They can be for girls or boys. The books I wrote are board books…it’s almost as if I saw a little girl take a doll, put the doll in her lap, then read the book to the doll.”

She said the collaboration was one she couldn’t have planned, but she loves to work with people she connects with, on projects she really loves, a project she believes in.

The launch at the book shoppe happened close to the end of the third season of Mabel Murple’s, and Fitch said she’s still “gobbsmacked” at the amount of people who visit over the nine-week period.

“After season three, I know my goal is to keep it open for at least two more years,” she said. “It’s not like a traditional business. It’s more like a social enterprise.”

She said if Mabel Murple’s makes it to its 10th season in operation, she wants it to remain much as it is today.

“I want it to stay rustic, I want it to stay authentic,” she said, adding the focus will remain on books, and promoting Atlantic Canadian culture and authors.

“I still can’t believe the continued support by our community.”

Many visitors, she said, stopped by on more than one occasion during the season. She said many brought company, then returned with other company.

“The success of Mabel Murple’s has a lot to do with the energy the people bring to it, and the support we have for it. It’s a good vibe,” she said.

Two months after the book shoppe closed for the season, Fitch picked up copies of her latest book, You Won’t Always Be This Sad.

She called it a collection of moments, of lyrical prose and verse. It’s not a book everyone will want to read, nor is it one everyone will be able to read.

“It’s not about grief, or the process of grief, or the grief journey,” she explained. “It’s called writing from the wound. While in the midst of the aftermath of my son’s death, I wrote and wrote and wrote. From the writing during that time, we selected different pieces. I sculpted them and shaped them. It really is from the moment the phone call comes up until the first anniversary.”

Her son, Dustin, passed away in March 2018. Fitch’s husband, Gilles Plante, finished a memorial labyrinth in the pasture six months later.

The author says the structure of the book is created similar to that of a labyrinth.

“There’s no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth, but some people say you pause at the entrance and set your intentions, but then there’s the three R’s. There’s release walking in, receive in the centre, and there’s return going back out again.”

The book, she says, follows the path of the labyrinth.

It’s not a comfortable book that gives easy platitudes, she says.

“I feel this is a book that people will have to read in very small chunks, and then close it, and some people will not even ever want to open it. It will take you to places you might never want to go,” she said. “I think it will have a very narrow niche, but a very deep niche.”

She said the book isn’t about her bearing witness to her own personal grief journey, “but if you go deep enough, of course with the personal and the specifics, hopefully you tap into universals. Everybody knows about loss. Everybody has different experiences in grief.”

The book, she said, isn’t about grief, but rather “is in grief.”

Grief, she said, doesn’t have to define or shape a person’s life.

“For me, it was about discovering, in the midst of this deep, deep, sorrow, there was so much to be grateful for. It’s an expression of grief in the immediate aftermath of sorrow, it’s in the now of sorrow.”

While it was the hardest book Fitch has ever written, she said it’s probably the most necessary.

“Any act of creation is a healing process. For me, I’ve always written the book I had to write next. I much prefer to do joy, but if I’m a writer, I’m going to bear witness to the next experience.”

She said this act of creation was a way toward regathering the bits of herself that had fragmented, and a way to start understanding she can be whole again, one day.

“I’m not now, but I will be.”