REAL LIFE: '˜The only thing I can't do is be a pilot'
Set in a world of magic, with fairy tale castles and princesses who firmly adhere to girl power, Three Royal Sisters has a very moral tale at its heart.
Three very different princesses are pitted against each other by their domineering father, the king, to see who should take his crown.
The new children’s book celebrates differences and achievements, which author Elena Sommers knows all about.
Born in the shadow of palaces and castles in Soviet-era St Petersburg, Elena was born blind, she has just five per cent vision.
But in her home country it never held her back.
She says: ‘At boarding school in Russia I wasn’t treated any differently. I was expected to do everything my schoolfriends did, so I did.
‘When I came here I could not believe I had to put myself in a position where I had to explain that I was blind.
‘I don’t want to have to admit that. I don’t use a stick, I don’t have a dog.’
Elena came to the UK 15 years ago after she married an Englishman following a holiday romance.
She now brings up her daughters Alexia, 12, and Andriana, nine, alone.
They are thriving young ballet dancers who love to sing, act, write stories and play piano.
The family now live close to another castle, in Portchester.
But life has not been such a fairy tale here, employment-wise.
It wasn’t until Elena arrived in the UK that her sight held her back.
Despite being bilingual and having a university education, Elena, 42, says she has been left saddened and frustrated to be continually knocked back for jobs once she reveals she is partially-sighted.
She’s not alone in feeling marginalised. A staggering 80 per cent of people registered blind in the UK are unemployed.
Elena, who says her independence is down to all her other senses being heightened, says: ‘I’ve had interviews that have gone brilliantly but I’ve been turned down because, basically, they do not want to employ someone who is blind.
‘They do not say it explicitly but that is what they mean when they say it would be too difficult to employ me, they would have to look after me.
‘I run a house on my own, I bring up my daughters, I paint, do photography, sculpt. My sight does not stop me doing anything.
‘When you’re looking for a job people think that because you’re blind, you’re useless.
‘But I can do absolutely anything a sighted person can do – except drive a car or be a pilot.
‘I use all my senses. I cook very well, I do all my own DIY and I fix electrics. I do a lot of things sighted people can’t.’
Last year Elena joined a support group in Portsmouth called Losing My Sight.
Through it she has taken up photography, sailing, rock climbing and has even won kayaking races.
She says her own achievements and those of others in the group, made her realise that if she wants a career, she is going to have to take matters into her own hands. That is why she wrote Three Royal Sisters.
‘I realised my friends there were doing amazing things’ Elena says.
‘Dave Taylor set up the charity on his own. Others are doing great things and everyone is so positive.
‘It made me think, “if they can do things like that, why can’t I?”.’
Last August she began writing Three Royal Sisters, a children’s booked aimed at five-to-10-year-olds.
‘I have a great passion for books and literature and I write all the time’ says Elena.
‘ Sometimes ideas come to me in the middle of the night and I dictate them into my voice recorder.
‘ Seeing the other people at Losing My Sight, and the things they have achieved, inspired me to write my own book.
‘My mum Vera was a writer.
‘She wrote lots of books, particularly about Peter the Great, but she never had any of them published.
‘To do anything like that was very complicated in the Soviet Union.
‘She passed away when I was 16, so I have always wanted to publish a book because she could not.’
And there are more books in the pipeline. Elena plans to write the story of each of the royal sisters – Rosella, Snowflake and Mary – which she hopes will provide an income for her family.
The sweet tale has a strong girl power message and encourages young people to embrace their differences.
Now Elena inspires her own daughters.
‘I think they are proud of me. Adriana has read my book about 20 times!’, she says, clearly delighted.
Three Royal Sisters is illustrated by Raphilena Bonito. To buy a copy go to amazon.co.uk. To see a video of Elena, go to portsmouth.co.uk.