Being born in 1981 and growing up in the ’80s and ’90s with the disabilities of cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus and being a wheelchair user, I saw that there was a lot of unease and misunderstanding in society about disabled people. I really think it was the fact that I perceived this strongly from the age of seven that made me want to use my talents, and what I could do, to try and change the situation. I was even more determined to do this when, around this time, I was becoming more conscious of my limitations but also what I could do. Especially being told by my mum that, because I was born so prematurely (3 months) and being a twin, The stark prognosis was that I’d either die as my twin did, or end up severely disabled and unable to do anything for myself, that I was determined to reach my goals and live my dreams to compensate for the milestones I didn’t, and to show people I was more than my disabilities.
After the initial debate as to which type of school I should go to (mainstream or special education) and as I went through school, I found hands-on subjects like art, science and technology, almost too challenging although I had help in classes. I always much preferred academic subjects like English, geography and foreign languages and enjoyed the encouragement and praise I got from the teachers of these subjects, as opposed to the put-downs and misunderstanding I faced when trying to study more practical subjects and those I found impossible, like maths.
As a child and adolescent, I was extremely sensitive about what people were saying, or thinking, about me, and I would automatically pick up on the negative opinion they had of me , and the fact they knew so little about the real me and only saw my disabilities. I wanted to challenge people, but in a way that would educate them.
I knew that I always wanted to challenge people’s opinions and observations as to what I could and couldn’t do, and as a child I started keeping a diary. I learnt to read from a very young age, and that was when my love of the written word came into being. I would write poetry or short stories on my dad’s computer with the help of voice recognition software, and just looked for any way to get my thoughts down.
I had a few English teachers at school who I’d call encouraging and inspirational (one of whom was my form tutor all the way through secondary school.) There was one piece of work in particular that I did which has always stuck in my mind as being my favourite piece of work ever from my English class. It was a creative writing piece that I did when I was 11 or 12 years old, and at the time I had not long come out of hospital after having major brain surgery for my hydrocephalus.
The task was a creative writing task, and was to write about a place that was special to me , focusing on the atmosphere of the place, and how something tasted, smelt looked or felt etc. The place I chose was my auntie’s mother’s summer camp that was owned by (and as far as I know still is) her family. The summer camp, called Great Oaks summer camp, is based in Oxford, Maine. My family and I were lucky enough to have a holiday to visit my family in the USA in the summer of 1993, and we went to other places too. I can also remember keeping a diary of the time, and have fond memories of the other places we went to. The summer camp seemed, to me, such a peaceful and fun place, especially after what I’d just been through and the fact that I was lucky to be alive, that I decided that this would be the topic of my creative writing piece. I can remember the teacher loved it so much that I got an A grade, and then members of my family, in the UK and the USA, were asking me to send them copies of my assignment and it was framed and put up at the camp.
Foreign languages have also always been a passion of mine too, and, as well as learning Spanish from the age of 11, it was actually my form tutor, and English teacher who encouraged me to learn German too, so I took both languages at GCSE and A ‘ level.
I didn’t start blogging until about three years ago, and have blogs about my life as a disabled person, reading, and my journey towards becoming a published author.
It was my grandmother who always said that I should write a novel about my life. Then, in 2013, I decided to take her up on the idea. I decided, however, to instead write an urban fantasy novel, tapping into the fact that I’ve always had a very vivid imagination. I thought that the autobiography would be better saved for later, and I’m currently planning for it – I’m not sure when I’ll actually get round to writing it though, it depends where my imagination takes me!
I’ve always enjoyed competitions and contests, and so when I heard about the National Novel Writing Month competition, I decided that I would take part in November 2013. From there, this and related competitions (Camp NaNoWriMo , and the occasional writing prompt from writing websites) have given me the chance to write a first draft, and then develop my novels further, whilst I learnt more about how to write, and also read a lot in my spare time. Reading is not new to me, as it’s something I’ve always done but now that I’ve been writing seriously for a couple of years, The characters I write are all sorts, but I always include at least one with some type of disability, because when I was reading books growing up, I was amazed at the lack of characters with disabilities, illnesses or conditions in literature, and wanted to see more. I still find this is the case today, and try to challenge the literary world through my writing by giving my characters with disabilities, illnesses or health conditions a major role as a main character, rather than them being barely mentioned as often happens.
To close this post, can tell anyone who is reading this that it is a very steep learning curve, and that I’ve learned an awful lot and grown in confidence compared to where I was when I started my journey.