Trying to process why I write autistic characters and what I would like to know

I have occasionally joked that I learnt to be human by reading fantasy. What I mean by this is that fantasy explores so many different possible situations, so many different characters, that I was able to learn about human behaviour and psychology. I sometimes even learnt the appropriate responses to situations and why typical people do things that seem nonsensical to me.

Actually, most of the stuff they do is still nonsensical but I try to be tolerant. I’m probably more tolerant of the typical need to make small talk than most people are of my need to not make small talk, for example.

I write autistic main characters most of the time, it is sometimes deliberate, sometimes not. For me it helps to have a character that is trying to navigate a situation and to put myself in their place. I struggle to visualise things so I have to embody that situation instead. I can’t know how the character will react until I put myself there. I can usually work out how the other characters will react though, based on past experiences or reading, e.g. MC gets into an argument because the other person is in the wrong, other person either admits or gets defensive, MC will get upset and other characters will chide them for bringing up something that people don’t want to talk about. Creates conflict.

Or the end of the world is coming, Autistic MC has a sensible, logical plan, everyone else is panicking, how would they react? Baring in mind, my sisters and I regularly plan out what we’d do in even of a zombie apocalypse, and I have seriously considered preparing a go bag and clearing out the cupboard under the stairs to use as an emergency shelter, this is something I can ’embody’ fairly easily.

I have written accidentally autistic characters, who react and process their lives in an unconsciously autistic way and I have also written deliberately autistic characters. The difference is, when it’s deliberate there’s a purpose behind. In my Lucie Burns stories (especially my unfinished Dissertation piece) the purpose was to show a realistic autistic woman as a police officers, in opposition to the less than realistic and sometimes actively harmful depictions of autistic women in books and film/TV.

I’m currently working on a story for my writing group about a forensic psychologist who is autistic and helping to investigate a series of child murders (I go through phases of loving crime fiction and wanting to write crime all the time); I don’t have a defined purpose in this story, I just want to show an autistic person in a situation people might think unlikely – I don’t think people realise we make decent psychologists, teachers, social workers, etc. because they’re ‘people’ jobs and we don’t like people/have no empathy/all that nonsense. Also, I wanted to. I sounded like fun when I first planned the story out. I might even have my two autistic investigators meet in a future story, just for the hell of it. I expect their colleagues would all be ‘oh you’ll like (character), she’s autistic too’ and they don’t hit it off at all. Because we’re all human and different.

I do think representation is important, especially Own Voices representation, because for too long other people, typical people looking from the outside in, have defined us, defined our narrative and told the world they’re the experts. No, we are.

Anyway, I read a bit of fiction written by other autistic writers who also have autistic main characters, and I find it helpful, because other writer present other perspectives. I want to know if it’s deliberate, or their default character writing, I want to know their purpose, and reasoning. Is it hard to write about the difficult parts of being autistic, is it hard to write typical characters. I find my typical characters can be a bit flat, while my autistic characters tend to be more rounded. I actively have to try not to make older male typical characters bigoted boorish drunks, for example. Can’t imagine why…

I want to know about the writing process. I write almost a script first then have to go back and fill in the details, like body language and descriptions. Writing is an active process. I might get flashes of a scene in my brain but then I have to embody it to move beyond that. How do other autistic people work, especially if they have aphantasia?

I never know what my characters look like beyond an outline, and I actively have to pin things down as I write the story. I have face recognition problems if I haven’t seen people often or if I have haven’t seen them in a long time – especially with children. Do other writers have this problem, or do they know write from the start what their characters look like and will do?

How do they cope with characters of different backgrounds? I actively stick to white AFAB main characters, because I can’t begin to know what it’s like to be anything other than that. I have a limited ‘pool’ of friends and where I’m from isn’t diverse, so except for my BFF who is half-Egyptian and who has talked about what that means, and obviously I’ve observed, since we’ve been friends for 25 years, I don’t have much reference material. I don’t think it would be right for me to write a character from a different background if I couldn’t get a really detailed understanding of what it’s like to be someone who isn’t a white, working class AFAB person. I have an intellectual understanding of people’s experiences with discrimination and different cultural backgrounds but not the visceral understanding. I need to visceral understanding to embody a character. Is that just me, am I limited in my ability to ‘put myself in others’ shoes’ or is it a common thing?

Do autistic people, as readers and writers, use fiction to form their identity, as part of autistic culture or as a human in general? How does fiction help with this identity formation?

There’s so many questions, and I don’t know how to get the answers. I want to do a PhD on autistic writers and their autistic characters, but I don’t know how to phrase what I want to study, I don’t know where to start with applying for PhDs, either. It’s such a niche area, who would I even talk to?

Luckily, a new ‘neurodiversity and literature’ list serv has been started so I can ask them. If I get my courage up to ask all these academics with scary qualifications and careers.

Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival: Days 3 and 4

I’m in pain and exhausted. I had to miss a couple of panels yesterday and both this morning. I’ve over done it; but still, I’ve done it! I’ve managed to go on holiday on my own, go to a festival and meet people. I had to spend this morning resting after a late breakfast, but I’ve been out for an hour or so, walking around Harrogate to get some tape to temporarily repair my glasses, visit a bookshop and buy a new suitcase. But I had better get back to the start of yesterday morning.

Continue reading “Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival: Days 3 and 4”

Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival: Day Two

Entry 1: 08:20

I’m up and showered after a rough night. I was in so much pain that it was difficult to get comfortable. I did eventually sleep, however and this morning I’m ready to go. Last night I wrote out a plan for me to follow so I don’t over do things. I have an hour between 1pm and 2pm to get dinner and hide for a bit. There are a few opportunities for book acquisition that I’m looking forward to today, most notably the Orion Proof Party in the library at 5pm.

Right now, I’m going to finish my cup of tea, get dressed and go for breakfast. I do enjoy a Premier Inn breakfast, especially since I’ve paid in advance for the full works.

Entry 2: 20:24

I am not in pain this evening! Woop! Although my feet were aching earlier, but now I’m back in my room after eating a rare three-course meal (such a treat!) the ache is beginning to fade.

I had a couple of too hot/too crowded slightly dizzy spells today but managed with the help of event staff and festival goers to cope. After the first panel this morning I also realised that the best thing to do wa sto arrive about 10 minutes before the panel was due to start and the crowds would already have gone in, and then go out when the questions started. The only things this didn’t work for was the Crime Files flash giveaway and the Orion Proof Party. If there are free books in the offing people go a bit mad and you have to get there early.

I visited the WH Smiths book tent and bought four books then had a wander ’round.

The first panel of the day was ‘Emerald Noir’. The panel were witty and insightful, discussing their books and characters, and influences. The liminality of borders, physical and psychological, and the importance of language were repeated themes.

Second panel was ‘A Class Act’. I wasn’t as impressed or entertained by this one and due to being overwhelmed by the first event, too hot and anxious I had to use my fidget cube until someone at the other end of the row whined that it was distracting. Me having a meltdown would have been rather more so. I left half hour in to get some air and went for my dinner

I felt rather lost and alone at this point as I hadn’t bumped into anyone I knew from Twitter and blog tours. So I went to the Crime Files pop up stand in the beer tent and had a chat. I found out about their Flash Giveaway at 3pm so I made plans to get to that early because they had limited books.

I also went back to the book shop and bought three more books. I found an empty table between the beer tent and the bookshop and started reading one of my new purchases, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra in the rain. It was drizzling all day but not enough to be worth putting my jacket on for. I blame Val McDermid’s singing. Or Nicola Sturgeon for bringing Scottish weather with her.

Next up was the ‘Pace’ panel. It was okay. I learnt this and that, about the importance of cutting to maintain pace but it was all a bit here and there. I left as soon as questions started to go to the loo then went straight to Crime Files to get in the queue. Luckily, I got close to the front and got my copy of The Perfect Wife, which is now in my suitcase with the other eleven books I acquired today.

The break was good, I needed to get away from people again and found a table on the lawn to myself. People were standing around smoking and it made me cough so I gave up and went back inside, after gawking at Nicola Sturgeon again. She was sat at the table to the right of mine.

‘Antipodean Noir’ was the final panel for me today. I really enjoyed it, the writers were funny and I found their reflections on the differences between Britain and Australia, and New Zealand interesting, as I had the thoughts of the Irish/Northern Irish authors in the morning. Especially the differences in language use and cultural references. I had bought a book by one of the authors, Vanda Symon, so I went to meet her to have my book signed in the WH Smith tent. I was the first in the queue just to see her.

After that I headed to the Orion Proof Party. It was incredibly busy because the Jo Nesbo talk was happening in the Ballroom at the same time and the queue went from one side of the hotel to the other. I met a couple of people and chatted while we waited to get in. I picked up three books and then had one of my too hot/too many people moments and had to be helped out of the room. I got settled, had tea and scones while talking to a couple of people, and found out we sort of recognised each other from bookblogger Twitter.

Vanda Symon joined us and I went back into the library to see if there was anything left. I got the last book.

After that I chatted some more then came back to the hotel. Took some photos for Twitter so my friend Mon could see what I’d been up to and then went for tea.

I had planned to head back to the festival for the Black Thorn Black Out event at 8pm but by the time my meal arrived and I’d eaten it was almost 8pm, I was tired and decided to come back to my room and write this post instead. I’m going to put my pjs on and get back to reading one of the three books I brought with me – you know, just in case I didn’t buy any while I was here. I’m pleasantly full of food, tired, not in pain and less anxious than I was yesterday so it hasn’t been a bad day.

More fun planned for tomorrow!

Night.

Entry 3: 21:16

A couple of accessibility issues I noticed.

  • Water was not easily available, I needed to be sign-posted to find the water coolers, and was denied water when I desperately needed it because one of the few, and nearest, water coolers was in the ‘Friends of the Festival’ Lounge. Even in an emergency I wasn’t allowed to get a cup of water.
  • The use of bounce microphones during Q&A sessions. It’s a microphone in a box, you’re supposed to throw and catch it. As has been raised by disability activists, this makes it difficult for people with limited mobility or motor skills to take part, because you can’t catch the thing.
  • No quiet area, at all. It was drizzling all day, the tents and hotel were busting at the seams and it wasn’t quiet outside either. I wore my headphones all day just to cope.
  • You couldn’t stay in your seat between panels. I’d have liked to get settled in for the day but they threw everyone out between panels.
  • The only food onsite was expensive.

It’s fine having disabled access cards and providing wheelchair spaces, and allowing people to leave whenever they wanted, but it’s the little things like easy access to water or a quiet room to unwind in would make things better.

Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate: Day One

Entry 1: 14:45

After an early start, due to massive anxiety, I caught my first train. It was on time and everything. The TransPennine Express is reasonably comfortable, and from Grimsby to Scunthorpe I had 1st Class all to myself.

Yes, I travel first class when I can. I need the extra leg room and the quiet. TPExpress trains don’t have a quiet carriage and the standard class carriages can turn into a scrum on a bad day.

So, I got to Doncaster on time and made use of the LNER 1st class lounge to get a cuppa and water. I’ve never been in there before, and since I’m getting the Northern rattletrap on the return journey I won’t be again, at least not this time. It was very comfortable. The train was late and I had to go across to platform 8 but it’s a warm, muggy day so sitting outside wasn’t too horrendous. I drank my hot chocolate – I filled up my travel cup while I was in the 1st class lounge – and waited, wrote some Twitter poetry about being anxious and tried to read some more of The Quaker, but it just wasn’t doing anything for me (see review post).

The LNER train was comfortable, again 1st class. It was better than the TPExpress, more leg room and a free drink, but the carriage was bigger and there were more people. It was the London King’s Cross to Leeds train so I was joining it late. Definitely impressed, and should I make any trips to London. I’m going to try to book far enough in advance that I can afford to go first class. I had a decent chair and table to myself. Not a big table, but better than the ones on the TPExpress.

Having got to Leeds late I missed my connection to Harrogate, but another one was due at 1315. I got that one. Northern have definitely improved their carriages. It was much better than the almost a tram I’ve been on on that route before.

I got to Harrogate about 1420, and after a taxi ride to the Premier Inn, I got here at 1430. To find that the computer system had crashed and I couldn’t check in yet. I’m in the bar using my portable wifi to write this. I’ll update later.


Entry 2: 21:28

Well, I’m back at my hotel after my first foray to The Old Swan.

It was terrifying. I didn’t know anyone. there were crowds, it was noisy. I went to the reception tent for help. Got a programme so I can plan my weekend and because I mentioned getting PIP they gave me an access pass so I could get in first for events. It sort of helped, but I wandered around confused a lot and ended up in the short queue walking in tight little circles like I normally do when I’m heading into a meltdown.

I’ve come back to my hotel rather than network and drink with everyone else because I’m in pain. Can’t decide if it’s from too much walking or anxiety. I’m really not up to socialising tonight, maybe I’ll try again tomorrow?

But what happened at the awards, I hear you ask.

There were speeches from one of the organisers, I didn’t catch her name, from the sponsor’s representative, Simon Theakston, and from the award presenter Mark Lawson. They were all very funny.

Mr Lawson invited all the nominees up on to the stage one at a time to talk about their books. They were also amusing. Boris Johnson kept getting a mention.

Ian Rankin presented the award for outstanding contribution to crime writing to James Patterson. He was marvellously hilarious.

Then, Simon Theakston opened the golden envelope, and announced the winner.

The winner of the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year 2019 went to Steven Cavenagh, for Thirteen.

Now, if you’ve read my reviews of the shortlist books, you’ll know I struggled with this one. Courtroom thrillers just aren’t my thing, but the judges liked it so who’m I to disagree. I’m only a little book blogger.

Oh and for people who are in Harrogate, I’m the big, fat woman who wears headphones all the time.

Finally submitted my final assessment

For the Writer’s Bureau Comprehensive Creative Writing course that I started in January 2015. It’s been a very useful course although I haven’t made my course fees back. I haven’t really been trying to though because of everything else going on. It’s been a difficult almost four years.

For my final assessment, I’ve submitted the first 2800 words of a sci-fi short story. The final work will probably be quite a bit longer than the target market’s limit, but it could easily be broken into a serial. I’m still writing the first draft, but I’ve already made changes between the hand-written and typed versions.

Now, I’m tired and my hands hurt so it’s time to get to sleep.

I have questions…

Specifically, questions about the universe.

Right, so the universe is expanding. Current theory and available data suggests this.

My question, a question I’ve had for about 20 years, is, what is the universe expanding in to?

This is another of my ‘brain won’t shut off’ thoughts.

I was trying to visualise it all last night but I struggled with something. When people refer to ‘the universe’ do they mean the mass and energy created in the Big Bang, that now forms the galaxies of the universe? Or are they referring to everything, all that is?

I tried to come up with a way to visualise what I mean and I’m struggling. The best I’ve got so far is a balloon. At Big Bang, the singularity of energy that ‘exploded’ to produce all the energy and matter in the universe, is represented by a flaccid balloon. It starts to inflate and expands as air is forced into it, representing the expansion of the universe. There’s lots of energy produced, formation of stars, dark energy etc.

Now, what is that balloon expanding into?

Is there a reality outside of the universe, a box the balloon is expanding into? If there is, does the ‘box’ grow to fit the ever expanding balloon, or is there a limit that the balloon will reach? And what is the nature of that box? And, if we continue the analogy, will the balloon burst at some point in time, stretched to breaking point by the mass and energy that makes it?

Say there isn’t a ‘box’, what is there? Does something come into being with the expansion of the universe into that space? What is the nature of that space?

It’s all so confusing!

My confusion was added to when I read an article in New Scientist a few years ago about bubble universes. What’s in the space between?

See, this is why I never got anywhere as a scientist, my brain gets distracted by probably pointless questions that others have probably already answered. In the other hand, it does provide me with inspiration for writing. Got something bubbling away.

Diagnosis time and reflections.

Hiiiiiii

After my last post on Wednesday, I thought (some of?) my readers would be interested to know the results of my trip to the ASC Diagnostic Team on Thursday afternoon.

Continue reading “Diagnosis time and reflections.”

Novel updates, leaking roofs and doggie birthdays

Nothing much, I’ve finished another edit ofย Fire Betrayed and sent it for reading by my beta readers. It’s getting there slowly, but I want to polish it some more. I expect to be sworn at again.

Continue reading “Novel updates, leaking roofs and doggie birthdays”