My thoughts on #Spectrum10K

In case you haven’t heard, Cambridge Autism Research Centre, lead by Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen, have launched a new research initiative. They want 10,000 autistic people to send them their genetic material. There has been a bit of fuss in the Autistic community because of the unsatisfactory answers given by Spectrum 10K when asked about data safety and the way some ‘Ambassadors’ have behaved, including naturalist Chris Packham calling anyone who disagrees with the research a science denier and conspiracy theorist, and ‘comedian’ Paula White calling a respected autistic autism researcher ‘brainless’.

I haven’t commented on any of the Twitter threads, but I’ve been reading them and taking in the information. The main issue is that there isn’t any guarantee about the security of the data, which may be sold to companies at a later date, and that some of the people and organisations involved, even tangentially, are known to want to ‘cure’ autism. Yes, we’re scared of eugenics.

Continue reading “My thoughts on #Spectrum10K”

I tried a weight management programme for 18 months and all I got was worse mental health

This is a long one, get comfy. I don’t talk about personal stuff much now, since my blog has evolved into a book blog from a general/mental health blog.

For the first time in 18 months, I weighed myself today. Last time I got weighed was at the start of 2020 when I was weighed at the start of a ‘get active’ programme with the local leisure centres, where I started swimming two to three times a week, and then a ‘weight management programme’ a few weeks later.

I will be talking about weight and BMI, so if that’s not a happy thing for you to think about, probably best not to read on.

I haven’t lost or gained any weight, but apparently I’m 6 centimetres shorter than I was in February last year…

Continue reading “I tried a weight management programme for 18 months and all I got was worse mental health”

Yuletide wishes

  • Happy Hogswatch,
  • Glad Yuletide,
  • Joyous Solstice,
  • Merry Christmas,
  • Happy Hanukkah,

Sorry if I’ve missed anyone.

I’m not massively into the festive season, mainly because I find it loud, bright and busy, and people are massively hypocritical. The fuss is massively overstimulating for me and makes we tired, grumpy and generally not well. I find hiding in my house with the lights low and no sounds except possible low nature sounds or classical music in the background to be the only way to cope. I’m already finding it hard to focus if there is too much going on.

There’s the expectation of being around people and I can’t really cope with it. I like visiting people but I need to be able to escape when I want. Going to spend 25th with people has a lot of expectation that I’ll be there for a certain amount of time and because I can’t drive I need the other people to get me there and back, so I feel reliant on people. I don’t like being reliant, I don’t like feelings of expectation, I don’t like not being able to escape when I want to.

I do like giving gifts but I struggle to know what to give people. It’s easier if people just give me a list of the things they need. I don’t like buying people things that’ll get put on the shelf and forgotten. I’d prefer them to actually want and need what I give them. There are a lot of books being given this year.

The hypocrisy of people spending two weeks pretending to care about less fortunate people when they spend the other 50 weeks of the year being selfish and only caring about their immediate family gets right on my tits. Don’t do stuff just because it’s Christmas and New Year or because you want people to think you’re so wonderful (charity gifts for example); help people because you actually care and want to help people.

Also, if you don’t want to spend shed loads of money on gifts, don’t just to keep up with the neighbours (or the in-laws). Actually, if you don’t want to do the whole traditional roast dinner/Christmas day thing, don’t. It’s not compulsory. If it’s the only day you’re getting off for a month and you want to spend the day in your jammies eating chocolate, do that. If you want to go on an adventure, go on an adventure (a friend has the week to herself for the first time in almost 30 years, and is going to the West Country with friends – because she can and she wants to). Don’t let other people’s expectations and demands stop you dong what you want to do, if doing that makes you happy.

Right, I’m getting off my soap box now and getting dressed. I’m going to see my bestie, exchange gifts and eat mince pies.

My First Rejection

To be fair, this is the only publisher I’ve submitted to.

I heard back from Sara at Inspired Quill yesterday evening, although I only read it this morning. Unfortunately, they aren’t accepting Hidden Fire this time round but the advice she gave was really useful. I’m going to go back and look at both Hidden Fire and Fire Betrayed again, with her feedback in mind.

I was chuffed with this:

wonderful authorial voice that flows well and is a pleasure to read. Your characters are interesting, and it’s obvious that you know every detail about the world you’ve created.

… I like the way you don’t end every sentence with ‘said’ or ‘she shook her head’ (or similar!)…

I’m just sorry that currently, Inspired Quill doesn’t have the resources to offer you a contract and work with you.


The feedback boils down to:

  • Dialogue can be hard to follow when there are groups – non-verbal cues
  • More telling than showing – non-verbal cues
  • Episodic (good because keeps readers engaged) but needs a unifying arc running through.

The autistic writer has a problem with non-verbal cues and tone of voice. Now there’s a surprise! (This is a humorous comment, not a criticism of the feedback).

I can work with this. It’s not a problem.

I published Hidden Fire and Fire Betrayed a year ago, and I’ve learnt a lot since, especially during my dissertation writing. My supervisor, although a bit harsh at times, pushed me to write better, and his advice coincides with what Sara has written, to a certain extent.

Yes, it hurts my ego a bit and I’ll be shying away from doing anything for a while, but, I know how I react. Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll start work on them all again.

Completely random thought re: criticism and autistic people:

People say auties are rubbish with criticism, but I think it’s just a case of us needed longer to process and reflect so our automatic response is ‘nope, not happening, not doing it’, because, I at least feel like, when people criticise they expect immediate change and improvement and it’s just not possible, so ‘shut down and refuse’ is the go to response. Given time and no pestering, it’s possible to integrate the criticism into my worldview and work on it, but I need enough processing time (about two weeks). I don’t know if that’s how other auties feel, but that’s how it works for me. Maybe, instead of just listing ‘doesn’t respond well to criticism’, people should ask about how we feel and approach criticism, how we process and integrate it, instead?

I am almost definitely not a great loss to science

I was having one of my ‘can’t turn brain off’ nights last night. I had a few thoughts, like autistics are about 1% of the population, add the other neurodivergents and that probably comes to 5 – 10% of the human population. Maybe there was a evolutionary advantage to having a small number of people in a group that thought and processed the world differently.

And then I got up this morning, did my usual Twitter, Facebook and WordPress gander and realised, it’s all been thought before and articulated better, by people much more intelligent than I am.

So I think I’ll go back to writing stories.

Ignore the pacing, tapping and twitching, I’m just stimming.

This week I’m going to write about stimming. The calendar asks the questions what is stimming and how is it related to masking.

Stimming is autie slang for those things we do to self-sooth when anxious, among other things.

I have a variety of stims. I flap my arms, like a confused penguin, usually when I’m in the chemists and waiting for my medication. It works particularly well when I’m wearing my waterproof jacket, because it makes a rustling sound that I like. I rub my hands on my thighs especially when I’m wearing jeans. The texture and movement is soothing. Texture seems to be important for me, rough textures work well. I also like physical actions, like throwing a ball at the wall and catching it. Crafting is possibly a stim too. It’s a socially acceptable stim to crochet or sew in public.

Why do I stim? Because I get anxious and I need to send the energy somewhere, I suppose.

What has stimming to do with masking?

If I can redirect the anxiety to an activity I can hold up until I get home. It helps me maintain the facade of calm and attention, except when I can’t and then I stim because I need to. That’s when the mask drops in public and I get funny looks. That’s not fun. Especially as I think some of my behaviours that might have been stimming as a teenager were the reason some people bullied me at school. It was twenty years ago but the worry is still there that someone will attack me for doing what I need to do to be comfortable.

So that’s my take on stimming and masking.

Anyway, I’ve discovered this evening that Monday evening after 8 pm is a good time to go shopping. There was only two other people in the shop when I went to get my food shopping. It was great. No queue at the tills, no children getting too close, hardly any staff getting in the way with containers. It was great. Plus I had an audio book on my tablet, with the volume quite high. I’m going to end up deafening myself.

Dissertation update: Week 9

I got a bit of feedback from my supervisor earlier in the week on the most recent draft. Still need more of the city in the description. So on Wednesday morning I added 1400 words describing the first trip Lucie and Robbie take from Nettleham to Washingborough adding lots of details about the route and scenery.

Google Maps is a life saver! I’d mostly remembered the route correctly but it helped to have it mapped out with images.

Apparently the essay is good now. I just need to get everything arranged properly for the final presentation, provided my supervisor is happy with the creative piece.

I’m other writing news, I managed a thousand words this morning and a read through of everything I’d written so far of Her Last Death. I’m up to 21949 words now. I’m hoping to reinstate my 1000 words a day policy but it depends on what else is going on. I’m currently achy as hell but I can’t decide why. I think I’m going to do nothing this weekend.

In reading news, I’ve read one of the London Mysteries I’m reviewing a week today, and my copies of Wrecker and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot which I’ll be reviewing later in the month have arrived.

I’m what else I’m doing news, my rainbow draft excluder is coming along nicely, the garden is beginning to pick up and my cross-stitch is looking okay. I’ve been swimming and to the AAF café this week. That’s probably why I ache, I’ve pushed myself a bit. Oh, and next week I meet my support worker!

Anchor chains

I was laid in bed thinking last night about the connections we make with other people, especially our families. My brain came up with a metaphor. I get metaphorical at times, it helps me understand the world.

Our links to family are the anchor we’re born with, keeping us firmly in place. We learn to know who we are and where we are, just the basics, a starting point. That’s our port of anchor, our home. Eventually we grow up, and want to sail away, so we haul in the anchor and head out to sea. We take our anchor with us, a security against losing ourselves. Got lost? Drop your anchor, check your compass and charts, rest and then head back out on your journey, safe in the knowledge that you can stop and rest if you need to. You can go home if you need to, to repair the anchor, replace the mooring ropes, get a decent cup of tea.

Sometimes the rope is rotten and the chain rusted. It snaps in time, and you flail around unconnected until someone throws you a new rope, and you can get yourself a new anchor. You might have tried to keep going, with that rusty anchor chain and the fraying rope, hoping to repair it soon, but never being able to. The break, though inevitable, still comes as a shock.

If you’re lucky, you have a few spares, ready and willing to help hold you steady (friends). If not, you’re thrown about on the waves, struggling to get to shore. This is how I think of those with abusive families. From observation, the rope, to an outsider, is fatally flawed, but the sailor keeps sailing, hoping one day things will change but they never do. The rope gets more frayed, the anchor chain rustier. Eventually it breaks, it was going to, but the break is painful for the sailor because they’ve relied for so long on the faulty equipment. This is the part of your brain and society that reinforces the message that says “No, you mustn’t cut of your narcissistic/abusive/controlling mother/father/sister/brother, they’re family.”, or the abusive person that tells them they have no one else, that none will ever love them, look after them, the way the abusive person does, even though common sense and your friends say “Run away as far and as fast as you can. Cut off all contact, they’re bad for you.”.

The fact is, the anchor – the abusive family member – doesn’t care, it’s doing its own thing and now at least it isn’t being hauled around by/constantly connected to the ‘demanding’ sailor. Oh, it might wish you were still there, but only so they can continue abusing you. They’ll say you cut the rope, it’s your fault they left, but that’s just deflection. They were rotten to start with.

Leave the anchor, deep and lost on the seas.

Sail away and find a new way to get to shore.

Call for help.

If you have spare ropes (friends) that’ll hold you for a while, you can tie up elsewhere, find another anchor, one you choose, rather than one foisted on you. Maybe the old ropes and anchor stopped you from getting spares, (social isolation) and you struggle to get to shore.

Call for help.

Someone will answer, maybe they’ll lend you a temporary anchor, just until you find yourself a new one. This is a support group, or a therapist, that sort of thing.

Some people have perfectly fine anchors and ropes, strong, unfreyed, uncorroded, and still choose to cut themselves loose, leaving a dangling rope and a lost anchor. They have their own reasons, even if they don’t make any sense from the outside. They might have other anchors, ‘better’ ones, waiting to be used; or they might believe their perfectly fine anchors and rope are damaged and they need to be thrown away.

Or, maybe they just want to go on an adventure, are tired of being in one place, feel stuck or scared. So they cut their mooring ropes and sail away. Maybe everything will go well, they find temporary moorings, borrow new anchors and rope, and eventually come back. Full of stories, ready to fish up their old anchor, clean it off and start again. And maybe they’ll need help. Maybe, they’ll discover they left the anchor on the seabed for too long and it’s rusted and too far gone to be cleaned up and reused; maybe someone else fished it out, appreciated that it was a fine anchor and decided to make it their own. So, disappointed, they have to get a new anchor. Maybe they’ll keep the one they abandoned but tried to recover as a memory or souvenir, or they’ll see it hanging from another ship’s anchor chain, having been rescued soon after being abandoned, and feel sad they’ve lost something they hadn’t really had the chance to appreciate. And they’ll sail on.

Make of that what you will. My brain in a strange place.

Dissertation Update: Week 5

A couple of days late, I know, but I was busy Tuesday and spent a lot of Wednesday asleep, recovering.

Anyway. I wrote 2000 words about the representation of autistic women in crime fiction, only to be told by my supervisor that I was doing it wrong. So that essay got put to one side and I re-wrote it, covering a range of subjects in relation to my dissertation. I’ve sent that, and an updated draft of the creative piece off on Wednesday morning.

On Sunday, before all that, I got an email with feedback. As usual, the supervisor doesn’t like Lucie or the murderer. I accepted that there was something flat about the murderer, because in the first 13,000 words I’d been concentrating on setting up the situation and establishing Lucie. What I didn’t appreciate was being told Lucie wasn’t recognisably autistic.

I may have been a bit blunt in my response email:

I have written Lucie based on my own, and other women’s experiences of being autistic. If you are unfamiliar with autistic women it may not be immediately obvious that she is, but to those who know or are autistic women, it is. Current representations of autistic women in popular culture are limited to socially-inept autistic savants, an unrealistic stereotype. The vast majority of autistic women are not Sheldon Cooper with breasts and I’m not writing Lucie as such just because the rest of the world are too ignorant to look past stereotypes created by non-autistic people about autistic people. She needs to be realistic, to widen popular representations of autistic women beyond the ‘autistic savant’-type, because there are autistic police officers and to provide a role model for those autistic women who aren’t Saga Noren. That’s what I’m trying to do with this character.


My description of her autistic traits goes beyond the ‘likes pattern and order’ you mentioned:

  • She is described reacting to sensory stimulation in several chapters. Sensory Processing Disorder is a common co-morbid condition, as is anxiety. She mitigates her processing problems with the use of noise-cancelling headphones
  • She stims, tapping and running her fingers across patterns and materials
  • She blocks out visual stimuli in meetings and in busy rooms so that she can concentrate on her work or the meeting by looking at her computer screen and by building her file fort
  • She has hyper focused on the idea that someone at Witham View is the murderer and is ignoring the other lines of enquiry. This is based on her putting together small clues that others have missed, and looking at it from a different angle. Her autism is relevant because it helps her see the case differently.
  • She struggles with social interaction and communication, forgetting her carefully learnt ‘scripts’ when tired or stressed, and oversharing personal information with colleagues. This causes conflict with her colleagues and will be a subplot that evolves through the full length novel. This is where her autism is also relevant.
  • She has a limited sense of danger – wandering around Lincoln, a place she doesn’t know well, in the early hours of the morning to take photographs in the rain because she enjoys photography and needs to relax.
  • She’s blunt, although she’s learn to hold back when dealing with witnesses – for instance in her conversation with Vera. And it is a learnt behaviour, she doesn’t have the instinctive ability to gauge other people that neurotypical people have.

These are recognisably autistic traits. Your response was the equivalent of ‘but you don’t look autistic’, an insulting comment the majority of autistic women hear at least once in their lives that is used to dismiss their experience of autism because it doesn’t fit with the stereotypes.

I have yet to hear back, either about this complaint or my dissertation drafts; I suspect my dissertation supervisor is ignoring me now. I added extra stuff, making it obvious when Lucie was stimming and her anxiety about dealing with work colleagues. I felt like I had to exaggerate to appease the ignorant.

I don’t like humans very much, at times.

Some of you are okay, I suppose.

30 Dogs Sleeping Like Awkward Doofuses - The BarkPost
Not my dog. I found it doing an image search and thought it was cute.

In other news, I went to my first Adult Autism Forum Cafe on Tuesday evening (after going to craft club in the afternoon); the topic was supposed to be ‘confidence’ but I ended up on a table with two other women, we drew trees and talked about yarn. One of them got out her spinning so I got out my crochet. It was fun. I think I’m going to go to the sensory group on the 18th and the Forum on the 19th. Also, I have an appointment with a clinical psychologist and a support worker from the High Functioning Autism Service (I didn’t name it – I don’t like the functioning labels) on Tuesday morning to see what support they can offer. I need to write a list.

Right, it’s 5.15 a.m., and I should try to get back to sleep. The dogs are snoring at me.