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.

Surviving ‘Outland’ with Rosie

I’ve listened to ‘Outland’ by Dennis E. Taylor and narrated by Ray Porter many, many times since I bought it earlier this year. Having entertained similar plots in the past but never written down (they were terrible, teenage fantasies) I have put some thought into the idea of how one would survive in a post-apocalyptic world. My sister has a similar thing with The Walking Dead and other zombie apocalypse series/films.

Anyway, time to play hypotheticals. I am in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the university for some reason.

Why would I be there? Am I visiting or living there?

A visiting lectureship in creative writing? Research for my PhD? A conference of some kind?

Yellowstone erupts.

I studied Earth Sciences, and was fascinated by volcanoes for a while. The subject of supervolcanoes came up in one lecture. I’ve read about them, I know what those beggars can do. As soon as Yellowstone started to do anything out of the statistical norm, I’d be finding an excuse to get on a flight back to England.

But let’s assume that for some reason I can’t get a flight home.

A bunch of students turn up at the university medical centre after the earthquake with a means to escape Earth. Their escape Earth, Outland, is a wilderness.

What will I need to survive?

  • Warm clothes
  • Boots
  • Waterproof clothes
  • Tent and camp bed
  • Sleeping bag and blankets
  • Food and water
  • Transport that doesn’t require fuel
  • Batteries and solar charging panels
  • Cooking stove and pans
  • Notebooks and pens
  • Books
  • Medication, including painkillers and a first aid kit
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Earplugs

Where would I get these from?

Well, if i was living in Lincoln, Nebraska, hopefully I’d have camping kit in my accomodation. Because it’s a rural state and there’s place to visit in neighbouring states. Not that I camp much these days. My back doesn’t like it and I like showers too much but let’s go with it. Clearly, at home I will also have medication and toiletries.

What about transport?

A bicycle with a trailer would work, even better would be an electric bike. It could be put up on blocks and used as an alternative source of power using the battery. A trailer would be useful for carrying the stuff and with chunky wheels on both the trailer and bicycle, the transport wound be able to handle the terrain.

I found some inspiration on this blog, just look at the dinky caravans pulled by bicycle! I particularly like ‘ The Wide Path Camper’ from Denmark, although it’s a one-off. It would save on a tent and camp bed, and everything could be carried in it.

Exoplanets, moon moons and the scientists of Lincolnshire

A few years ago, when I was looking around the University of Lincoln for my MA course, the guide, a 2nd year undergraduate, said he hadn’t known Isaac Newton was from Lincolnshire until he’d come to the University. I think he was from Nottinghamshire. Sir Isaac isn’t our only famous scientist however.

Continue reading “Exoplanets, moon moons and the scientists of Lincolnshire”

Dissertation news

Last Wednesday my dissertation arrived with notes and my final score: 65%

I was pleased but disappointed at the same time, because I’d really wanted a higher mark. I have high expectations of myself and felt I’d let myself down by only getting 65%. I’ve got over that now, almost. It sent me into a bit of a depression for a couple of days but I’m beginning to get through that. It hasn’t helped that I’ve been depressed anyway for the last two months. It’s easy for a little thing, like disappointment in my dissertation results to send me somewhere dark.

I’ve completed my amendments, which were mostly typos, because of my sticky ‘h’ key ūüėÄ and submitted it via turnitin. I’ve got to get it printed and bound at the university library and hand it in by 12th December, so I’d better get on with that.

So, what else have I been up to?

I’m working on a short sci-fi story, that I hope will be the first in a series of three linked stories. A ship five hundred years from now is sent to retrieve a probe sent out two centuries before, but nothing goes to plan.

I’ve started another WEA course, the follow up to the one I did last year. So far we’ve covered using radiation to investigate crimes, like art fraud and injuries, and blood spatter patterns. Tomorrow it’s ‘UV light and high intensity radiation in crime investigations’, according to the lesson plan. Should be interesting.

I’m reading some books for next month’s review schedule, and other books I’me reading because I’m interested in them. Some will get reviews, some won’t. Depends on how I feel.

Right, that’s it. Enjoy the day.

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?

Writing updates

Hiiiiiiii

I’ve been quiet recently, I know, and it’s not all because of the dissertation. I’ve had things going on, and my body and brain have been complaining. Lots of sleeping has been done.

However, I’m feeling a touch better this afternoon. I printed out my complete dissertation, all 91 pages of it, to read through and check over. That’s my mission next week. Read, and make any changes to the document before I print out the final, final version for handing in next month.

I’ve also started reading through and making a few edits to the third Fire novel, Fire Awakened. My sister has read the current version, enjoyed it, and has told me off for leaving it on another cliffhanger. I happen to like leaving novels on a cliffhanger, partly because I enjoy torturing my sisters, and partly because I want to induce antici….

 

….pation in readers.

Yes, that is a Rocky Horror reference.

Also, I haven’t finished writing ‘Fire Storm‘, the last Fire novel yet. I know what happens, I just need to get it on paper.

And¬†Charley’s War is coming along. Slowly, I’ll admit, but I have managed to write a bit during the last few months, a couple of thousand words. It’s all hand written at the moment, so you’ll just have to wait.

However, if anyone wants to have a read of the first two novels and one of the shorter stories, they’re available in paperback and ebook through Amazon. I just checked, I got another 4 star review from a reader. So pleased!

In reading news, I am doing a happy dance because I’ve got hold of a digital ARC of Tamora Pierce’s new book,¬†Tempests and Slaughter¬†about Arram Draper and Prince Ozorne, before they become¬†Numair Salmal√≠n and the Emperor Mage. If you’re a fan of Tamora Pierce’s books you’ll know how long awaited this is. I read the Lioness series and the Immortals series avidly and repeatedly as young teenager. My sister read them after me. The copies I bought have almost fallen apart, although my original, hardback ex-library edition of ‘In the Hand of the Goddess’ that cost me 50p from the library, is still in relatively good condition. The pages are browning a bit and I’m not sure the binding will cope with many more readings, but it’s not bad considering it’s at least thirty years old (I’ve had it 22/23 years, the library hold on to books for a while).

In other reading news, I’m reading a digital ARC of C.J. Skuse’s follow up to¬†Sweet Pea, In Bloom.¬†Rhiannon is a cracked as ever and now has a faetus talking to her.

Choices, choices, which one do I devour first? Fantasy or crime?

 

 

Non-verbal communication works better for some people.

I have a headache and I’m coughing and stuffy. It’s either a cold or heyfever. Choices, choices.

Anyway, I’m whiling away my time reading, as usual now I’ve sent in another email with my dissertation, and today’s choice is one of my book shopping spree purchases: Odd Girl Out, by Laura James.

Reading it, I’ve found so many things, thoughts, feelings, that I recognise. That I’ve felt or experienced, despite our different backgrounds and upbringing. The oddness of other people, not understanding the social rules, being immersed in books, not understanding the whole football thing, practical empathy, being overwhelmed by other people’s feelings, especially negative feelings, not quite getting why people lie, there’s so much!

She talks about the irony of an autistic woman in a communications profession – she’s a journalist. Communication deficits are a hallmark of autism. The fact is, we communicate well in writing. I prefer to write than talk, because I can be very precise in writing. I mean what I write. There’s no need to assume otherwise. If I’m being satirical, humorous or sarcastic I can indicate that either directly with a symbol, or with the sentence structure. It’s also solid, I have information in writing, so I can refer back to it if I get confused or need reassurance. Or to win an argument.

Speech is different. If I say something, other people have a habit of deciding the meaning based on my face or body language, rather than the actual words used. My face does not always show my feelings. My words get jumbled up if I’m stressed or answering an unexpected question. I can’t always hear and process speech. I forget what’s been said or what I’ve said. Sometimes. Beware, I also have the ability to recall conversations from months or years ago with accuracy. Sometimes I lose the ability to speak, especially under stress, or if I’m heading into a shutdown. It’s very frustrating.

So, because autists have problems with verbal communication, our ability to communicate at all is written off as deficient. This attitude keeps the non-speaking from being given any respect at all, and those of us who do speak are told we’re too good at communicating to actually be autistic when we go for a diagnosis. It’s not just doctors either, when autistic people advocate for themselves they get push back from certain people – they can’t possibly be autistic if they can write a tweet. *massive eye-roll* Or they must be ‘high functioning’ and don’t understand the experience of ‘low functioning’ people. Almost invariably, when asked what they mean by ‘low functioning’, not speaking is included in the criteria. *again, eye roll*

Just because there’s a block between mind and mouth doesn’t mean there’s a block between mind and hand, or low intellectual ability, or low competancy. People need to stop assuming speech is the only valid means of communication. Give people the means to communicate and actually read what they’re saying.

Right, now I’ve got that off my chest I’m going back to reading my book.

Dissertation Update: Week 7

I’ve had a week off from the dissertation. It was my birthday last Sunday, but I’d had so much on in the preceding days that I mostly ate, napped and read, especially after the anxiety-provoking disaster that was trying to go to Lidl. I’ve had a book shopping spree, and I’m expecting four more books, birthday presents mostly. Also, my book from Tess the Neurodivergent Goddess arrived, so that’s been added to the pile. If you follow me on GoodReads, you’ll have some idea of the number of books I’ve devoured in this last week. It’s very calming. I’m at 49 of 100 books read on my reading challenge.

I have actually done some work on my dissertation today, I made some changes to the essay to remove the ‘I’, and I added some books to the bibliography. I like a good bibliography. All nice and alphabetically ordered. I’m currently reading¬†Odd Girl Out by Laura James, an autistic woman who got her diagnosis as an adult. It is interesting to see the similarities and differences in out experiences. This is one of the books I’ve added to the bibliography. I want Lucie to have the same experiences and responses to situations that a real autistic woman would have, and reading various accounts, both in books and online, has added to my own lived experience in the writing process.

Dissertation Update: Week 6

Some progress has been made since last week. Although I haven’t been writing much.

The dissertation supervisor now likes my villain, and the hints of a darker undertone, but is still holding out on Lucie. He said he knows I think I’m writing a stereotype but people won’t realise she’s autistic unless I do. I think we’re at stalemate on that front.

The other thing he mentioned was the landscape, it still isn’t ‘solid’ enough, and he suggested adding the texture in the passage about Lucie taking a night walk around Lincoln. I need to get back to Lincoln and walk around a bit making notes, I think.

I also need to re-write the essay for the third time. It has to be objective, I need to take the ‘I’ out of it. This could be interesting.


In other Rosie news:

I’ve submitted Hidden Fire to Inspired Quill, an independent, traditional publisher. Inspired Quill was recommended to me last September by one of their authors, at a Book Connectors meet-up.

I have book post! So much book post, because I treat myself to a stack of books once the money the county council owed me arrived. Plus, a book from Authoright, which I will be reviewing for them at some point later in the month. After I make my way through my pile of lovely books. Some of them are actually doing double duty as research for my dissertation, but still. Books! I don’t often get to buy new books, so I’m very happy.

Saturday 16th June marks the first anniversary of the publication of¬†Hidden Fire:¬†I will be at The Crafty Collective Open Day/Craft Fair selling copies of my books. If you’re in North East Lincolnshire, or nearby, come and support a local craft club. We have a raffle! I have donated gift packs of books and bookmarks to the raffle, and some peg bags that I made, to the club’s table. I’ll have a few of my dragons with me.

And now i have to go and collect up all the bits that have blown out of my plastics bin. It’s recycling box day; the box is rather full, and the wind is rather high.