It’s going to be a day of reminiscence for me this week. On Wednesday 15th I have something to celebrate for myself. In 2007 I self published my first novel ‘A Baffling Unoriginal’ and made a name for myself as the world’s youngest published autistic novelist. I can’t believe I had made it happen at age 21 and it was a great accomplishment and gave me a learning curve that allowed me to explore what it meant to be a writer.
From my first experience of writing a novel I learnt that it wasn’t all about making a name for yourself and expecting fame and money. It turns out that being a writer or a performer is more of a practice in being a business person that looks after his own welfare. I remember when I first started creative writing in 2004 and got hold of a book that worked like a directory for writers and artists. From ‘The Writers and Artists Yearbook’ I learnt that creative writing is just as much business skills than creativity and imagination. To the writer or artist his work is a beautiful creation that contains his heart and soul but when it comes to selling your book to be published and bought from the stores he needs to think of his creation as a product to be marketed and distributed to the readers. What are they going to see, who are they going to see, why should they buy it and what should make them like it?
Well let’s start with what made me write it. A Baffling Unoriginal began with a story that I wrote in a creative writing class. I thought about the story and what I could do to turn it into full length novel. At the time I was an unemployed mental health person who hadn’t even so much as got a menial job working in any capacity. I felt like I was being ignored and I struggled to express myself . I had no mental health services that could help me to function socially and I hadn’t even got on good terms with my family and friends. It was a very stigmatizing attitude that I had to put up with. I had realised that the rules of equality for the mental health and the disabled in general were that all disabled are vulnerable and defeated and they should be refrained from advancing themselves.
This was also shown in the services of an employment agency that helped autistic people get into work called Prospects. I was with them for a number of years going to job hunting sessions with them and I never managed to get a full-time employed position. The trouble was they insisted that I look for jobs that I was capable of doing. But as I discovered the vast majority of disabled people work in low skilled labour roles that don’t require much productivity or communicating with other people. Gardening, office clerks, shelf stackers, filing and sorting roles would have been my likely vocation but I never accepted them because I felt it to be patronising and segregating into a dead-end job. I couldn’t have even taken one of those jobs even if I had to. I am such an honest and committed person that I couldn’t create a convincing selling strategy that would make the bosses take me on. It was so annoying it made me feel hateful about my own disability. It’s a daily struggle to accept my autism has good qualities when I keep getting dismissed.
It is because of this catch-22 situation that I had to try and find a way to self employ myself. So I took up creative writing. It also gave me escapism from the misery of unemployment and gave me a focus to believe in myself and show that I have some abilities that would show the world that I had something to give to world. No matter how different I was in mentality. But what situation could I write about that would show my autism as a force for good in the world?
At the time of writing in 2006 I had collected newspapers on the reports of the 7/7 bombing for creative writing exercises. The disaster had an effect on me as a Londoner who had been an active commuter and user of the London Underground all my life and it was like a part of my livelihood had been devastated. The Tube was a grid that kept London alive and kept me in connection with all parts of the city and to lose it was like making me more disabled than I was. I am dependent upon public transport. So I came up with an idea to make a character with autism called Scott Hardy who would be in situation, in which he proved the best qualities of himself and his abilities to show his usefulness. In helping the people in the disaster that would show how mental health is not a pitiful creature. At the time there were no such heroes with a disability who were real people. It was like as if they hadn’t actually bothered to hear ideas from actual disabled people who might have a better idea of how to present disabled people as heroes.
However there was one issues that I also put into the story that wasn’t acceptable to the autism community. In the disaster Scott Hardy confronts a crooked lawyer who is intent on capitalizing on the disaster using it to make money and claim a large stake in insurance pay outs to herself. She also berates Scott like a troll pointing out his flaws in a condescending manner and it aggravates Scott and makes him want to beat her. In flies into a psychological rage and taunts her to death while she is suffering from a head trauma. I didn’t do this to turn Scott into a creature of vile disturbing thoughts I just wanted to express my hatred of the disorganised chaos that had been inflicted on British society by the liberal metropolitan elite and to reveal myself as a right-wing disabled person. No one had ever heard of a mental health person like me and still today I get asked why I am a disabled person with right-wing views who supports conservatism. They even accuse me of self loathing and being hateful towards other forms of disablement.
The book did make some impact on my life. It made me reassess my priorities in life and consider what I wanted to do with my life. I had come to a crossroads where I had achieved and accomplished something so good that I struggled to come up with another idea for a sellable story. There was something else in my life that I had been missing and wanted to fulfill. But that’s another story. After about eight months of promoting A Baffling Unoriginal I hadn’t old enough copies to make a profit or a writing career. It didn’t open the opportunities that I was expecting but it was a great learning curve. I won’t take it negatively in defeat, I accept that I failed in business but learnt not to accept defeat. I’ll save that for another post when I take a look at A Baffling Unoriginal…Revisited.