Uncategorized

I’m going to be doing some fundraising! #52weeksofnaturepoetry

Hearing about the effects of climate change and deforestation has long played on my mind — I’m at my most comfortable when I’m outside in nature, away from cars and sirens, bright lights, crowds, and the myriad of other things that often overload me — and the idea that everything I care for so deeply will be gone one day if we don’t stop wounding our planet is utterly terrifying.

Like many people, I wanted to do something to protect the wildlife around me. It means too much to me to simply give in and let things happen. But as I struggle when I’m around other people, and my mental health (I’m talking about you, anxiety) is not up to allowing me to physically volunteer somewhere or write long, detailed letters to organisations and MPs to encourage them to do better, I wasn’t sure what I could do.

Fundraising was in the back of my mind, but as I tried it some years ago and didn’t really get the response I wanted (and some even insinuated that I was wasting my time — talk about a hope squasher), I was scared that if I tried again, the same thing would happen. However, having recently listened to interviews with Diary of a Young Naturalist author, Dara McAnulty, along with other authors writing about their own love of nature and using it as a way to encourage and educate others, I thought perhaps I could do the same with my own writing.

Though narrative non-fiction is difficult for me, I adore writing poetry and often use it to explore what I’m feeling. So, at first, I simply considered writing a poetry collection and having all the proceeds go to my charity of choice (RSPB – they’re UK based like me and do some great work), but then I thought of a better idea. Or rather, I improved upon that one — what if, for a whole year (or 52 weeks), I wrote a poem about some of my favourite wildlife, and with each one, encouraged readers to donate to the RSPB and/or share and reblog? And, at the end of the 52 weeks, I could still publish all the poems together in a collection and have all the proceeds go to the RSPB, just like I originally planned.

The sharing and reblogging part is particularly important, as I know lots of people wish they could donate to things but can’t, and that way they can still help bring awareness to the wonders of the UK’s wildlife and thus encourage more care and protection for it.

So, after contacting the RSPB’s fundraising department and getting the go-ahead, I’ll be starting my #52weeksofnaturepoetry next month, and as the name suggests, it will run until this time next year. (You may already have noticed the new menu option at the top of this blog, all poems under the hashtag will appear there for easier reading.)

I’m still rather worried that this will turn out like my last fundraising attempt, but if I manage to encourage just one person’s love for nature, then I’ll be happy.

(Oh, and for anyone wondering, I’ll also be writing my usual, unrelated posts alongside this project.)

Also, if you’re curious about the RSPB, their website is here.

And if you want to take a gander at the Just Giving page I’ve recently set up in order to do this, it’s here.

books, Uncategorized

Well, this snuck up quickly — The Curse of Earthias, my latest book, is now out!

Hi everyone! Just a little announcement post (I know the title says it, but I thought I’d elaborate).

After much hard work revising and editing (read about it here), I’m finally able to share with you the book which evolved from two different ideas I had back when I was about twelve. It’s been a long time coming, and I put it aside so many times to work on other projects, so it’s amazing to think my little manuscript is now an actual real life book.

While not the first full manuscript I wrote, I started drafting very early versions of chapters one and two when I was in high school, and while those chapters have been lost in the depths of time, I believe that the tone I tried to capture then still resides at the heart of this final version.

Also, on an interesting note, one of the main characters is autistic like me, though as he isn’t human (he’s an Earth Healer – similar to an elf) and the entire story is set in a fantasy world, the term ‘autism’ is not used anywhere in the book – but the traits are there. It was interesting discovering this, as it wasn’t intentional and the first draft was completed long before I was diagnosed. I suppose I put more of myself into him than I thought.

Anyway, without further ado, I present to you The Curse of Earthias:

Taken in by Queen Celeste of Xylantria when she was a child, a young woman called Yusumi finds herself accused of murdering her beloved mentor.

With the help of her friend, the enormous wolf-lion Jidan, she flees the royal city. Soon after, they meet Xanna and Kai, two Earth Healers from the mystical forest of Earthias. They are on a journey to find a cure for their cursed Wise Woman – a curse cast by human magic, which has been dead for centuries.

But behind the scenes, a darker power is at play. Pursued by demonic and undead forces, can they find answers for the Earth Healers and clear Yusumi’s name?

Poetry

Vertigo x Sinusitis x Anxiety

I often think of running.

Of scampering through wilderness

and climbing trees.

Squirrel-ish.

And so many times I’ve hiked

to those places where it’s possible,

where if I just wished,

surely I’d blossom with reddish fur

and bottle-brush tail,

dart across leaf, branch and vine–

but

my body and mind dislike playing together.

Instead, their constant battling

cause my legs to sway, heart stampeding somewhere else;

those dreamt delights hissing as they sputter out,

rolling off balance,

decaying

among the rich leaves

hugging my feet.

Poetry

All the lives around us #WorldAnimalDay

They’re in the grass, the soil, the peat

They make their residence in lakes and trees.

Some scurry underfoot

Or soar above heads

Wriggle on bellies or stand on legs.

Some have been confused for mythical creatures —

Unicorns, sirens — because of their features.

They’re all around us, every day.

Some even share our homes and encourage us to play.

But whether they’re family or wild through and through,

When they’re mistreated, driven out, abandoned

We can make a difference

By helping them rebuild their lives anew.

Reviews, Uncategorized

Non-fiction book review: Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

A few weeks ago, my nan told me about a book written by an autistic teenager that recently won the Wainwright Prize (which is a UK award focusing on books about nature) and offered to buy me a copy. Naturally, having a great love of nature myself and also wanting to read more autistic voices, I said I’d love to read it. (Though, amusingly, the book is yellow, which is the one colour that is absolute sensory hell for me – an easy fix though, as I simply turned the dust cover inside out.)

The book is written in journal format and is compiled into sections based on the four seasons. It’s difficult to fully articulate my feelings on it, but I’ll try. (A warning, though: this is likely to be a long and rambling post detailing some of my own life experiences rather than just focusing on the book. I promise it will be relevant, though!)

Firstly, Dara’s writing is very evocative and poetic – I had serious writer envy on this one. He seems to have the ability to place you exactly in the situation he’s describing; every detail fed to you as if your own senses were picking it up. At least, that’s how it was for me – maybe it’s because the way my senses work are very similar to his, but judging by the amount of praise this book has had, I doubt it’s just that. This did, however, present something of a problem in that it was sometimes too much for me to handle. My head would be reeling after reading a section just like it does when I’m experiencing sensory overload. I was also a little intimidated at the beginning by the sheer knowledge he has; every species and sub-species mentioned is identified, which meant a lot of names to get my head around. I did get used to it once I got past the first quarter, but it took some time. But nature has been central to his entire life, so it makes sense that his knowledge is so vast.

Secondly, his passion leaks from every word, and while noting the intricacies and completely fascinating things, he also goes into detail about the very real threats to the world (I would say the natural world, but we are part of nature rather than separate from it): climate change, deforestation, hunting, pollution, just to name a few. Now, as mentioned above, nature is one of my loves too, and I’m very passionate about protecting it. But over the years, the apathy and unkindness of others has beaten down my willingness to express why it’s important to me. I used to share all the petitions I sign on my social media pages, but now only share a handful, and in 2013, I tried fundraising for a charity (Cool Earth – check them out if you can) by getting tattooed in the armpit, only to have very little response. Realising that I’d pretty much silenced myself without even knowing came as quite a shock. And I felt like I’d let myself and the environment down, that I wasn’t doing enough.

But I kept reading, and as Dara also documents his mental health, having experienced intense bullying at school because of his interests, I came to understand that the key to why I stopped was because my own mental health wasn’t good enough to handle such negativity. That, and I get so overwhelmed about how much of a crisis the world is in that I feel like I might be crushed by it.

However, I also came to realise that though I haven’t been as vocal as I would like, I’ve still continued doing things to try and bring about the changes I’d love to see. I still sign petitions, and when my finances allow, I donate to relevant charities. I also sneak bits into my books to generate awareness, like including several stories focusing on endangered animals and deforestation in my short story collection, When the Bard Came Visiting, and having characters interact with nature in quite profound ways. So, while I might have too much anxiety to go to a climate march (not that that would be a good idea during the current pandemic), or experience too much overwhelm to constantly share facts about how much the rainforests have been cut down or the oceans have been polluted by plastic and oil spills, I can continue to do the little things within my area of expertise. And if I spark even one person’s passion for the environment, then it’ll be worth it.

Now, back to the actual book.

Dara’s ability to reflect on his experiences is really what makes this book come together, and though at first it seems quite simple, it covers an awful lot of ground. As I mentioned above, he talks about mental health and bullying, and how it’s often quite hard for autistic people to express themselves. I know from my own experiences how difficult it is – the ideas are there in my head but refuse to come out in any intelligible way. He also splashes in bits of Irish and world mythology here and there, which creates yet another layer to what he’s reflecting on. I really loved reading those parts.

In short (after taking far, far too much space going over the ‘long’), this book is a beautiful exploration of our world and being part of a minority within it, and despite the mental turmoil it caused within me, left me with an awful lot of hope, too.

If, as I would urge, you decide to pick up a copy, you can get it here. I would also encourage you to check out his blog and Youtube channel too.

Poetry

Elastagirl

In the spaces of my sockets (shoulder

sockets, that is, not eye)

the dust of all the things I’ve reached for

collects; the joints are loath to return

to face the withered evidence of so many bursts of hope.

No, they prefer to float away, striving for that bit of extra stretch

that will let me grasp those

teasing, nearly there, fluttering dreams.

I wouldn’t mind, but the sinew is wearing thin

and I need my arms to work properly

to embrace those bubbly moments of now.

Poetry

Cursed ground

It’s just a patch of grass, as

green as that around it, yet

yellow and black tape cordons it off.

Why? What is so different, so dangerous, so other

about this patch?

Is something buried underneath,

alive still, twitching, itching to reach out,

grab ankles, uproot itself using umbrella mushrooms?

Maybe the other grass blades

simply decided they didn’t like that little patch,

that tiny section, that huddle of earth and sprouted seed.

Perhaps they can see something I can’t,

trapped in the details, their canvas of perfection rattled

because of the few individuals declared

broken who refuse to wilt under their gazes.

Or perhaps those cordoned blades

decided to erect a barrier themselves,

electric anger spiking

at being stepped on one too many times.

Reviews, Uncategorized

Non-fiction book review: Living on the Spectrum: Autism and Youth in Community by Elizabeth Fein

At the beginning of last month, I received an email from Elizabeth asking if I wanted a review copy of her book. She stated that there were some sections in it which looked at the connections between autism and fantasy literature, and thought I might find it interesting. (If you’re new here, hi, I’m autistic and write fantasy books.)[Also, please excuse the bird images, WordPress is being odd and not allowing me to use paragraphs, so I decided to cheat and break up the text this way.]
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Elizabeth Fein is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Duquesne University and a licensed psychologist in the state of Pennsylvania (as stated in her bio on the book’s back cover), and so actively works in the field. At first I was unsure of whether to take up her offer, not only because I find academic texts extremely hard to read, but also because I was afraid that the book would take a very medical approach to autism and possibly speak positively of a cure. However, after re-reading her pitch a few times, I decided that her approach sounded a lot more considerate of autistic people as actual people, rather than patients with something solely negative that needs to be removed.
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Here is the pitch she sent:
The book combines approaches from psychology and anthropology to look at how youth diagnosed with autism spectrum conditions reconcile controversies around autism as a disease vs. autism as an identity.  I spent several years doing research in places where people on the spectrum come together to work, play, live, love and learn. The book describes how youth on the spectrum are looking beyond medicine for narratives that make sense of their lives, re-telling their own stories through a shared mythology drawn from roleplaying games, anime, and other forms of speculative fiction.
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(The book delves into these things solely within America, as that’s where Elizabeth is based, and only briefly mentions other countries. It also mostly focuses on teenagers and young adults diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.)
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The book starts with a very comprehensive introduction, which outlines how her research was carried out (lots and lots of field work, much of which was talking to autistic individuals and the people who work with them), where her personal interest in autism started (I found this part extremely heart-warming) and also a bit about the history of autism as a diagnosable condition – she mentions both Leo Kanner (who noted what is still sometimes called ‘classic’ autism; meaning individuals with high care needs who may be non-verbal) and Hans Asperger (who looked more at individuals who are often highly verbal and excel in topics they’re interested). She also mentions the controversy around Hans Asperger (which is highly Google-able), and notes how terminology around autism has changed over the years, and presently all variants of autism are diagnosed under one umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Condition/Disorder (some places prefer to say ‘condition’, others use ‘disorder’). When I was diagnosed early last year, it was under this umbrella term, though the psychologist I spoke to said the way my traits manifest are closest to what was previously called Asperger’s Syndrome.
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Elizabeth also notes that she uses both autistic person and person with autism to refer to individuals on the spectrum throughout the book, taking particular care to use the version the person she’s interviewing prefers. (Many people, like myself, prefer to say they’re autistic, however, there are some who like to say they have autism.) I actually liked this, as despite my own preference, I felt she was trying to be as inclusive as possible. Other notes she includes are that everyone interviewed has been given a different name in the book to protect their identity, and that as her research was done over a number of years, the way the participants referred to themselves in terms of gender may also have changed. There are many others, which all helped to put me at ease with the prospect of the topics the book talks about.
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Now, onto the main parts of the book:
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The first chapter looks at the idea of structured socialising, in this case through a live-action role-play camp specifically for autistic kids, and how having that structure can put people more at ease in social situations. Basically, the kids were given the ‘rules’ of the particular fantasy world and their characters, and interacted with those in mind. For me, the idea that having more structure makes socialising easier seemed kind of obvious, but then, as that’s how my brain responds best, I suppose it would. I also really enjoyed the journal/diary based style that parts of this chapter were written in – Elizabeth attended this camp and took a very active part in it.
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The book then moves on to looking at how autistic kids navigate school and followed a number of individuals and schools themselves. This section was particularly interesting for me, as because I was diagnosed as an adult, I attended mainstream schools without any assistance (I ‘coped’ by taking a lot of work home and getting my family to help), whereas theses kids were already diagnosed and trying to access the services they needed, which were often limited and difficult to get.  The difficulties in accessing suitable support for autistic people were highlighted strongly, which I appreciate. This isn’t often talked about.
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Following chapters talk about the different concepts of what autism is and whether the two main views of it can co-exist, and how individuals on the spectrum feel about them. One of the chapters is called ‘The Pathogen and the Package’. The pathogen part referring to the view that autism is a negative thing akin to a disease that is stopping someone from being the person they ought to be; whereas the package looks at autism as a different way of being that has positives and negatives, and that the idea of removing it (or curing) would change a person’s very being.
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This was the part that I was the most concerned about reading, and parts of it made me angry – not what Elizabeth herself was saying, as she deliberately maintained a very neutral discussion of the different views so as to fully explore them, but where she quoted speakers from talks she attended. She mentions the organisation Autism Speaks, fully explaining how it was formed and that one of the organisations that it’s made up of was previously called Cure Autism Now!. She notes how, because of the controversy of a cure, Autism Speaks removed finding a cure from their list of goals and also makes use of very careful language (which, as Elizabeth quoted so much of it, I interpreted as the organisation still being willing to spend money and resources on finding a cure while not directly saying that’s what they’re doing).
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There is a chapter where Elizabeth looks specifically at the idea of a cure and what people on the spectrum and their families think of the idea. This section was delightfully heavy in interviews with said people, and very much reflected the difference in opinion between autistic individuals and their family members. The trend seemed to be that the autistic people themselves viewed a cure as something that would stop them from being who they were, while their family members, who saw how much these kids struggled in the world, thought a cure may ease some of those struggles and thus might not be an inherently bad thing. Elizabeth speculated that this may also be because of the age difference and continuously evolving views on autism and neurodiversity as a whole. However, there were one or two autistic individuals who thought that maybe something like a cure would be useful, and I’m glad she included these too. 
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(My personal view is that my struggles are largely due to the fact that the world around me is not designed for people outside the norm; therefore, the problem is more with the environment rather than my brain. I’d hate not to have the insights and fascinations that come from being autistic. To my mind, non-autistic people miss a lot of things. Thus, I find the idea of a cure utterly repulsive.)
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The last chapter moves on again (or perhaps back) to looking at the use of fantasy in how autistic kids see themselves and their position in society. Again, this chapter made excellent use of interviews and quotes, and I identified with a lot of it. Many of the examples were of characters kids had made up based around their own behaviours. There were a lot of half-demon, half-human concepts, which I suppose reflect the things we struggle with and often feel we have to hold back versus the things we’re good at.
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Elizabeth ends with a conclusion, which summed up, says that autistic people should be allowed to carve out their own space in society and that perhaps current medical views and interventions might not be as effective as others involving more active settings (like role playing or going about town in a group to explore and learn how to do/interact with different people and things – something that I feel would have benefited me greatly, and probably still would).
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So, as you might notice by how long this post is, there’s an awful lot to consider about this book. As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m not very good at interpreting and understanding academic texts, and some of the sections were very heavy with that kind of writing, so my take on this book may well be very different to that of someone who is actually able to take in all of that rather than getting the general ‘gist’ of things. However, though I found parts difficult to get through or follow, the more narrative parts and interviews were very fun and fascinating to read. I think Elizabeth’s research was conducted in a very careful, considerate way with full respect for everyone involved (this is also confirmed at the end of her acknowledgements).
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Though I was worried about the segments surrounding ideas of autism as a disease and whether it needs a cure, the very fact that she was so thorough in every part of the discussion (everyone was given space for their voice to be heard) left me with little doubt that she is very much a person who cares about autistic people being allowed to be their own selves (and make their own choices). My one peeve about the book is that few individuals with more drastic care needs were included, however, the reasoning for this is clearly explained in the introduction, so I can’t complain too much. Still, it would have been nice to hear from individuals from all areas of the spectrum. I appreciated the voices from autistic adults as well as young people, though, as I feel that autistic adults are often forgotten about.
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I very much appreciate and respect the level of work that has gone into this book, and I’m more than grateful that she reached out to me about it. If you can happily read academic books or are open to the challenge, I would easily recommend this one. I hope it gets read and shared by as many people who work in the medical field as possible, plus many more (perhaps it should be a library staple).
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The book is published by New York University Press (www.nyupress.org), and I believe Amazon has it too.
Elizabeth book cover
Poetry, Uncategorized

A complete ramble, plus the first piece of writing I had published…

Hi everyone, I’m happy to say I’ve now finished the revamp, line edits and proofreading I was doing on one of my books and sent it off to my publisher.

I’d like to say it was a pleasant experience – and parts of it were, like getting acquainted with my characters and falling in love with the world all over again – but on the whole it made me question every aspect of my writing ability, particularly my grammar. I didn’t know it was possible to spend hours agonising over the correct usage of was and were (look up subjunctive mood, and you’ll see what I mean – technically the rule is fairly simple, but I have oodles of self-doubt), but apparently it is. Even after I sent the manuscript off (after reading and re-reading and fretting back and forth), I was still worried I’d got it wrong (‘it’ being the entirety of my grammar usage).

So my conclusion regarding having to do line edits and proofreading on my own work is that I never want to do it again. Hopefully, this was a one-off scenario and whatever is happening with the editing team at my publisher gets sorted, so I won’t have to. Still, I honestly felt like I was losing my mind.

The other side of it is that now I have finished, I’m not sure what to do with myself. Which is a little ridiculous because I know full well that I need a break, but for some reason my sense of self-worth and achievement is so thoroughly linked to my productivity that I can’t shake it. I think I was relieved for all of ten minutes after I hit send, then the overwhelming heaviness of ‘What am I going to do now?’ hit me and I spent a good few hours stimming and being lost in my thoughts.

Anyway, now I’ve expressed my thoughts on all that, it’s time for something a bit lighter. I thought I’d share with you the first piece of writing I had published, which is a poem I wrote when I was ten.

My primary school encouraged years five and six (I think it was both, but I’m not quite sure) to write a poem for an anthology called Poetic Voyages, created by an organisation called Young Writers. I think quite a few kids in my class submitted a poem, but only some were chosen. This is the cover of the one my poem is in, as there were separate anthologies put together for each region. It was published in 2002:

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On the back it says:

Young Writers was established in 1991 to encourage the reading and writing of poetry by young people.

Young Writers’ books nurture interest and confidence by giving young people the opportunity to see their work in print in a series of regional anthologies.

The books represent a generation of voices having their say on a wide range of themes from home and school to the environment and sport.

These anthologies are a showcase for the writing talent in schools today. 

And here’s a bit more info:

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Lastly, here’s my actual poem in all its glory…

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(The note about whisky in the last line was supposed to be in brackets, but my pa said it’d look better without. I still think brackets would be more effective.)

It’s interesting that, considering the wide range of topics I could have written about, I chose to write about ghosts and school. Perhaps my ‘ghost’ was actually a metaphor for how terrified I was at school (if you haven’t seen my previous posts, I was severely bullied at school by one of my teachers, and quite a few of the kids too. It was not a happy time for me). That, or I’d just been watching Ghostbusters or The Frighteners. Who knows.