Reviews

Book review: A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

 

KoSpark

I heard about A Kind of Spark a few weeks ago, as I’ve followed its publisher, Knights Of, since they first formed some years ago. Knights Of are an independent UK publisher looking to boost the voices of marginalised writers and artists, so it came as no surprise to me that they took on this book, which is an own voices by a neurodivergent author.

The story is about 11 year old Addie, who is autistic, and her campaign to get a memorial made for all the ‘witches’ trialled in her small village in Scotland in the 1600s. She can’t help but see the parallels between those who were accused of being a witch and herself – both she and they are seen as other by everyone around them, and she longs to right that.

Before I started this book, I thought it might feature Addie going around different sites and compiling facts about the witches to use for her case, but it’s actually more about how everyone in the village treats her, and her older sister who is also autistic, Keedie.

This made it a very difficult read for me, because the teacher Addie has is truly horrible to her – tearing up her work, humiliating her in front of the class, accusing her of copying, trying to tell her parents that she’s a problem and shouldn’t be in that school – and when I was in Primary School, in the infants class, I had a teacher who bullied me just like that and scared me so much that I got ill and couldn’t physically go in. So for a lot of those scenes, I was in tears trying to squash down my own memories. Added to that were much newer memories that came up in the scenes where Addie would talk to Keedie (who is also the twin of Nina, a neurotypical girl who clearly loves her sisters but doesn’t understand them the way they do each other).

Keedie is about 18, and in the first few months of university. She’s able to commute, so she comes home every night, but it’s clear that it’s taking a toll on her, especially when she tells Addie that she hasn’t told anyone there that she’s autistic and is constantly masking. I connected just as much with Keedie as with Addie because of this, as I masked so much while I was at college and then when I tried working. There’s a scene where Keedie can’t take it anymore and gets thrown into burnout, and it really resonated with me. Well, the whole book did, but these parts were the most intense.

I won’t give away any more of the story, but I will say that reading from Addie’s perspective (it’s written in first person present tense, so it’s a very close narrative style) completely echoed the sensory and social experiences and difficulties I have, along with what it’s like to get wrapped up in a special interest and the strong urge to right things that are clearly wrong. So, if you want to know what it’s like to be autistic, this is the book you should pick up. In fact, I encourage everyone to, as it contains many of the things I want others to be aware of while saying them in a more coherent way than I think I ever could.

I will say, though, that if you’re a neurodivergent person with similar traumatic experiences to mine, then to be gentle with yourself reading this. It’s hard. Things bubbled up in me that I thought I’d buried long ago. However, I spoke with the author, Elle, about it (she’s very active on Twitter and open to DM’s) and she said that she used a lot of her own experience for this, and it shows.

Also, on a side note, a lot of the people who worked on this book are neurodivergent too. I’m very hopeful that A Kind of Spark will be the start of a big change in the publishing industry, where opening doors to neurodiverse creators is the norm, not the exception.

Once again, please take a look at this book!

Poetry

Emerging from a fortnight-long hyperfocus on manuscript revisions.

My eye sockets are deeper than they were before,

I’m peering out from the backs of tunnels that are so long

it’s a wonder I can see at all.

The screen and its grey words (the font colour may state black,

but it’s never as black as the type on a printed page)

have attempted to stamp themselves into my pupils

for hours every day over the past two weeks.

I’ve seen them in my sleep, within a blink

and those frequent moments staring into space.

Think the code in the Matrix films, but horizontal –

only after intense study does it form a picture.

But I think I went beyond that

and started picking up the letters and rearranging their parts

while at the same time

they were rearranging me.

And now I’m awake again

attempting to shift back to my usual self.

It’ll probably take me a week to find all the misplaced parts.

Perhaps I put them in the teapot; seems as good a place as any to start.

Poetry

It’s not always winter

I take the knife and carve away a slither.

The exposed skin reddens at the touch of cold air

and regrows its protective casing.

I try again, carving away another slice,

yet still the ice seeps in and forces retreat.

Moons change and the casing grows thin,

I cannot depend on it for support much longer.

The crushing air outside is still strong…but wait!

Is that a warm spot approaching in the distance?

I can last just a little longer. A fraction more.

I reach out

and it takes me with it.

The memory of warmth becomes real,

I shed my casing without worry.

Poetry

Unnecessary measurements

If we were to measure each other out as ingredients on silver scales,

the balance would be so perfectly held

it would look like the scales had rusted solid.

Then we’d spend all afternoon discussing why scales

with such precise measurements

are unnecessary for the conversion rates of our brains,

shooting off into zesty tangents

until we finally agree that the setting sun is a sign

we should stroll off and get some sleep.

Poetry

Waiter, there’s a wasp in my soup

I have white noise in my head.

It layers itself over everything my brain is trying to do

and the only way I can turn the screen

to a semi-smooth grey

is impair my senses

so my receptors can focus on one at a time.

I don’t want to be trying to read while having an audiobook playing

and a graphic novel flicking pages all at once.

I want what I see, hear, smell, taste and touch

to be a well-organised orchestra performing a waltz,

not one who’ve had their instruments switched with scrapyard junk

trying desperately to tune up what can’t be tuned.

 

Poetry, Short Stories, Uncategorized

A letter about autism to my childhood self

Hey. Try not to panic. It’s you from the future, and

I’m writing to say don’t worry. Everything

that’s getting to you at the moment will make sense in the end.

 

Like the times you wait by the fence watching the other kids play

wondering when they’ll ask you to join in, and what you’ll do if it happens.

How you’re confused at the ease they interact, talking freely,

while you stand their silently, their shouts and screams of joy

overloading your ears – until the whistle blows and hits you like ice up your spine,

locking you into rigid limbs and wriggling insides. The hold authority has.

And those times you’re unsure what Miss is asking of you, fretting about if you’re doing your work right

because she didn’t go through it fully first. So you wait

and watch the other kids, trying to guess their thinking as they set straight to it

and hoping you can catch a glimpse of their work so you can copy.

Then there’s the time you have to go to the dentist during rehearsals for the school play. Should you put your hand up? Should you just stand?

You ask around in whispers, and everyone says put your hand up. You do, but the teachers don’t see, so then you do stand.

And get told off for not telling them to put you on the end of the row, even though your form tutor read the note at registration.

How about all those times the kids take advantage of your attempts to join in? Sharing

your cat’s cradle only for them to run off with it and claim to the others that it’s theirs,

or when a girl steals your toy and tells the dinner lady you stole it from her

and you can’t speak up properly so give in and let them keep it?

When they’re supposed to share textbooks

and drag them away so you can’t see?

Let’s not forget how you can’t co-ordinate your body in P.E,

or have so much trouble learning in class that you take your work home.

When you have your nose in a book at the doctor’s because you can’t deal with what is going on, and get called rude for not paying attention.

Then there’s your many attempts to get the timing right on Mario’s jump and fail at every try.

When you tell a stranger about how bad mum’s morning breath is

and don’t understand why she’s embarrassed. It’s fact, isn’t it?

Why you can’t understand why people play with dolls when you can just make up characters in your head.

 

Like I said. It’s all fine. There’s a reason for it, a simple explanation:

Autism.

A condition meaning

your brain is wired slightly differently to most people. You notice

things they never will while missing the unspoken signs

they give each other all the time.

It doesn’t mean you’re strange, weird, stupid or a freak.

It means you’re you,

and though you haven’t met them yet, there are others out there

who are wired in the same way

and know just how this feels.

 

So remember, you’re not alone. If you explain

your difficulties (and your strengths)

then eventually the world will start to understand.

 

P.S. In the meantime, try sunglasses and earmuffs — all year round.

Uncategorized

Oh…I’m autistic

Greetings, everyone! Today is apparently the day for a long(ish) post about things on my mind.

In late January, I was formally diagnosed as autistic, and it’s taken me a while to fully process it. Though I knew I had many traits and spent last year writing things down while I was on the waiting list for assessment, it still came as a bit of a shock to me.

I think I still had that small nugget of doubt, and when that was finally snuffed out, it sent me into a bit of a self-analytical spiral. I also had a massive meltdown where I simply couldn’t stop screaming — it’s an odd thing to have your body doing one thing while your mind is observing everything from a 3rd person view. And I was highly impressed at the sheer range of my voice. Honestly, I think I could give a banshee a run for their money, or a Camaar fish wife (if anyone gets that reference, I’ll give them a cookie).

I think the meltdown was not only realisation, but sheer frustration that it’s taken 28 years for people to see it, and one of my main thoughts was what would my life have been like if I’d known earlier? Would I have been bullied at school so much? Would I have even attended the schools that I did? Would I have had better advice on relationships and more understanding of why I can’t handle certain situations? Would I have felt so pressured to get a ‘real’ job that I accepted the first offer I got and spent three years struggling and pretending to be perfectly fine when I felt like hiding away and covering my hands over my ears through every shift?

But what I realised was that it doesn’t matter, because you can’t change the past. All you can do is look to the future. And I’m now in the process of getting the support I need.

I’ve also been suffering with anxiety and depression due to various other personal situations, and the whole lot combined has left me completely drained. However, I can’t live life as a complete recluse, and as much as I find it extremely difficult to talk to people — whether I know them or not — and experience a lot of sensory overload whenever I go out, I still have to do ‘basic’ things like going to the doctors or buying food.

I also know that as my poetry collection and my latest book are now out, I should be trying to promote them as much as I can, which includes going to spoken word nights. Which are nice in theory, as I get to listen to a lot of other artists, but not always so great in practice due to the sheer social nature of them.

Last night was one of those occasions, and not only was I uncomfortable the whole time, but after it was over, I felt like a group of bulbasaur had leechseeded me. I could barely walk properly, and my mind had died completely. Don’t get me wrong, I did hear some great poetry and got good encouragement for my own, but I honestly have to ask myself if that level of exhaustion, and the week or so of anxiety leading up to it, was really worth it.

Thing is, I don’t have an answer. I doubt I ever will. All I know is that one side of me wants to get up and perform at every one, while the other wants to stay home and play scrabble with my partner (who is a significant rock in my life and does all he can to keep me grounded when I feel like everything is beyond my control).

One of the definitely positive things I took away from last night was that I wasn’t the only one struggling to do what I do, as one of the other performers was autistic too. There was also a spoken word artist with ADHD and one who is Dyslexic. So the sheer amount of creativity neurodivergent people are capable of despite their struggles is something truly inspiring.

Anyway, thank you for continuing to support this little blog and my creative efforts. This post has been quite therapeutic, not only as a way of recovering from yesterday and other stuff, but also because I’m enormously anxious about a phone call I’m expecting (I wish people would give specific times for these things). But I’m sure I have rambled on long enough, so…

Kate out!

Poetry

Jokers

Thank you for your hands that keep me safe

Reassuring with a gentle grasp

And strong enough to withstand my anxious clutching

When it all gets too much.

Thank you for your attentive gaze,

For seeing the things I so desperately try to hide from the world

And doing all you can to help me out on days I struggle to raise my head.

I offer the same to you. When you need me, I’ll be there.

We are both jokers who have finally found each other inside the deck

And nothing will separate us from now on.