Lois Strachan – Author
My previous article was about the non-fiction books I’ve been reading this year. Today, to show you that I haven’t been neglecting my love of fiction, I want to share a very special book with you: Guiding Emily, by Barbara Hinske.
I don’t often get to read books about people becoming blind as an adult. I guess it’s not really a popular subject for authors unless, like me, they have a personal connection with visual impairment. Yet, this is what happens to Emily, one of the main characters of Guiding Emily.
Guiding Emily tells the story of a young woman who loses her sight on her honeymoon – the impact it has on her brand-new marriage, on her family, friends, her work, and on the way she perceives herself. It’s also the story of Garth, a delightful young black Labrador who is determined to become a guide dog.
I found parts of Emily’s story hard to read because of the parallels with my own life. What Emily was experiencing emotionally, and the basic training she underwent, brought up strong memories of my own journey after I lost my sight. Emily’s journey is well researched and is credible – unlike some of the fiction books about blindness that I’ve read!
I’m sure I’m not the only reader who will find herself cheering Emily on as she triumphs over the mental, emotional, and physical realities of losing her sight and fighting her way back to independence.
I found the young Garth’s chapters of the story delightful. They were a tonic to brighten the more challenging parts of Emily’s journey. I laughed at his mischievous puppy self and the antics he got up to while being puppy-walked. He reminded me of my beautiful guides – Leila (who was also a black Labrador), Eccles, and Fiji. I could so easily imagine the puppy versions of my girls getting up to the same antics when they were being puppy-walked. Well, to be honest, I could also imagine them doing so after being matched with me. Which made the whole Garth part of the story even funnier and cuter for me.
Why am I telling you this?
My main reason for writing A Different Way of Seeing was to help people understand a little about the world in which I live as a blind person. I believe that we will only gain greater levels of inclusion in society and the workplace once people understand what we are able to do, and the tools and techniques we have at our disposal. Guiding Emily shows the way a visually-impaired person engages with the world around her. As Emily learns the techniques and tools, so too do the readers, even if they have had no previous experience with visual impairment. So, it is a great book for anyone who is interested to learn more about visual impairment. Not to mention that the book is simply an enjoyable read – with drama, betrayal, despair, triumph, and romance of a sort. But you’ll have to read it for yourself to find out what I mean.
Why not hop onto Amazon and get hold of a copy of Guiding Emily – I’ll bet you’ll fall head over tails in love with young Garth!
Though I’m a prolific reader, and have always been so, I seldom read non-fiction. In fact, I will seldom read more than a single non-fiction book in the course of a year.
It’s not that I have anything against non-fiction. It’s just that I spend so much time in the real world that I find myself escaping away into fiction books when given the chance. I know it must seem strange for me to read fiction almost exclusively, especially as an author of narrative non-fiction myself.
This year I decided to try and develop the habit of reading more non-fiction. I know there are tons of great non-fiction and narrative non-fiction books out there and set myself a target of reading one per month.
Here are the books I’ve read so far this year:
January 2020 –
Your Leadership Story: Use Your Life Experience to Influence and Inspire.
Author: Deborah Henley.
Author: Charlotte Kemp.
Breaking Free from Bias: Preventing Costly Complaints, Conflict and Talent Loss.
Author: Marilyn O’Hearne
Meet Me Accessibly. \
Author: Jonathon Mosen.
How to Multiply Your Value and Create Extraordinary Impact.
Author: Unotida Nyoni.
How to Self-Publish a Book: For the Technically Challenged.
Author: Barb Drozdowich.
From Stress to Success: The ABC of Stress Management.
Author: Jason Sandler.
The Jason Voyage: The Quest for the Golden Fleece.
Author: Tim Severin.
Which means I’ve read a total of eight non-fiction books in the first half of the year. It looks like my effort to instill a habit of reading non-fiction might be working. More importantly, I’ve both enjoyed and learned from each book I’ve read.
I wonder what my tally will be by the end of the year. Will I keep up my intention… or will I slip out of the new habit?
Only time will tell.
It may sound odd, but sometimes I don’t know what my song lyrics are about. I find myself studying the words and shaking my head in bewilderment. Girl in the Mirror is one of those songs.
At a best guess, I can see that I may have been questioning my identity after losing my sight – to me it is hard to know who is the reflection in the mirror by the end of the song. And it leads to the question of whether I am still myself or just a reflection of who I was when I was sighted?
Perhaps you see something completely different in the lyrics. That is totally fine with me – songs, like poems and metaphors should mean something different to each of us. That is why we connect with some lyrics more than others.
Listen to Girl in the Mirror, played by my band, tuesday’s child, here – with two additional songs thrown in for good measure: https://www.loisstrachan.com/music/
The Girl in the Mirror
There’s a girl in the mirror every time I pass
Held captive there behind the glass
Who is she? Why is she there?
And I wonder
There’s a girl in the mirror; she looks like me
If I saw through her eyes, what would I see?
Who is she? Why is she there?
And I wonder
Mirror, mirror upon the wall
Is there anybody there at all?
Mirror, mirror upon the wall
Or is my mind simply creating it all?
There’s a girl in the mirror she’s smiling at me
Trancelike, hypnotic I can’t turn away
Who is she; why is she there?
And I wonder
Am I creating it all?
Simply creating it all?
Am I creating it all?
There’s nothing real there at all.
There’s a girl in the mirror she’s there every day
And as I watch her, she’s turning away
The girl in the mirror turns and slowly walks away.
Here’s a link to a great travel podcast with tips on travel blogging. Actually, I’d say the tips can be used by any blogger to help them get started.
The podcast is the brainchild of travel writer and podcaster Alexa Meisler, from the Break into travel Writing blog and podcast. I was fortunate enough to be a guest blogger on her Aspiring Travel Bloggers feature a few months ago. In this podcast episode she gathers together a tip from the first 25 bloggers in the series, including one from me.
You’ll probably find a few themes running through the various tips. And I’m sure they will either teach you something to help you grow your blog or reinforce some of the things you’re already doing. Either way, they’re well worth a listen.
And, if you’re a travel blogger who hasn’t heard Alexa’s podcast before, this is one you’ll probably want to subscribe to – she shares some fantastic interviews and content.
Over the past month or so, it feels like every time I hop onto social media or download my e-mail, I’m overwhelmed by the most amazing offers, urging me to sign up for an online event (now discounted), a webinar (also discounted), or an online course (ditto).
And I’ll admit I’ve been sorely tempted to take advantage of more than one of these fantastic offers.
But here’s the thing. Even though, like much of the world, I’m working from home, I’m struggling to find all this free time that the mails and posts tell me I ought to have. Because I can’t seem to find it.
I’m spending as much time at my computer as I was before the lockdowns came into place. And regularly find myself standing up at the end of the day wondering where the time went.
Admittedly, I’ve been taking advantage of the time to finish things that have been languishing on my “to do list” forever – things I really want to get round to but never seem to have the time. I’ve also picked up playing music again and am having vast amounts of fun sharing songs with friends and family on Facebook Live every week or so. And I’m finally starting to catch up on all the podcasts that have slowly been accumulating on my feed. Apart from the French language tutorial podcasts, which seem to have fallen by the wayside a little since lockdown started.
And then, of course, there’s my usual work developing my writing and speaking businesses – radio interviews, my regular blog articles, the international magazine I write for every second month, the travel podcast I host, and the ongoing work to update my book and convert it into an audio format.
Not to mention housework. And being a captive slave to the whims of my dogs, who are overly full of vim and vigour because they aren’t able to go for walks and runs like they usually would. I know Fiji’s frustrated that we haven’t been out and about as usual, though she’s hiding it well.
So, I’m perplexed about where to find all this spare time I keep hearing about. Any idea where I should look? I’ve searched around the house, checked in case it’s hiding in the back of a little used closet, and even looked under the bed (much to the confusion of Fiji, who was sleeping there at the time, but to no avail.
But I’m going to keep hunting, because I’d really love to take up some of those (very discounted) offers that keep coming my way!
One of the things I love most about being an author is the amazing sense of community I discovered in the writing and publishing worlds. I’m constantly amazed at the generosity of authors and writing coaches who are willing to share their platforms to showcase others in the industry.
Many of those I’ve met in the publishing industry have come through my involvement with the Write| Publish| Sell community on Facebook, and the fantastic annual Women in Publishing Summit, where I’ve been a speaker for the past two years.
Today I’d like to share an interview I did with one of the authors I’ve met, Erin Casey. I so enjoyed sharing a little of my story with Erin’s community, and in reading the stories shared by others she’s interviewed.
Please also take a few minutes to read about some of the other people Erin’s interviewed – I’m sure you’ll find it fascinating!
How many books can YOU think of with a disabled character? I’d love for you to drop me a message or a comment listing the characters and books you know of. I think it would be an interesting exercise for us all.
You see, if it’s true that art mirrors reality, then for every eight characters in the books we read, we should find one with a disability. Because that’s what the statistics from the World Health Organisation website tell us– 15% of the global population lives with a disability – https://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report/en/#content
I understand some of the reason’s writers may not include us.
- They don’t see us out there in the world
- They don’t want to offend us
- They don’t want to misrepresent us.
Sure, I recognise that it doesn’t appear that every eighth person we pass in the street has a disability so writers may not be aware of how many of us there truly are. Also, many disabilities are invisible – psycho-social, cognitive, reading, some hearing impairments, to list but a few – so perhaps it appears we are a smaller group than we are. Then, because unemployment figures for persons with disabilities are so high, people don’t see us in the workplace. And sadly, sometimes when people do see us, they see the disability first and ignore the person as an individual. Finally, if you don’t have contact with a person with a specific disability, it may be hard to know what we can do.
I also understand the other concerns I listed. People have often told me they are nervous about approaching someone with a disability in case they cause offense by saying or doing the wrong thing. That’s due largely to a general lack of awareness of how we accomplish the tasks we do, the technology that enables us to live mostly “normal” lives, and the tools and techniques we have at our disposal. And yes, we are often scathing in our responses when we see a fictional character with a disability who is poorly represented. Or when disability is represented as being an unendurable catastrophe that cannot be overcome.
I want to challenge my fellow authors to be more inclusive when creating characters. Here are a few guidelines:
- Your lead protagonist doesn’t have to be the one with a disability; it could be a supporting character – but let us be included in the world you’re creating.
- Do your research – There is so much information out there about the way we live our lives as persons
with disabilities, so research this as you would other aspects of your book. Or reach out to someone with the specific disability you’re trying to represent.
- Don’t be scared to ask for input – just as you have beta readers to give you feedback on your book, ask someone with a disability to do the same, preferably someone with the disability your character has; most of us are willing to help, I promise.
Books are by no means the only medium where we are under-represented. Movies and TV are much the same. I’m excited to notice an increase in the number of characters with disabilities over the past few years. But we’ve still a long way to go.
We’re by no means the only minority that face this situation – Recently I’ve seen articles from other minority groups and, in some cases, majority groups, who are not well represented in the publishing world and other media. It’s starting to shift, but I believe we need far greater diversity of voices amongst those writing books. Having said that, a note for other authors with a disability – don’t feel obliged to write only about disability issues – you should feel free to create whatever you want.
So, there it is: my challenge to authors writing fiction – help us feel more included and less invisible in the world you’re creating. Help us see the world we inhabit in the books we read. And help us feel that we’re part of society as we experience it in all ways.
Now, who’s going to start the list of books with characters with disabilities? I’d love to see how many I’ve already read and how many I still have to discover…
I know I’m supposed to be sharing more of my writing with you today, but I’m hijacking my own post for an important announcement for any writers or aspiring writers – especially women writers and aspiring writers.
Tomorrow, the 2020 Women in Publishing Summit kicks off – and I’m excited to be one of the speakers on the first day.
The summit is an online conference where authors, editors, designers, and publishers share valuable information to help anyone who is already a writer or is dreaming of becoming so. I’ve listened to the last two summits and have learned so much from the speakers that had been immensely helpful for my writing.
Registration for the WIP Summit is free, but you’ll gain vast amounts of additional information and resources if you upgrade to the Full Conference Pass. The conference starts on 2 March and goes on for 5 days – the free registration gives you access to each day’s content for 24 hours – and the Full Conference Pass means you can access the videos, audio and transcriptions for each session whenever you like, not to mention the many additional resources presenters have made available to the Full Conference Pass holders. And a Facebook community with year-long workshops and supports for writers and aspiring writers. Totally worth the investment you’ll be making when you buy the Full Conference Pass!
Here’s the link to the free registration: https://loisstrachan–writepublishsell.thrivecart.com/2020-wip/
I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned over the past two years from the Women in Publishing Summit. And I look forward to learning even more from this year’s speakers. Why not join me and also benefit? Register today…
It feels like ages since I filled you in on my progress towards converting my book A Different Way of Seeing: A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an ‘Ordinary’ Life in an Extraordinary Way” into audio.
So here’s what’s going on…
After doing some research I discovered that I’m unable to work directly with Audible. Their processes require authors to be a taxpayer in USA, UK, Canada or Ireland. Which I’m not. I guess it might be easier if I was signed with a traditional publishing house, rather than self-publishing, but maybe I’m wrong.
It turns out that there are a number of companies who can assist me with publishing the audio book on Audible and a whole range of other platforms. I’m grateful to members of the writing and publishing Facebook groups that I’m a member of for letting me know about a few of these companies. And, after even more research, I think I know which one I’m going to use.
I’m also thrilled to let you know I have a narrator to read the audio book for me. Julie is probably my longest-standing friend – we’ve known each other since we were about 3 years old. And I think her voice will be perfect! Besides, having known me for so long, who better to read the story of my life since losing my sight?
A number of people have asked me why I’m not reading my own book. The honest truth is that I couldn’t think of a way to do so – my Braille isn’t good enough, and I really didn’t fancy the idea of memorizing my story and recording it paragraph by paragraph.
Anyway, we’re about to start the process of recording and I’m excited to hear my story as it comes to life in this new format!
It’ll still be while before the recording is available. I’ll let you know more as it happens…
Is it just me, or does it feel like the year 2019 went by very fast?
It feels like it was yesterday that I sat down to write my annual post setting my intentions for the year 2019. Yet, here we are, already more than a week into 2020 and it’s time for me to do the same for the coming year.
As I sit here, pondering what I’d like to achieve in 2020, I find myself reflecting on all that happened last year.
I managed to take my speaking beyond the disability sector and spoke at a number of events on the topic of overcoming challenges. Since much of my focus last year was on building strategic relationships to support the work I’m doing, it’s hard to say whether I achieved that – it’s an ongoing task, as any entrepreneur will know. I consolidated my social media profiles to better show the work I’m doing. And, though I haven’t completely finished the writing project I was busy with, I have only a few steps to go – but more on that in my intentions for 2020.
- Talking about that, here they are:
- Writing: I plan to publish my first audio book this year. Most of the work on this was done in 2019. I just need to complete the final tasks.
- Podcasts: I plan to continue publishing 2 podcasts on accessible travel each month, and have a few exciting other possibilities in the pipeline for the coming year – watch this space for news!
- Speaking: I’d like to build on the speaking I did last year, and grow this aspect of my business. If you’d like to motivate your teams while giving them practical techniques to help them overcome their challenges, I’m the speaker for you!
- Website: Last year I updated my Facebook page, and my Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. My website is next on the list, and I hope to get that done in the next few months.
- Music: I know, I know. This is on my list every year. Hopefully, sharing some of my lyrics and writing on my blog each month will help me make my music more of a priority in 2020.
- Travel: I’m not sure where my travels will take me this year, but I’d like to include a trip to Durban amongst my travels – I have family and friends I’d really like to visit.
What would you like to achieve in 2020? Have you thought about your own intentions for the year ahead?
You know, the strange thing is that I don’t really check back to what I’ve written in this annual blog post during the year. And yet, I seem to achieve them. I think creating this post each year is enough for me to understand the strategic areas I want to work on. So I don’t need to be constantly checking up on my progress.
I’d like to challenge you to think about your intentions for 2020. And write them down. Whether you check them on a regular basis to see how you’re doing, or simply use them as a guide for the coming year as I do, is not the point. I truly believe that the simple act of determining my strategic areas helps shape my actions and my plans for the coming year. And perhaps it’ll be the same for you.
May I wish you all a productive and impactful 2020 – I look forward to connecting with you in the year to come.