Over the past few years I have noticed that more characters with disabilities have been appearing in works of fiction. In many ways this is wonderful to see, as we have been a largely under-represented group when it comes to fictional characters. But, as with so many other facets of life, there is also a shadow side – I seldom feel that the characters with disabilities are accurately drawn. Instead, they tend to be depicted as either inspirational or tragic figures. Which, like most other polarities, results in a highly simplistic view of what life with a disability is like.
On a recent episode of my A Different Way of Seeing podcast, I raised the topic with fellow author and advocate, Elizabeth Sammons. Together we explored the way blindness is represented in fiction and the often harmful consequences it has for us as persons living with a visual impairment. It was a fascinating conversation and I’d encourage you to take a listen and think about some of the points raised by Elizabeth.
Here’s where you can find the conversation: http://iono.fm/e/1173132
I also loved the advice that Elizabeth offers to authors wanting to create believable characters with disabilities. Her suggestions on how to research and test the accuracy of the depiction of the disability are great and can be used by writers with and without disabilities.
Here are the books mentioned by Elizabeth, as well as the speech she referenced during our conversation, in case you feel inclined to dig a little deeper into the subject.
“Blindness: Is Literature Against Us?”
By Kenneth Jernigan, July 3, 1974
“Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism”
By Elsa Sjunneson
“There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness”
By M. Leona Godin.
You can learn more about Elizabeth’s own writing at https://www.dldbooks.com/elizabethsammons/
And, if you haven’t already done so, please subscribe to receive these newsletters as soon as they come out – they will drop straight into your mailbox! It’s the best way to stay in touch with my news and events.
In many ways I feel as though my year has only just started. For some reason I seem to have lost the last two months. My brain feels as if 2021 ended with November and 2022 only really got going this month.
There are reasons for this. My plans for December were derailed when I came down with COVID-19. So my plans had to be put on hold for a week or two while I recovered. Having said that, I’m immensely grateful that I wasn’t seriously ill as a result of the pandemic, just immeasurably tired most of the time. So my productivity plummeted.
The strange thing is that January wasn’t a whole lot better for me. And I have absolutely no excuse for my general apathy and lack of progress on the projects I’ve been working on. Somehow they just didn’t seem to happen.
In contrast, the first half of this month has been wonderfully and crazily busy as my year has finally got going. I published my speaking show reel after having it waiting in the wings for almost a year. I also published a book promo video for Fiji’s book “Paws for Thought: Seeing the World Through the Eyes of a Guide Dog”, which was a fun mini-project that Charlie Dyasi created for Fiji and me.
I’ve started making a few changes in my business, thanks to incredibly valuable coaching from Heather Cresswell, from Business Brilliance. At least part of my flurry of action is the result of the shifts Heather’s coaching is creating in my life and business.
Now that my year is well and truly underway, you may be wondering what I have planned for 2022.
I’ve realized how much work I’m doing within the disability sector, speaking, training, coaching and mentoring. And it’s work I love doing! Being able to support others with disabilities, especially those who like me have a sight-related condition, is probably the most rewarding work I can envision doing. I am grateful to have so many opportunities to interact with people around the globe and encourage them to reach for their dreams. So I plan to build this aspect of my business this year.
In terms of my writing, the honeymoon period following the publication of Fiji’s book is over and it’s time I sat down to consider my next writing adventure. I’ve been chatting on and off with a friend, Meiki Motshabi, about a possible collaborative book project but we haven’t yet settled on the details of what that might look like and who might be involved. So, you’ll have to wait to find out more as our plans develop. Needless to say, writing will definitely remain one of my major activities in 2022.
There are also big changes happening in the podcasting work I’m doing. But more on that next time…
All told, I think it’s clear that I have managed to shrug off whatever lassitude affected me over the past two months and I am finally diving into 2022 with a wildly wagging tail… much to Fiji’s confusion since wagging tails are usually her responsibility.
And if you’d like to watch Fiji’s book promo video, you’ll find it at at https://youtu.be/y3rqzxUFbV0.
Wow, where has this year gone? I can’t believe we are already heading towards the end of October. And I still have so much I want to have completed by the end of the year. And I’m definitely running out of time… fast!
One of the projects I had expected to have finished long before now is the publishing of the audio book of my memoir, A Different Way of Seeing: A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an ‘Ordinary’ Life in an Extraordinary Way. After all, the book was published a year ago tomorrow.
Somehow 2021 has been swallowed up by the writing, launching and marketing of my guide dog Fiji’s book called Paws for Thought: Seeing the World Through the Eyes of a Guide Dog. Fiji and I started working on the book in January 2021 and published it in September – a whole lot faster than any of my earlier books!
Somehow I never seemed to get around to the next steps in the process to launch my audio book. Till now.
Over the past two weeks I’ve listened to the recordings of the book and have once again been reminded what an amazing job my narrator, Julie Norman, has done with the book. It is sounding fantastic!
Now that I know the recordings are ready to go it is time for me to investigate getting the book into the various outlets that sell audio books. So that will be the next, and hopefully the final, step in what has become a much more complicated project than I originally expected.
But it will be available soon… after all, it’s been long enough!
As an aside, I am also working on the audio versions of my children’s books, so watch out for more information on that project as well.
Here is another podcast interview I did recently, this time with the Eyes on Success podcast.
It’s not often that the interviews I give are based primarily on my illustrated children’s series, “The Adventures of Missy Mouse”. This was a refreshing topic for me to focus on, made even more fun by having the opportunity to answer a few questions put to me by two charming young boys, the grandsons of the podcast presenters.
You can hear the questions they asked, and my attempts to answer them in a way that would make sense to them, in the interview. You can also hear my thoughts on why it is important for persons with disabilities to be represented in literature of all kinds.
Listen to the interview: www.EyesOnSuccess.net/eos_2127_podcast.mp3
You can also find out more about The Missy Mouse books on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/author/loisstrachan
I’ve recently discovered a love of reading travel memoirs. While it in no way replaces the experience of exploring different countries and cultures, it does at least give me a taste of the travel I used to be able to do, and will hopefully be able to return to in time to come.
A travel memoir I read recently was Seeing a Slice of Southern Africa My Way, by Tony Giles – aka Tony the Traveller. It is the story of a trip Tony took to several countries in Southern Africa in 2004 and 2005. During that time he visited South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
As a blind and hearing impaired traveller, Tony describes his travels through his other senses, much as I do when I travel. Having said that, Tony is far more adventurous than I am and is always ready to bungee jump, go white river rafting or seek out other adventure activities, which he also describes with his customary sense of humour
There were a couple of things I found fascinating about reading about Tony’s time in Southern Africa. First, unlike me, Tony is happy to head out and explore the world totally on his own, trusting he will be able to find assistance should he need it. And, from what I read in his book, mostly he manages to do so.
Secondly, I found it fascinating seeing cities and countries that I’ve visited through the eyes of a stranger, and a tourist. I often find that tourists see a different side to a city than we do as residents. I found this especially true while reading Tony’s book. I felt a similar thing when my brother and sister-in-law visited Cape Town a few years ago and Craig and I got to see Cape Town through their eyes.
So, if you’re interested in discovering how a blind and hearing impaired man travels through several Southern African countries on his own, and experience the wonderous world of travel through senses other than sight, or if you simply want to get a taste of travel while we are still not really free to explore new destinations due to the global pandemic, I’d highly recommend reading Seeing a Slice of Southern Africa My Way by Tony Giles. And, if you enjoy it, you can try the other two books in the series so far: Seeing the World My Way and Seeing the Americas My way. I know I’ll be reading them in the near future when I have the urge to travel again, at least by book.
“I am named Fiji, and am a yellow Labrador cross Golden Retriever.
I have a very special job – I’m a guide dog for the blind. Being a guide dog takes discipline and focus, but it also means my life is full of excitement. I have had plenty of adventures with my mom, Lois Strachan, both as a guide and when my harness is released.
I have had a real dog’s life and boy, I have loved every bit of it. And I am here to share it with you in my own words.”
Fiji and I are over the moon to be able to share the first chapter of her book, Paws for Thought: Seeing the World Through the Eyes of a Guide Dog with you and anyone you know who loves dogs.
You can download the free chapter at https://www.loisstrachan.com/paws-for-thought/
And please share the link – the more people who read it, the better! Because we are so excited to be able to share my beautiful guide dog’s story with the world.
PS Keep watching the blog for updates on when the book will be published in its entirety – we’re working hard to get there!
In the past month I’ve written quite a bit about the books I’ve been reading. Which has resulted in a few questions about how I actually engage with books.
When I first lost my sight I had no idea of how I might be able to read books. Reading had been a fundamental part of my life since I learned to make sense of the written word and I was seldom to be found without a book, or several books, within reach. So I was terrified I might never be able to read again now that I was blind.
Over time I learned how needless that fear was.
As a blind person I have several different options of how to read. I can listen to a book on audio, just as you might listen to a book from Audible. In fact, many visually-impaired people are avid Audible fans and enjoy listening to books being read by human narrators.
I can also listen to a book on my phone or laptop, using the electronic voice of my screen reader, the application that reads whatever appears on the screen of the device. While this may sound like the most foreign of my reading options to someone who is sighted, it is actually my first choice.
The digital screen reader voice is mostly neutral in tone. It adheres to some spoken norms– dropping the tone at the end of a sentence, or raising it to indicate a question.
To me, this gives the closest experience to reading by sight. All too often I find human narrators interpret the words they’re reading. Which means I am somewhat restricted by their interpretation. Reading with a digital voice gives me the freedom to interpret the text and the story using my own imagination, just as I used to do before I became blind.
I admit that I’m part of a very tiny minority of blind bookworms who choose to read this way. Most seem to prefer human narration. Or using braille.
Braille is also useful as a way to read books. Either a visually-impaired person can read a physical braille book, or they can read a book on a digital device using a braille display. While I’m not really a braille user, which means it would take me months to finish a book that would take me only a few hours on my phone or laptop, I’ll be the first to admit that braille is a great way to read a book without requiring the use of one’s ears. For many people, that can be an advantage. Or in some cases, especially for those who are deaf-blind, a necessity.
So there are several ways I could choose to read as a blind person. I want to stress that none of these choices are better or worse than the others. It is entirely a matter of personal preference.
Regardless of how I engage with books, the important thing is that I have several options as a reader who is blind. So I need never be without books, as I thought I would be when I first lost my sight, the memory of which still makes me shudder. And then reach for the comfort of my book reader to reassure myself that all is well with my book world.
Okay, okay, so I’m not actually touring round Africa. But what else would you call it?
This year I set myself two reading goals: to read some of the classics I didn’t get to when I was at school, and to focus on reading outside the genres I tend to default to. The first book I read was Homegoing, by Ghanaian-born Yaa Gyasi. That was the book that shifted my reading into an unexpected direction, and focused me specifically on authors from the African continent.
One of the characters in Homegoing is a history teacher in Ghana. At one point he cautions his students that the texts they study often reflect only a single perspective. That they should try to find the voices that are silenced in the texts. And I became intensely aware of how few books I had read by authors from Africa. Even more, how few of those that I had read were by authors whose voices had traditionally been marginalized in the publishing industry.
Rather than spending time researching possible books, I posted a question on a Facebook book group. And received more than 75 recommendations of books written by authors based in Africa. From numerous countries. In fact, I have so many books and authors to try that I feel slightly overwhelmed. Which isn’t a bad thing when it comes to books!
So far I’ve read three books, each from a different country.
1 Homegoing – by Yaa Gyasi (Ghana)
2 If We Are to Become: A Conversation Taking Us to the Next Level – by Ruramai Sithole (Zimbabwe)
3 The Shadow King – by Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia)
I wish I could find a way to track the books I’ve read on a map of Africa, but can’t think of one. It’s one of the few times that my blindness has posed me a challenge I can’t solve without sighted help. That’s just the way it is sometimes.
I know I already have a long list of authors and titles to read. But I’m always keen to learn about great books. So why not let me know a few of your favourite books by African authors. I’d love to hear them!
It’s been a while since I updated you on Fiji’s book. And things are starting to move fast now!
Fiji and I have finished creating the content and the book has been proofread. Our next step is to add the photographs and to create a cover for the book… with Fiji on it, of course. Then we need to start shifting into the publishing and marketing phase. Which is going to be exciting for us both!
To my surprise, the book has turned out to be 27 000 words. Considering I anticipated it would be around 20 000 at a stretch, I was amazed to find it just continued to grow. Fiji and I kept adding stories. It’s been so much fun creating a book about Fiji’s perspective of the world. And those who have read it so far, including her puppy walkers, said they enjoyed it.
We can’t wait to share it with you! It will still be a while before it’s available. In the meantime, here is another short extract from the book. This time drawn from what happened when Fiji and I arrived home after being on guide dog training.
Here’s how Fiji remembers that experience:
“Mom and the man had a serious conversation on the trip to wherever we were going. I heard my name a few times but couldn’t figure out what it was about. I rather enjoyed snoozing contentedly at mom’s feet, curled up and occasionally resting my head and my front left paw on mom’s seat. Whatever they were talking about I knew I’d be fine.
The car eventually stopped and I lifted my head to stare curiously around me. The man got out of the car and closed the door, lowering his window to let in some cool air since mom and I were staying in the car. Then he opened the front door and three dogs bounded out and ran onto the grass.
I immediately wanted to go and join them and tried to climb through the open car window. Mom grabbed my collar and held me back and I started to whine and wriggle to get to the dogs. So mom opened her car door and I took a flying leap out of the car and went to introduce myself to my new siblings.
Introductions were quickly made, amidst much tail wagging and tentative play. Emily and I became friends right away – she was seven years old but was still happy to play with me. At fifteen years old, Calvin was already ancient by then and was a little grumpy, and mostly ignored me. But that was okay, because I had lots to explore and mom and Emily to play with. The third dog, Eccles, was mom’s retired guide dog and she seemed to be friendly as well, though she didn’t really want to play much either. She also tried lecturing me on how to look after mom best – as if I needed to be told! Still, I thought it would be disrespectful to ignore her so listened to what she had to say… before rushing off to explore some more.
Eccles and I had a polite conversation about who would get to sleep beside mom on the floor next to the bed. She felt she ought to retain that right. But I told her it was my spot now, since I was mom’s proper guide dog. The conversation went on for quite some time. And eventually we agreed to take it in turns – with whomever got there first winning the coveted spot. Which, of course, meant that I got to sleep nearest to mom most nights. Because I was so much younger and quicker than Eccles, and would race to the bed as soon as we’d had our night-time biscuits.”
We’ll let you know how to get hold of the book soon, I promise…
Date: 2 February 2021
Hi everyone, it’s me – Fiji!
The most exciting thing is happening! After four years of procrastinating, mom and I have finally started writing my book. In fact, we’ve finished writing it and are just busy doing other, clearly less important, stuff like spell checking, editing, proof reading and formatting the book now. Even though mom keeps telling me that these are all very important parts of the writing process, I just can’t see it – surely writing my story is the important bit?
I guess mom and I will just have to disagree about that.
Anyway, while we’re busy with all the stuff that mom has to do on my behalf, we’re also busy with other things. We’re discussing the cover design, and are playing around with a number of different titles and sub-titles for the book.
I don’t exactly know how we’re going to distribute the book. We have a few ideas but nothing has been decided yet. I’m sure we’ll let you know as soon as we have all that in place.
In the meantime, just to whet your appetite, here’s a sneak peek into a bit of the story. Mom told me I ought to warn you that this hasn’t been edited yet, so it might change before the book is published.
“I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on 30 August 2014, one of a litter of eight puppies. My mom is a Golden Retriever named Fiesta and my dad is a black Labrador named Jay. My dad lives in America –I still don’t know if I’m eligible for a Green Card because of that fact. I’m a bit confused about the whole process since I don’t think my dad came to South Africa to meet my mom. But I really don’t want to know about the details – there are just some things I don’t need to know.
Actually, I’m a bit confused about the whole mom and dad thing. Because I have had several moms and dads through my life – with my forever mom and dad being the humans I live with now. Especially mom, for whom I work as a guide.
But, if they are my forever mom and dad, does that mean the other people I thought of as mom and dad should have been called something else? Because there have been quite a few of them. First, as I said, there were Fiesta and Jay. And the human who is mom to Fiesta, too. Then I went to stay with Jenny and Mike in Johannesburg and they taught me lots of things, played with me, took me places and also took me to puppy school. They also gave me lots of toys – ropes which I chewed to pieces and a fluffy sheep toy that I didn’t, which was my favouritest toy when I was little.
I have lots of wonderful memories of the time they were my mom and dad – like playing in the garden and chewing my way through the stems of the strelitzia plants, grabbing the garden hose and pulling it through the house to put it in my bed with all my other toys, and going to wake mom up carrying my tennis ball in my mouth. I still do that sometimes, bringing my tennis ball with me when I want attention from my forever mom and dad.
This was also when I first started being called Fiji. Mom-Jenny and dad-Mike called me Fiji because they said my coat was the colour of the sand on the beaches of the volcanic island of Fiji. Though my forever mom also sometimes tells people that she believes it is because I have something of a volcanic personality.
I was very sad to say goodbye to mom-Jenny and dad-Mike and move to Cape Town for the next phase in my life. It all seemed very strange to me at first. But then I was introduced to my new mom and dad – Beata and Piotr, and I soon adjusted to my new place and my new routine.
That was when I started proper training to become a guide dog. I would go to school every day – well, every weekday – and Aunty Cheryl and Aunty Charne would teach me all sorts of exciting lessons I would need if I wanted to become a guide. I was surrounded by lots of other dogs who also wanted to become guides, as well as lots of friendly humans who worked with the South African Guide-Dog Association for the Blind, getting us ready for our exciting futures.”
So that’s a little of my story – you’ll have to read the book if you want to know more. After we’ve finished with all the bits we’re busy with. I promise either mom or I will let you know when it’s ready to go.