books

Makhanda: And what About the Books?

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I was preparing for our first Blind Date Show when my phone pinged to let me know I had a voice message. It was from Paul, a Capetonian colleague, who told me he’d just seen my books in an art exhibition in Makhanda.

And yes, while all the excitement of the Blind Date Concert was happening, my books weren’t forgotten. They were having an adventure of their own!

I’ve mentioned before that the Blind Date Show was part of the 100th year celebration of the SA Library for the Blind. Apart from the show, they also decided to put on an exhibition of creative art works created by blind and visually impaired artists from South Africa. And I was honoured to have been asked to allow my books to be part of that exhibition.

Here’s a photo of the exhibit where my books were displayed – both A Different Way of Seeing and The Adventures of Missy Mouse.

With thanks to Craig Strachan for the photograph, and to Francois Hendrikz of SA Library for the Blind and Catherine Baron, of Inkanyezi Events, for inviting me to be part of both the show and the exhibition.
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What Would You Like to Know about Blindness?

Here’s my first update on my plan to convert my book, “A Different Way of Seeing: A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an ‘Ordinary’ Life in an Extraordinary Way” into an audio book.

When I first reread the book, I got the feeling that there was quite a bit that I could update. That, of course, would be the deciding factor of whether or not to try and find a way to update the content given in the audio version. It didn’t make sense to me to figure out how to do it before working out if there was enough material to make an update worthwhile.

When I started listening to each chapter and jotting down ideas of what could be added, what had changed and what I can do now that I couldn’t when I wrote Different Way of Seeing I found I actually had a wealth of new information – from looking at how apps have solved some of the challenges in the kitchen, right the way through to sharing a little of the wonderous adventures I’ve had since meeting Fiji.

Yes, some chapters have more updates than others. Ultimately very little’s changed in how I select clothing and make-up, but I have lots of new stories to share with you so, even where little’s changed, there’s still lots to share that I hope will both entertain and inform you as you listen.

I’m still in the phase of figuring out what needs to go into the update. If you’d like to know how I accomplish any specific task… and I really do mean any task… I’d love to hear from you – I may not use your question in the update, and I may already have answered it in Different Way of Seeing, but I’ll still get back to you with a response of some form.

Looking forward to hearing your input…

From Seeing to Hearing – the Start of a New Journey

I’ve been rereading my book,” A Different Way of Seeing – A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an ‘Ordinary’ Life in an Extraordinary Way”, before starting the journey of turning it into an audio book. I can’t tell you how many people have asked if the book’s available on Audible. I’ve been meaning to get it into audio for some time – and that time is now!

It’s been really interesting comparing the person I am now to the me who wrote the book three years ago. In truth, it’s been quite a revelation!

Here’s some of the things that’ve struck me:

  • How much my writing style’s evolved –I’m over the moon when people who’ve read my book tell me I write just like I speak. I wanted the book to have a conversational tone and people tell me that’s how they feel, too. I also feel my writing “voice” has developed from writing regular blogposts. But I frowned when I reread my book because my language was more formal than I remembered– “It is” instead of “It’s”, “I have not” instead of “I haven’t”, just for two simple examples. And I’m worried the audio version will sound unnaturally stilted because of the language unless I change it a little.
  • How much has changed–the number of things I’m doing that I wasn’t doing then, like podcasting, playing the occasional game on my iPhone, using online meeting software to run interviews, and becoming more involved in the accessible travel community; how much the work I’m doing has been refined; how much more comfortable I’ve become in trying new technologies; how much Fiji and I have grown and developed as a team, to name but a few of the ways my life has changed since writing the book.
  • How much I’ve learned– time and time again I found mention of tasks I couldn’t do without sighted assistance at the time of writing that I now do on my own using technology. Often I’d smile at my prior self, knowing how more independent I’d soon become. Not to mention shaking my head in wonder at a few things I considered improbable, if not impossible, back then that are now also completely routine to me.

It’s been a valuable experience for me and given me plenty time to reflect on my growth.

Some of you may be wondering why I’m going to the trouble of rereading my own book just to turn it into an audio book. The answer is that I plan to update the content for the audio version. Because, while most of what I included is still relevant, the things that have changed are so significant that they’ve altered how I do things which, after all, is what my book’s about.

I’ll keep you updated on how things are going as I carry on with this journey – most of the details are still vague, but I’m keeping my eyes firmly on the prize!

The City and the City The City and the City

Cds IMG 0060A little while back I read “The City & the City” by China Mieville. It’s a story about a city that, for some inexplicable (or in my case forgotten) reason has been divided into two totally separate cities. As a citizen of one city you are not permitted to acknowledge the existence of the other city and its inhabitants even though you may share the same roads and the same neighbourhoods.

At the time I read the book we were planning our trip to Europe including a few days in Berlin. I found myself wondering whether living in Berlin before the Berlin Wall fell in 1990 was anything like what was portrayed in Mieville’s novel.

Even though Berlin is a united city once more and has done much to reinvent itself since 1990, the strange circumstances in which the city found itself for 45 years has had an unusual impact on the geography of the city.

Usually when we tour a city we find one or two central areas where most of the historic buildings are situated – but not in Berlin. As we navigated round the city Craig commented that many of the sites seemed far away from each other, and that he had underestimated the amount of time it would take to travel around.

Here’s what I think. From 1945 – 1990 Berlin was split into two geographically similar cities. Each city had to develop separately, with systems and services being needed by both. So much was duplicated – within the boundaries in West Berlin, and, often on the outskirts, of East Berlin. So, while many historic buildings are near the Brandenburg Gate, which lies on what was the boundary between East and West Berlin, many are not. And I think that’s the reason it takes so long to travel the city.

You may laugh, but I had a second realization when I was in Berlin. I’d always envisioned the Berlin Wall as being there to keep East Germans “in”. In reality, since Berlin was surrounded by East German territory, the Berlin Wall was built to enclose West Berlin. I guess I equated West Germany with freedom and East Germany with confinement and that dictated my mental image of the city. Still, it was quite a revelation to me when I realized how my reality had been shaped by the words I used.

And so, back to where we started – China Mievilles novel “The City & the City”. I have no idea if living in a divided Berlin in any way resembled the novel, but the book certainly sprang to mind many times during our time in the city & the city that are now united once more.

You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Reader

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“I can’t imagine any visually impaired person would prefer reading books using a computer voice rather than a human voice!”

I’m probably misquoting the words but that was the sense of a comment I heard on one of the assistive technology podcasts I regularly listen to. My immediate response was to disagree vehemently… and then I paused and thought about it for a bit.

You see, I actually do prefer reading using a computerized voice. And I seriously doubt I’m the only blind person who does so. So I hopped onto Facebook and asked the question, tagging all the visually impaired people I’m connected with on that platform.
It wasn’t just curiosity that drove me, though anyone who knows me will agree that I have a finely developed sense of curiosity. I also wanted to find out to help me reach more blind and visually impaired people with my own books.

It turns out that most of the people I asked preferred human voice books in the form of audio books or services like Audible.com. When chatting to a friend about this startling (to us both) fact he offered a few reasons why this might be so, but his rationale was fairly complicated and this is only meant to be an article, not a thesis!

When I first lost my sight I used to listen to audio books and found that my opinion of the book often depended on the quality of the reader and, in some cases, how well I felt the reader’s voice fitted the genre of the book. Of course, that was back in the days when my only source of books was the library service, Tape Aids for the Blind where the readers were all volunteers so the quality varied quite a bit. Thankfully there was only one instance that the reader was so bad that he totally killed the book for me! But I truly began to feel like I was juding the books, not by their covers but by their readers.

Then someone introduced me to reading on computer using a screen reader and my life was transformed. I loved the ability to scan any book I wanted and read it. I loved the ability to change the rate and pitch of the voice – if you try that with a human voice it often lands up sounding like Minnie Mouse on helium which really isn’t pleasant. But most of all I loved that I was free to interpret the words in whatever way I chose to rather than having my impressions of the book determined by the reader– to me that was the closest I’d found to reading as I’d done when I still had sight.

Ultimately I don’t think there’s a right and wrong way to read when you’re visually impaired. The important thing is that we have the ability to read in whatever format we each prefer, whether it’s using human voice, computer voice, or braille.

But my investigations got me thinking that I really ought to do an audio version of my book, A Different Way of Seeing… Anyone interested in reading for me?

Such an Amazing Gift!

Sometimes it’s easy to criticize organisations that aren’t accessible to a person with a disability. Today I want to highlight a company that is going over and above the call of duty to make their products available to those of us who are visually impaired.

As many of you know I’m a prolific reader. Okay that may not be as true now as it was a few years ago, when I had lots more time on my hands – nowadays I seem to have very few precious hours to curl up with a good book and simply lose myself in a story. But I still love reading and appreciate any access to books that I can access without having to spend ages standing mindlessly flipping pages as the desktop scanner converts a book into a format I can read.

Unlike many of my blind friends overseas I don’t have access to libraries like Bookshare and others that provide e-books to us… nor do I have the funds to buy as many books as I’d like to have to feed my insatiable book craving.

Enter Baen Books…

Baen Booksare a publishing house who specialise in several of my favourite genres of book – fantasy, alternative history and science fiction. Some time ago, Jim Baen, founder of the publishing house, decided to make the titles available at no cost to blind and visually impaired people who register with the site.

I’ve been registered with Baen Books for a few years now and love the ease of simply logging on to the website, skimming through the authors and books that are available and downloading what I choose. It’s also simple to navigate through the process of searching for books and downloading them. I try not to abuse the privilege… but there are just some authors that I can’t resist!

Of course, their books are also available for sale online through their website. So, if you enjoy reading these genres, please consider supporting Baen Books and the wonderful gift they offer to those of us who are blind and visually impaired.

Here’s where you can find them: http://www.baenebooks.com/

Hmm… which reminds me, it’s about time I popped onto the website to download the next in Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire series…

A Different Way of seeing – How to get it!

Lois Cover frontLooking back over my recent posts I realized I’ve neglected to let you know that my book, “A Different Way of Seeing – A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an ‘Ordinary’ Life in an Extraordinary Way” is now available. But here’s the catch – you can only get it direct from me… or through Amazon.com.

Here’s the link to order the book:
https://www.loisstrachan.com/a-different-way-of-seeing-order-form/

Here are a few comments from readers:
“Thoroughly enjoyed it. The easy to read, conversational style of your writing was a big plus.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed Lois’ book. It was fun, informative & entertaining.”
“An easy read and great insight into the world of a blind person. Honest and with much humour, Lois answers many of the questions you might have and have never been brave enough to ask.”

Click on the link and order your copy today… I look forward to hearing what you thought!

What Every Blind Person Needs You to Know, by Leanne Hunt

I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of fellow blind female South African author, Leann Hunt’s new book, What Every Blind Person Needs You to Know.

Leanne’s book is a practical guide on how to assist a visually impaired family member, friend or colleague who is struggling to grow from dependence to independence. She describes the psychological impact of blindness as well as the various stages she herself worked through in coming to terms with her disability and gaining independence. Leann’s is an inspiring story that is full of courage.

Though I personally did not experience anything near the same level of isolation and dependency that Leanne did when losing her sight, I could relate to her story. The book gave me reason to reconsider my own journey through blindness and I found myself gaining additional insights into my own life from both the similarities and the differences in our situations.

I will admit to having reservations about the word “every in the title, what Every Blind Person Needs You to Know, as I believe it is too simplistic to assume that the same process will apply to all blind people. However, there are certainly aspects of Leanne’s book that will be useful to each reader.

I would recommend Leanne Hunt’s book, What Every Blind Person Needs You to Know as a valuable resource for anyone supporting a blind or visually impaired person battling to discover how to increase their level of independence.

You can purchase What Every Blind Person Needs You to Know at www.blindyetfree.com/books

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