In my archives I have a stack of files with fragments of stories, poems and songs. No-one else has had the chance of digging through those fragments, but I decided to share one with you today.
It’s the opening paragraphs of a fiction story. And, interestingly, it’s the only one that has a basic plot outline. I had the idea for this story back in June 2014 and wrote the opening paragraphs. Then I drew up a very basic outline for most of the story… except for the very end.
My question for you is this – what do you think is going to happen next, and what genre of book do you think this will land up being?
PS Please remember this is a first draft… and first drafts always need lots of work. At least, mine do.
“Hey, Laura! Aren’t you supposed to be meeting people for lunch?”
Laura Michaels looked up from her computer where she was frantically trying to get the month end figures to balance.
Most people, on meeting Laura for the first time, would dismiss her as being “average”. Laura was 28, though she looked younger than her age. Her youthful looks were accentuated by her diminutive size- at five foot, four inches she was the shortest of her female friends, a fact which she had never reconciled herself to. She had a serious face that was quietly attractive until she smiled, when people around her would be amazed that they had not seen her beauty before. Her short ash-blonde hair was at present tucked behind her ears, a habit which she had tried for years to break, but which she always resorted to when she was stressed.
The slight frown that was another mark of her current tension softened into a quick smile as Laura looked across the partition at her colleague.
“Sorry Kathrine, I didn’t quite get that. What did you say?”
“I was just reminding you about your lunch date today, Laura. You are going out to lunch today, aren’t you?”
“Yup, I’m meeting some old friends in town at 12:30. Why?”
“Because it’s getting pretty late. It’s almost quarter past already.”
Laura glanced up at the clock on the office wall, and her smile faded. Briefly her face reflected shock as she registered that it was already 12:15. The shock turned to dismay as she quickly calculated the logistics of time and travel.
“Shit!” she said with feeling, “I’m going to be late!”
It was almost one o’clock before Laura got to the neighbourhood of the restaurant where she was due to meet her friends. She turned off the main road into the sheltered street where the restaurant was, and started looking for parking. For once Laura’s luck seemed to be with her and she found a parking space almost immediately. Sighing with relief, Laura parked and climbed out of her Golf GTi. Locking the car, she slammed the door and set the alarm before tossing her keys into her oversized bag and setting off down the alley towards the restaurant.
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…
A 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.