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/
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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.
Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji,
I’m jumping up and down and bounding around in ecstatic circles to tell you that my book has finally been published.
Paws for Thought: Seeing the World Through the Eyes of a Guide Dog is full of stories about me and my human and doggy family, from my puppyhood right up to the present. Although, to be fair, it’s not entirely up to the present because we had to stop writing so we could get the book ready to be read by you. So we decided to make the end of 2020 our cut-off. But let’s be honest, what with the pandemic and all, not much has happened in 2021 anyway. Except that we’ve been busy with the book.
You may be wondering why you should read my book.
It is full of stories about me and my doggy siblings, lots of stories about the many different ways I help my mom, information about the work a guide dog does, and explains why I think humans are sometimes strange. And it’s fun.
Maybe I should let you know what someone else thinks of the book. Because I admit I’m a little biased because I wrote it… with a little bit of help from my mom. Here’s a review from Amazon.
“Fiji the Labrador retriever is a witty little blond that shares her adventures with her owner in a fun and educational way. It is a fun and easy read about the challenges Lois and Fiji faces together. It would be a great gift for dog lovers or a book for the family to read together for young and old.”
I’m so happy that people are reading my story. I’m going to buy lots of dog treats with all my royalties… And maybe I’ll even share them with my doggy siblings, Emily, Allie and Onyx.
Oh, I almost forgot, here’s how you can buy the book for yourself:
South African paperback: https://www.loisstrachan.com/order-form/
I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts recently when the presenters mentioned the word blursday. It’s described as the sensation that one day blurs into the next. The word fits the way I’ve been feeling over the past few days perfectly. And it’s exhausting.
For one thing, I’m finding it hard to motivate myself to do anything. Which is impacting both of my writing projects. I know I have work to do before I can publish the audio version of my memoir, A Different Way of Seeing, and Fiji’s book, Paws for Thought. But it’s so hard to scrape together the energy to get them finished.
And because I feel like I’m not making progress I become more demoralized…
In reality I know I’m making progress, no matter how small. And I do manage to get tasks ticked off my To-Do-List every day. I’m just frustrated with myself that it’s not happening faster.
On the bright side… and looking beyond my somewhat self-pitying blursday reflections… I am now so close to publishing Fiji’s book that I can almost touch the finished product – the back cover is now designed and we are busy getting everything set up on Amazon. From there I need to start working on a local print run for those of Fiji’s friends who want paper copies, and then hit play on the Amazon pre-order of the book. And then start implementing our plans for a fun online book launch.
My audio book isn’t quite as close to completion. I’m still waiting for feedback on the audio quality of the recordings from my beta listeners, including myself. And then to move onto the process of actually getting the book listed on the various audio book platforms. So why is it so hard for me to become enthused about hitting the play button on the recordings myself?
When the blursday sensation sends me into another of those exhausting foggy states, I reassure myself with a phrase a friend of mine used to tell me – Don’t worry, this too shall pass. And I believe that is true. I just hope it will be soon.
PS: The podcast I was listening to when I heard them talking about Blursday is called Something Rhymes with Purple, a podcast about the English language and words. It’s fun and educational.
Here is a recent interview I did on how I became a writer. If you are one of the people who would love to write a book but do not know where to start, the PublishHer Podcast might be a great starting point for you.
The PublishHer Podcast is the brainchild of Alexa Bigwarfe, who runs the Write_ Publish_ Sell and the Women in Publishing communities. I’ve learned so much about the publishing industry and marketing books from Alexa and her team and the resources they share. So I was excited when they offered me the opportunity to talk about my experiences as a writer.
Here’s my interview:
I hope you enjoy learning a little more about my writing and the publishing industry.
I’m wagging so hard right now! I finally have a book cover for my forthcoming book, Paws for Thought: Seeing the world through the eyes of a guide dog.
And it’s really pretty. At least I think it is. Because it’s got me on it!
I know you’re probably frustrated that it’s taking so long to get the book out. I know I’m frustrated and we dogs are usually more patient than you humans. Unless we’re waiting to go for a walk or to be fed.
I wish I could get stuck in and help on this part of the process but, as a dog, I realize that sometimes I have to leave things in the paws of Mom and Dad. No matter how long they seem to take.
Dad is busy getting the book ready to go onto Amazon, and is sorting out the ISBN – whatever that is – so we can do a print run here at home for anyone who wants to read a book with actual pages.
Mom is busy writing down what I tell her I want on the book description, and is researching things called keywords and categories. Whatever they are, they seem important to humans. All I know is that occasionally she looks down to where I’m lying and asks me if I think a term will work. And I either sneeze, shake my head or wag my tail at her, depending on how I’m feeling at the time. I don’t know how she interprets my responses but she usually laughs and pats me, so everything must be good.
Anyway, although I know we’ve all been waiting a very long time for this book, I wanted to ask you to be a little bit more patient while we work through the complicated human stuff, and for you to know that we’re working as fast as we can. At least now we have the cover!
Book Review: The Kindle Publishing Bible: How to Sell More Kindle Ebooks on Amazon, by Tom Corson-Knowles
Three posts in a row about books? That’s a little unusual for me. Yet, since books, reading and writing are such important parts of my life, it’s possibly more strange that I don’t write about books more often.
As a writer I’m always keen to learn how to write, publish and market books more effectively. Which is why The Kindle Publishing Bible: How to Sell More Kindle Ebooks on Amazon, by Tom Corson-Knowles, published by TCK Publishing, was of such interest to me
Even though this book was published a few years ago and certain Amazon features may have changed since then, it was a book full of useful information and great resources to assist an author considering self-publishing on the Amazon platform.
However, the book doesn’t stop there. There are also great tips to assist with the writing process included. I especially found the chapter about selecting a title for a book of interest, since this is something I’m currently battling with myself. The suggestions given will definitely stay with me.
While I have not yet had a chance to investigate the many promotional tools given in the book, there are bound to be at least a few that can assist with the marketing of a self-published book, which often proves a stumbling block for new authors.
In conclusion, I found this quick-reading book both practical and easy to follow. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to publish and market a book through Amazon.
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…
It was an extraordinary experience for me to be part of an international panel discussing empowering others through sharing your personal story for the Women in Publishing Online Summit taking place from 4 – 8 March. It was both a pleasure and a privilege to share with the other women authors I met on the panel and whose stories blew me away!
The Summit includes more than 70 women from all areas of the publishing industry – authors, editors, designers, publishers and marketers – sharing some of their best thoughts and ideas on creating and publishing a book. Whether you’re an aspiring author wanting to publish your first book or an experienced author wanting to learn more tricks of the trade, the WIP Summit is a great resource.
Here’s a link to get a free ticket to the event, which allows you to access the interviews for a few days from the start of the Summit: https://loisstrachan–writepublishsell.thrivecart.com/free–registration/
I registered for the WIP Summit last year and chose to upgrade to the All Access Pass (AAP) because I knew I wouldn’t be able to watch all the interviews and gain maximum value from what was being shared in the time the free ticket gave me access. It took me almost 9 months to work through them all. But that’s entirely up to you.
PS Yes, the link is an affiliate link – but I only get commission if you decide to upgrade to the AAP. Still I’d appreciate your using the link above if you want to attend so the organisers know I’m sharing the news of this great event.