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A remarkable anthology of short stories by eight autistic writers, with forewords by David Mitchell and Joanne Limburg

They don’t understand metaphors

They don’t have any empathy, do they?

They’re not very good with emotions

They’re great at maths though, aren’t they? Like Rain Man?

There are so many myths surrounding autism and autistic people and they have persisted for generations. Despite autism being prevalent -- one in 100 people is diagnosed as autistic -- society is still fraught with misconceptions and misunderstandings about it.

This isn’t helped by autistic people rarely being afforded their own voices in arts and literature. Their perspectives, thoughts, creations and ideas are elided in favour of the neurotypical. It’s no wonder the world is unaware of the creativity of the autistic community. We need far more -- and far more varied -- depictions of autism.

In Other Words is the result of Square Peg Stories, a creative writing scheme aimed specifically at autistic writers that took place in London between November 2016 and May 2017. Eight participants were selected to take part in a series of workshops and mentoring sessions run by published authors, with the aim of each writer producing a short story. Workshop leaders included author and poet Joanne Limburg and YA fantasy author Corinne Duyvis, who are both autistic. The workshops were designed with the specific needs of the participants in mind, meaning the writers were able to relax into their environment and produce some outstanding work. You can hear some of the writers read their work in the video above.



Among the participants was Wiskey, who was diagnosed as autistic aged 50. For him, the diagnosis brought a release and he began taking bolder steps with his writing. Another participant, Esther, aged 19, used writing as an escape from the world and an opportunity to explore social rules and other people’s emotions. What all the participants had in common was a passion for writing and the freedom it brings -- the limitless possibility that enabled them to find their voices in a way the neurotypical world often didn’t allow them to -- and a desire to share their writing with others.

The stories are as wide-ranging and diverse as the writers themselves. Some cover trauma, societal issues and stigma. Some reach back in time, while others are set in another dimension altogether. There is heartbreak, wit, humour, poignancy and above all fantastic writing. What these stories share is that they are written by people whom mainstream society often dismisses as unimaginative, or not capable of creativity. When you read these stories, those stereotypes dissolve. This anthology is so important in countering the neurotypical representation of autistic people. The range of subject matter covered shows how the widely held view of autistic people as a homogenous group only interested in maths and science is wildly inaccurate. We need to get the message out there!

The anthology includes a foreword by David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas (2004) and the translator of the bestselling book The Reason I Jump, an account by the Japanese author Naoki Higashida -- then aged 13 -- of what it is like to be autistic. It is also introduced by Square Peg Stories workshop leader Joanne Limburg.

In Other Words is timely, necessary and beautiful. Pledging will support both the visibility of neurodivergent creatives and the idea that we need new, diverse and exciting voices in literature.

Names of contributors

Damian Sawyer

Wiskey

Kate Roy

Richard Baskett

Esther Lowery

Sarah

Luke Matthews

Jon Adams

Picture 1: The Square Peg Stories workshop; picture 2: poet Joanne Limburg with Square Peg Stories workshop participant Wiskey; picture 3: Raffi the Hound

Mainspring Arts was founded in 2015 by Katya Balen and Miranda Prag, who were frustrated by the lack of diversity in the arts - for example, neurotypical and non-disabled actors or writers frequently assume the roles or voices of neurodivergent people, or those with disabilities. They believe those people should be able to tell their own stories, and Mainspring Arts exists to help them do it.

Katya is a children's author with a special interest in the effect of literature on the behaviour of children on the autism spectrum. She has ten years’ experience of working with children and adults with disabilities. She loves books (of course!), baking, knitting and trying to persuade her lazy rescue dog to go for a walk.

Miranda is a theatre maker and freelance writer with experience of planning and delivering a diverse range of theatre and arts-related projects. She loves theatre, cycling, surfing and writing short biographies about herself.

Raffi is Mainspring Arts' resident hound. He is a greyhound cross who enjoys Dentastix, taking up entire sofas and plotting the demise of the neighbourhood cats. He attended Square Peg Stories workshops where he provides a listening ear and some great analytical feedback.

Introduction

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Mairi Fraser
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