Monday, 21 May 2012

Me and Asperger's

While I am still working out my tag line and brand for writing non-fiction (I write about a few things), I am going to tell you about how I got to be diagnosed with Asperger's. It will be the first memory piece about living with it.

Two years ago, I was about to lose my job (in fact, it is two days ago this Wednesday which was my last day of work). I was going to have an interview for a part-time job, similar to the one I'd been doing for 20 years. Before the interview, my mum had read articles about children with Asperger's/Autism, and said 'Julie, why don't you read these?' I said no, too busy will read them later on. I had the interview and failed completely. They said my responses weren't quick enough for them, and I didn't answer the questions the correct way. In other words, I had misinterpreted what they asked. The weekend after that, I read the articles. And oh my, did I see myself and how I acted with people in these children mentioned.

Fast forward to Septemeber. I went to see my GP and asked to be referred for a diagnosis for Asperger's. He said no, the only hospital that did that was Maudsley. I was disappointed. But then a few days later, I had something wrong and went back and saw another GP. She was nice and said yes. Time went on. I got letters saying that my case had been stopped, and I thought that was it. No go. This was back in the February. I went to see my GP and asked her. No, it doesn't mean your case has stopped, just that they can't afford it. Still going ahead. Hurrah. Then sometime later, I got a long questionnaire to fill in for my interview. I filled it in and sent it off. Then in the March, I was at a talk in London, and when I got home, Mum said that she had got a call from them and they had a cancellation for the following week, and she had taken it for me. Hurrah.

The appointment was at Maudsley. We went into a small room with the psychologist and her assistant. I was asked about my health and personal background, and answered with the help of Mum. Then after a while, the assistant took Mum to another room, where Mum was asked questions about me and my childhood and growing up. I was asked the same, about my childhood at school, if I had friends, what I was like at secondary school and then work. Whilst answering these questions, it really brought home to me how I lived with undiagnosed Asperger's, esp when I was a child. I didn't make friends that easily, and usually tagged along with others that I thought were friends of mine. I had always thought I had been shy, but now I knew it was more than that. We had lunch, and then went back to see the two people. It turned out that Mum had answered more or less with the same replies to the same questions, and it was this that made them come to the decision I had Asperger's. We were both relieved, to say the least. Mum because she now knew what was wrong with me, having had suspicions since I was a child but not knowing what, and me because I had something to explain how I was with people, esp in groups and at work. When we got home, we told a few relatives and most of them said that they always thought something was wrong with me, and wasn't surprised with the result.

It was the light at the end of the tunnel. I will talk more at a later blog about some of my memories living with undiagnosed Asperger's, from childhood to working life.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

What is your brand? How to work it out.

What is your brand?  Ie what do you write?  IMO there are two different lenghts to say this.  There is the one line for signatures eg (for me) Author of magical realism with gentle warm humour.  Nell Dixon writes warm hearted books with a touch of humour and a hinit of suspense.  These are the lines that describe the type of books you write. And then there is the paragrah, which includes description of your characters as well as your book.  Eg DD Scott is a writer of romcom with sexy, sassy smart women with men who complete them.  So how do you work out what sort of characters you write about?  I found an answer in DD's 'Muse Therapy' ebook, which I really loved and found v useful, esp to work out my brand and its characters.  The answer is to write down what sort of TV programmes you love watching.  So here is my list: Corrie, Home and Away, Embarrassing Bodies, Supersize V Superskinny, You Deserve this house, Jamie Oliver, The Biggest Loser, The Apprentice, Junior Apprentice.  Those are just some of what I watch.  From this list, I tried to work out a common factor and realised what it was.  Apart from the first two, I thought the common factor in the rest of the programmes was that the people in them all have something to prove.  Bodies: the people want to find out what is troubling their bodies; Supersize: the candidates want to either lose weight or gain weight; You Deserve this house: the person gets their house made over because they have done good for their community; Jamie: he tries to prove that he can get people esp children to eat healthily; The Biggest Loseer: all want to lose weight and lose the most and have to prove they can with rigorous exercises and the Apprentice programmes: both the adults and children want to prove to Lord Sugar that they can be good business people and worth the investment of his money.  So that is: characters who want to prove themselves. 

In my first children's book Rosie and the Sick School (not a good title I now realise, so will change it when I come to rewrite it), Rosie wanted to prove that she could help her fellow pupils to eat and live a healthier lifestyle, with a touch of magic and gentle warm humour.  In my forthcoming adult romance series, Geraldine, who has died and gone to Heaven, has to prove that she is a worthy candidate of Heaven by getting her ex lover to be a nicer and happier man, and in doing so realises that she wants to be a nicer person herself.  She sets out to help her relatives prove that they don't have to live like they do and there is romance out there.  And in my current wip about a little boy who wears strange socks that make him clever, Billy, the boy, wants to prove that he can be as good or better in lessons than his older brother. (Having fun writing this book!)

So, here is my brand.  Julie Day is a writer of magical realism with warm gentle humour, and characters who have something to prove about themselves. 

Now all I need to do is work out my brand for non-fiction.  Maybe next post.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Writing YA fiction with issues - Part 2 Q&A

Here is the second part of the issues blog, where the panel were asked questions by the audience (didn't inc me!).  Panel was Miriam Halahmy, Bali Rai and Sara Grant.

Q: How do you stop your characters having your opinions?
A: Bali said that the protagonist is a young version of him.  Miriam saidk all are imperfect.  Hope that it reflects the young thinking in books.  She has a clear focus although feels that in the end the character does have her views.  Sara covers all angles of issue.  Let's issue evolve of the opinion and theme.  Be honest with readers in the breadth of issues.  She wants to read books with characters and plot not when it is all about the issue eg environment.
Q: Is said that YA doesn't have happy endings.
A: M: her book not true.  B: his don't.  You have to entertain readers not make them happy.  The characters have to be interesting to make them stay with you.  Teens/YA need to make their own minds up about it.  YA is diverse - can have happy ending and can't.
Q: Can you write different genres? (I think that was the gist of the question)
A: B: You can't write sci-fi stuff in modern books.  Sci-fi frees you up in the practical sense of writing.  He has set book in historic times where he had brain-washing mentioned.  M: enjoys what she's writing now.  B then said don't think of it as two professions.  Don't think that so many of a genre is out there that you can't write it, do.  Nobody sets trends except readers.  M: She writes her books, not who's it for.
Q: Did the gatekeepers say no to their books?
A: M: Hidden had different opinions as the issue was the barrier.  Her publisher was the only one to take it on.  S: Was told her book was either to be darker or lighter. Says to write book what you want.  Went with the editor whom she felt got her book and listened to her.  Do cover issues that agents out there are interested in.  Is interested in reviews.  Know what you are trying to do when writing an issue for when people challenge you.  B: has process with his publisher when he wants to write.  Be realistic with what happens in the industry.  Be aware what schools like.  People do read these books although gatekeepers don't want it. S: make sure agent and editor are with you are you going to be a collobaration.  M says that more editors asks her more than she thinks.
Q: Are they comfortable when younger readers pick up their books?
A:  M said that when a 7 y-o picked up her book she was careful.  Would discourage them, but is up to them.  B: Not bad if junior has an adult with them.  Up to maturity of their age.  S: readers censor themselves by only reading bits they want to.  B: hates writers who disrespect YA writers who say it's easy to write children's books.  Concentrate on books not on for what age it is for.  S: establish a good reading habit for the young.
Q: How do editors react to different genres?
A: B did it on his own.  Have a realistic action to publishers.  Wrote them cos got annoyed that was pigeon-holed as Brit Asian author but not the only one.  Writes for anyone to read.  Marketing side is important.  If want to change direction, do.  If you want to write for different ages, then write for different publishers.  S: didn't set out to write dystopian.  Also writes for 7-9 with sparkles. Do start to think of yourself as a brand.

Lastly: S wants to write satisfactory endings.  Won't write book without hope.  Not for teens. B: honesty to readers.  Honesty with plot and characters and you.  Be true to the story.  M: prefers things to end on some hope.  You can't tie things up cos of its lifestyle.  Don't leave too many questions.  S: helpful to teens to show that things can go this way. B thinks that if readers like your book is most important.  M says they like to feel they are represented.

And that is it.  Hope you all learned a lot from this. I did.  Esp Sara's comment about wanting to read a book that entertains and not just about the issue.