I’ve been writing a book for the last six months and came up for air during the Easter holiday with a first draft. I was surprised and disappointed to find that I’m only now at the start of the process. In that moment of self-doubt, I needed to hear a friendly voice, telling me to keep going.
As it is hard to find memoirs written by disabled writers, I believed that my concept was strong, and my authentic voice would see my book snapped up immediately. I hoped I would be offered a hefty advanced payment, and a team of experts to polish, illustrate and market my book. This enthusiasm got me started.
It was coming together nicely. After a couple of months, I reached out to a friend who has connections in writing and publishing to see if they could offer me any help or advice. They warned what a huge process it was to get a book published, it would take some years and great expense. I’m sure this was well-intentioned, but it also sounded a lot to me like ‘gatekeeper’ comments, the kind that can stop people from minority groups from being heard, the type of comments I was writing about. This was a bit of a knock, but there was some sage advice too. It was useful to know was that a finished manuscript is more likely to attract agents and publishers, so I carried on with mine.
There is a huge problem with ableism in publishing. Frances Ryan, a disabled author herself, wrote in the Guardian in 2020 that ‘Publishing must make room for disabled authors – for its own good’ Apart from disabled people being poorly represented throughout the publishing industry, stories with disability are not being written by disabled people themselves. A recent example of this crude approach to disability was the Oscar winning 2022 film, ’Whale’. The film’s suicidal protagonist seeks to end his life through his own Morbid Obesity. Disability as a prison with death as the only escape – nice.
I looked online for a disabled author who had been through this process before. Claire Wade co-founded much-needed representative group Authors with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses (ADCI) in June 2020 having had her first book published. In the frequently asked questions section on her website, one asks ‘How long did it take to publish your book?” The answer shocked me: “Seven years!” Even though that emphasised her first experience of navigating the publishing industry and included starting from scratch, it was far too long for me. It made the thought of self-publishing my work much more appealing.
Feeling deflated and questioning myself, I wavered and contemplated giving up on my book. Then I realised that I had just finished writing about how disabled people have be even more resilient when trying to achieve anything, because doing anything well is even harder with a disability because of other people. We should never accept ‘no’ for an answer because good things only happen if we make them.
What’s my book about? Here’s the pitch – I get to talk about myself in the third person!
Awarded an MBE for services to Disability & his Community and showing a great depth of experience and flashes of his mischievous sense of humour, Disability is Other People is Richard’s story, but perhaps not the one you’d expect. It is his quest for meaning and understanding, a remarkable story of self-discovery, a little luck, resilience, and the right support. He shares big moments in his life, from childhood, diagnosis, falling in love, going to University, using a wheelchair for the first time and forging a successful career in Local Government.
His life is turned upside-down again as he adapts to life after medical retirement and rekindles his passion for representing others through volunteering. Each opportunity leads to more, soon he is a School Governor, Founding Director of a pioneering Community Bus Company and Trustee of Ataxia UK. He reflects on life during the Pandemic, disappointed with how the great potential for change never actually came, how badly disabled people have been let down by the Tory government and how thirteen years of austerity have made it so much worse. Throughout, he illuminates and deconstructs traditional perspectives on what it is to be disabled and considers the big issues he has faced along the way; these include Hope, Death, Ableism, The Media, and Political Correctness.
Disability is Other People is not a story about overcoming disability, but living well with it. It gives anyone labelled as ‘different’ by Other People the confidence they need to stand up for themselves and change their own lives. He hopes Other People will see how their society aggressively disables pretty much everyone. A powerfully positive memoir, it firmly sets Disability as a mainstream political issue.
Stepping back and developing this proposal has helped me streamline and clarify my message. If my original expectations were unrealistic hopes, practical optimism is very much what I need now to resurrect them. I needed to listen to my own voice. Mindful that I need specialist support, I have submitted a proposal and chapter summary to a few carefully selected agents and publishers as I work towards a final draft – but I’m not spending seven years chasing them. As self-publishing remains an option, I am also looking to pay for an illustrator and editorial support. Please get in touch if you can help.
Whatever happens, I’ll see you on the book tour!