In nineteen seventy something or another, my greatest wish was to write. well not just write obviously. When your six or seven years old you tend to go through several thousand wishes a day. I certainly had a desire to create.
Now being an autistic child in the ’70s meant not only that I was socially and academically awkward, but that generally speaking there was little tolerance for my disconformities. However, for a few wonderful years at my primary school, I was blessed with a headmaster ( Mr Collins of The Holy Family, Addlestone. I salute you.) who saw my creative protentional and ran with it. He seemed excited by the notion of helping me explore my creativity and my understanding of my difficulties. At one point I was writing him a weekly serial. One lunch time a week I was allowed to stay inside with the typewriter. In return however I had to try and join in with the other children on the other days. an equitable agreement indeed. I recal a later time when I had a meltdown. The teacher of this class was trying to get me to touch papiermache. the substances texture and temperature setting me off. However he patiently discussed with me the sort of things I would like to make if I COULD touch them. Ultimately when we had plans not just for paper mache masks, but gloves and costumes. and when i had discussed the creation on model meddusas and cyclops, (Clash of the Titans had just been released,) I was so excited that I was able to override my revultion and allow myself to become used to it.
Alas though my plans were good and the papier-mâché worked well; my hand/eye co-ordination was not up to the task of becoming a sculpter or serious artist. My writing however prevailed.
For those short years I was almost popular in the playground. sure I was a pain when in charge of our imaginative games. but many of my classmates would happily let me start them. for I would conjure plots and situations in which they revelled.
All to soon it was over.
The electric 80’s hit me like slap in the face as I went up to middle school.
(younger readers may not be aware that the UK school system used to be composed of primary education from 5-8 years. middle school from 8-12 years and secondary education, 12-16+ years) My first middle school was a shock. Three times as many pupils, three times the work load, one twentieth the help. Within a short time I had forgotten my dreams, given up on education, stopped trying to interact with my peers and started just trying to get through each day. Its a state of mind which stayed with me for the next 30 years.
Oh they tried to help in their own way, the educational psychologists and therapists of the day. But electrocuting my feet and getting me to write with a triangular shaped pencil was somehow unable to turn someone like me into someone like them.
By the time I was an adult I was lost to myself. I drifted from place to place and relationship to relationship always feeling there was something I was supposed to be doing.
Occasionally a little childish voice would cry out from somewhere deep inside.
“you’re supposed to be a writer,” it would say. To which my adult self would reply
“How can I be a writer when I can’t even write.”
In 2011, My son was diagnosed with Autism. At first I was resistant to the notion. for in all my years nobody had ever seen so… ‘normal’ to me as him. But reading up on it for his sake, I started to notice just how much my childhood and his were alike. It became clear I was also autistic and an official diagnosis came some years later.
“He needs a role model.” I thought, “I don’t want him to leave school with nothing like I did.” and for the first time in too long the child that slept inside me opened a sleepy eye. “you used to love writing ” it whispered.
That very year I enrolled in an adult education collage and retook my English GCSE. I discovered to my everlasting joy that the world has moved on. even though the course was far from easy, more importance is placed on content over form. I was shocked to discover that I had achieved an ‘A’. The most I had achieved at school was an ‘E’.
The child was awake now and hungry. I started writing for both my son and daughter who for a blessed time of innocence hung upon my every word but I wanted more. I went to university part time and for 5 years absorbed all I could. My faith in myself and my skills was not high and is not to this day.
‘If I can just get a pass.’ I thought, ‘I will have shown him we can do it, that his autism is no barrier or need not be.’
The child in me cared not for my fears worries or goals. It had stories to tell.
When I was awarded a first class honours, I honestly felt like a fraud. (and in many ways still do.) For the next year I worked on a story or two but writing out side of Uni was difficult and so I decided to start on a masters degree. At the time of writing im due to hand in the first assignment in days. but im doing this instead.
As this course was starting, Abel, a friend I had made in the first year of my Batchelors degree contacted me and gave me the details of someone he thought might be interested in my work. Andrew Brenner is one of those people who you have probably never heard of but have probably watched his work. He’s been involved in some of the country’s favourite children’s television, Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, Maisy, Fireman Sam and many, many more. He is also in this writers view a gentleman and something of a genius. It was then he told me about Pablo.
Pablo has already aired its first season on the BBC’s Cbeebies channel in the UK and was syndicating worldwide to much acclaim. Andrew was looking specifically for autistic writers for a second season. It is a point of pride for the show that the creative talent on every level is autistic.
Coming up with original ideas for a show which has already had 52 episodes is no easy task but its also a show which is important. It’s important for the children who watch it. it teaches them that its ok to think and act differently. It’s important to the parents who may realise that a child they have been worried about just needs a little support and ideas on how to give it.. It’s important for me also, being able to take my own difficulties as an autistic child and my love of writing and use them to entertain and inform is a dream come true. Andrew is his editorial skills is more like a master plasterer. taking the, hopefully sturdy, rough hewn wall of my scripts and smoothing them to perfection, and even putting up the coving.
Never have I come up with so much in such a short span of time. Not all gold of course, one script went through such intensive rewrites that its only the basic theme which has remained, but it gives the message I wished to impart and so I am happy. I have thrown myself into the feedback. To please oneself is nice, but to be a script writer is to please others. Specifically to please industry professionals, to struggle to give them what they ask for in their feedback and trust that they know what they are talking about.
It’s a challenge but a rewarding one. So far I have had Three scripts selected for filming. and the kind supportive words of series creator Grainne McGuinness and others will stay with me forever.
The child in me is writing still, but it is content. All writers, all creators I suppose have the same desire, That desire is to do some thing, however big or small. that matters.
Part of it is perhaps ego. One must have some sort of ego to think that their words are worthy of being read in the first place. Beyond ego is that simple desire to make contact, to touch another person with your words and maybe make a small but positive impact.
To write for children is to put a seed of oneself into a future we will never see and water it with hope. What more could one give and what more can one wish for?