The rest of this post is a bit of a departure for me – in that it is somewhat on the long side, or at least not as short as they usually are. It’s also a tad more serious than my standard output.
As it’s the second anniversary of the publication date of All Said & Done, I’ve decided that this would be a good opportunity to share with the world an article that I wrote for The National Autistic Society (the NAS) to explain why I’d produced the book in the first place. So, here you go:
Why I came to be a supporter of The NAS
My wife and I always thought our son was ‘different’ and it was obvious that certain aspects of his development were delayed compared with his peers. But it was equally apparent to us that he had intelligence and abilities that were unique.
He started school, not long after his sister was born. He found the changes difficult (massive understatement!!). Consequently, his behaviour deteriorated significantly and our home-life became unsettled.
I can’t remember whether it was a family member or his teacher that mentioned he had ‘autistic traits’. But it sparked an internet search, which lead us to the NAS website. That was a Damascene moment. We found a wealth of salient information and advice, better than anything proffered by the myriad of professionals we’d encountered before or since.
Based on what we read on the NAS website, we quickly came to the conclusion that our son had Asperger Syndrome. An official diagnosis, which came to the same conclusion, followed several months later. It was 2004, and my son was aged 5 at the time. I’ve been a supporter of the NAS ever since.
As well as standing in the street rattling a collection tin, I’ve taken on a number of challenges to raise funds for the NAS over the years. In 2004, I ran the Loch Ness marathon (my first ever marathon). In 2006 I trekked through the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and in 2010 I ran the London marathon.
If you’ve ever considered an active challenge, then my advice is to go for it. They’re character building, provide an unbeatable opportunity to meet great people and have some unforgettable experiences. You can find out more about what’s available through the NAS, by viewing their challenge events on the NAS Get Active page – http://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/raise-money/get-active.aspx
Why I decided to produce a book of poetry
I found London very tough, mainly because injury had hampered my training. I’ve since been diagnosed with arthritis in my knees and running is becoming increasingly uncomfortable. So, I’ve come to the realisation, that if I want to raise money for charity, I should probably do something different i.e. “less physical”.
Because 2012 was the NAS’ 50th anniversary year, it seemed an appropriate time to decide what something different meant. But I didn’t really have much time to think about it until fate intervened…
In the Spring of 2012, I had a nasty case of vertigo, brought on by an ear infection. I had to have several weeks off work. During this time, any activity involving movement of the head or using my eyes, made me feel very sick/dizzy. I was therefore only able to watch TV, use a PC, read or drive for short periods.
So, I spent a lot of time listening to my CD’s. Many of which I hadn’t heard for years, including some by performance poets – John Cooper Clarke, John Hegley, Attila The Stockbroker and Murray Lachlan Young [I didn’t realise at the time that Attila and Murray would later agree to include poems in the book]. It’s these CD’s that sparked the brainwave to use poetry for fundraising.
My initial idea was to produce a poetry chap-book, to sell locally to friends, relatives and work colleagues. When I was able to use a PC again, I sent out some emails to ask people I knew if they would be willing to contribute some poems. The responses were all very supportive. Some even made suggestions of others that I might like to approach. So I did, and before long I had enough material for several chap-books.
How the book developed
I wanted to use humorous poems (light verse) to paint a picture of modern life. I didn’t intend to relate the poems with autism. However, I realised that the subject matter of some of the short-listed poems, had a clear link with the issues faced by autistic people. This realisation changed my focus and I decided to include works by autistic poets. What’s more, I felt certain that with a bit more work, a full blown book would be a better prospect.
Encouraged by early responses, I approached some well known poets for permissions. To my surprise the vast majority agreed, including: Donna Williams, Wendy Lawson, Wendy Cope, Murray Lachlan Young, Attila The Stockbroker, John Whitworth, Charles Ghigna and Julie Kane.
I kicked around lots of ways to organize the poems in the book along with several different titles. One thing that kept coming to mind was the triad of impairments. This eventually inspired the traffic light graphics, cover design and the concept of splitting the book into 3 sections – each having relevance to one of the triad of impairments i.e:
- All – Social & Emotional
- Relationships / Romance
- School / College / Work
- Fashion / Identity
- Said – Language & Communication
- Body language / Eye contact
- Use of words/meaning
- Done – Flexibility of thought
- Routine / change
- Sensory Issues
- Special interests / IT
In the end I chose most of the poems, simply because they made me laugh. But, I also included some more poignant and thought provoking pieces like “What I learned at School” by Melinda Smith, which brought a lump to my throat the first time I read it. One thing that all the poems have in common is that they’re well written.
The End Result
Producing the book was a bit like learning a new language. It took more than 6 months and I had to get to grips with new terminology and several pieces of unfamiliar software.
The end result is a unique 130+ page book, containing works by poets from all over the world, including: the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA.
I’ve received several emails from people, telling me how much they’ve enjoyed reading the book. When you combine that with the fact that every sale raises money for the NAS – it gives me as good a feeling as crossing the finish-line of any marathon.
Would I do it again? – absolutely, I’ve got a set of ISBN numbers to use! In fact 21st Century Verse is a direct attempt by me to finish what I’d started initially – at least in terms of content.