I had a reader ask me why there seemed to be a disabled person in every one of my books to date? My answer was, if not me who else was going to do it?
One of the tenets of writing is to write about what you know and having been born disabled I know a lot about disability. I do not have a chip on my shoulder about it. The disabled characters in my books are not out to right wrongs suffered by disabled people. They are not outraged protestors on a quest to make everything right. My aim is very simple, I want to portray disabled people as people.
In The Sorrow Song Trilogy, I invented the character of Half-foot, a Saxon who proved his worth by his learning rather than the traditional method of the sword, spear, and axe. He serves King Harold in the capacity of a secretary and is looked upon favourably. For Mesozoic, there is Charles Marsh, a man who overcomes his physical disability by means of medication and the use of an exoskeleton. As a result of this, he gets to pursue his passion of studying dinosaurs and even travels back in time to the Mesozoic Era to do it.
Without a doubt, Eugenica is my most determined effort to present disabled people in a positive light. The whole theme of the book is society’s attitude and treatment of the disabled. It makes for a harrowing read in parts but then it is based on some of my own personal experiences. It is also an adventure story, a type of story that I have always enjoyed, and getting four disabled young people into that setting proved very satisfying.
I suppose the point is that society, in general, has been very good at ignoring disabled people. It has not always been an active thing. In many respects, it has just been apathetic. In literature and other media I have often found the disabled to be presented as very shallow characters, usually designed to inspire pity, Charles Dickens’ Smike for example, or loathing, Richard III always springs to mind with that one. Very seldom do I find worthy characters like Long John Silver. Okay, he was a pirate but he was also a man of courage and ambition. I preferred him to Squire Trelawney anyway.
At the moment I have two books in writing. One is an epic fantasy, but without wizards, orcs, or elves, and the other is a whodunit mystery. Both have disabled people in them. I think my books are always going to feature disabled characters. It is not always a conscious effort on my part as the writer, they seem to enter my stories quite naturally. I suspect that if I was not disabled myself then this probably would not be the case, but I am and I do.