This is me. A few years ago admittedly! I’m an agent for kids’ books – I edit & sell my authors’ stories, & had no plans to write one myself. But I’m also disabled & keenly aware of how few good books there are about disabled children. So eventually, I bit the bullet & wrote my own story.
(📚 You can pre-order it here)
This is my story in both senses – I was a disabled child just like Joe on the cover here. And writing Joe’s/my story has confirmed for me the value of Own Voices. ♿ It’s not just the direct experience of being disabled that I can draw on, it’s that I aim to centre both disabled characters & disabled readers in my writing.
For instance, when I started to think about having been a disabled child, my first instinct was to reach for the feelgood, show-offy stuff: all the praise I got for climbing trees or kicking footballs. That would have been a story to show that, look, disabled kids are cool too. Stories like that already exist, almost always written by non-disabled authors, for non-disabled children. And to be honest, they don’t say much.
Then I realised what I really wanted to write was a story for my younger self – for a disabled child – that would speak to what’s often hardest in many disabled people’s lives: being treated differently by other people, & specifically, being asked The Question⁉️ For disabled adults, being asked ‘what happened to you?’ by strangers at the bus stop or in the post office queue, can be a daily annoyance. For a disabled child in the playground, it can be relentless.
And yet we’re conditioned to feel like NOT delving into the most personal, private, often traumatic parts of our history and identity, to satisfy a stranger’s passing curiosity, would somehow be rude. I was in my 20s before I figured out what utter rubbish this was. So this story is for me aged 5, to let me know I was well within my rights to say SHARK 🦈 or CROC 🐊 & have done with it!
And of course, by writing from a disabled perspective, for a disabled reader, I’ve realised that I actually have something meaningful to say to non-disabled readers – & their parents – too.
— James Catchpole
What Happened To You♿ is out April 2021
[Image description: a jpg image of the illustrated cover of What Happened to You? It shows a boy of 5 or so, he’s standing on a swing, half-smiling and winking. He’s clearly got just one, left, leg – his shorts are tailored neatly around where his residual limb would be. He is white with blondish hair. It’s a children’s picture book, and the names James Catchpole and Karen George are at the top.]