“Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve found that my relationship with How To Be Autistic has changed a lot throughout the process of writing, editing, promoting and publishing.
They say writing is a way for introverts to tell a story without looking anyone in the eye, and I think that’s very true. And yet, here I am, and here you are, and I’ve told my story, and made myself terrifyingly vulnerable. I’ve looked you in the eye, if not literally, then figuratively, and held that eye contact, unflinching, and I think that was the germ that allowed How To Be Autistic to spring into existence.
I made the video, and I didn’t think anything further would happen – I sent it off, poor sound editing and a one take visual, a small paragraph describing it that sounded witty in my head but probably wasn’t, and I thought, ‘well, that’s the end of that then’.
But it wasn’t. It was a beginning. Startling and bright and full of potential in a way my life had never been.
And so, riding the high of that, I sat down to write How To Be Autistic. I still have on my phone the first chapter outline I wrote out, at 2am in the morning, and honestly, it’s pretty accurate to the finished book. I knew what I wanted to write – I wanted to write an extension of the video, all the things I hadn’t had time to say, all the things that hurt too much to say out loud.
Writing allows a level of bravery that you don’t find in the spoken word. There’s a freedom to it. You don’t really believe anybody’s going to read it, do you?
So, my first experience of How To Be Autistic, was catharsis. My only reader was my mum, who read every chapter and told me it was good (which is kind of her job). I finished it, sent it off to Mary, and things… got a little out of hand. And here we are!
As things progressed, and as people read my words, the words I’d cried over and tried to avoid writing as panic shivered through me, they didn’t tell me it was bad. And, I’m pretty sure, publishers don’t deliberately invest in bad books. So, my second experience of How To Be Autistic was one of validation, of ‘hey, maybe this is something I can actually do’.
People started messaging me, and much as I hate social interaction in all its varied forms, their messages were sincere. A teacher in France was using my video to teach English to her students. A short film wanted my help – my help! – as a script consultant on what would become a truly beautiful piece. And then, later, I would find out that I’m responsible for at least one diagnosis, and that, god, that is so important to me. So, my third experience of How To Be Autistic was one I’d hoped for, but didn’t think would come true, to change things – to make sure that what happened to me didn’t happen to someone else. When I wrote the book, I thought, if I can change just one person’s life with this, it’ll be worth it. And yes, it’s been worth it.
My world, once a small room with a laptop and a bundle of jumbled up ideas in my head, has become infinitely bigger. So, my – not last, because I believe I will continue to evolve just as How To Be Autistic evolves, but at this point – my final experience of How To Be Autistic is of solidarity. Of the good and kind people who helped make it a reality. To everyone who has listened and everyone who has read and everyone who has asked me questions (even the really difficult ones!). My final experience is one of intense gratitude, and standing here tonight, I feel that like never before. I wanted to write a book, I’ve sent out manuscripts before (weirdly nobody wanted the one about time travelling vampires, I don’t understand!) and the rejections stung. They say you need to write and write and write, and it will happen. And it did. Through luck and circumstance and the hard work of so many people here tonight, How To Be Autistic is a tangible object, and a beautiful one at that, and I don’t think that’s really sunk in yet. I wonder if it ever will.
I am so intensely grateful to everyone who believed in me – my mum, who has always been my first reader; my family, who put up with so, so much; everyone at Spectrum and in particular Mary and Celia for putting up with anxious phonecalls and rambling emails. To everyone at Myriad, to Corinne, whose sleep schedule is as weird as mine, to Emma who has poked and prodded the right people so that they’ve paid attention. To everyone who helped make How To Be Autistic beautiful and legible and real.
You’ve made me real. I always felt I was walking in a dream, only half here. I thought I would leave this world early, and without making any impression at all. I was so scared of that. And maybe How To Be Autistic is just one small book, but for me, it feels like a beginning.
So I guess, can we do the thing where we raise our glasses? Because I’d like to say to beginnings, and to the people who help create them. Thank you for being here. Thank you. Cheers.”