Yesterday was one hell of a day! I was in London, staying at my uncle’s flat. I had a radio interview at 1.30pm, with Jo Good on BBC Radio London. I had been told I’d get four minutes, and I was still scared out of my mind. Live radio? There were so many potential trapdoors to fall down!
Luckily, Jo was lovely, properly lovely, and the interview went on for a full 12 minutes, and I don’t think I made too much of an idiot of myself.
If you’re in the UK, you can listen to it here (I’m right at the beginning) or on the BBC Sounds app (just search ‘Charlotte Amelia Poe’).
If you’re wondering what my shirt says, it’s the famous Joan of Arc mistranslation ‘I am not afraid, I was born for this.’ – I had my dad write it out, then scanned it in and got it printed. It seemed fitting.
After the radio interview, I went back to the flat and snuggled up in bed for a bit, before getting ready for the launch party. My mum, my brother and his girlfriend came down from Suffolk to be with me, so along with my dad and uncle, and my best friend who travelled down specially too (!!!) we were quite the little party.
Me and my dad and my friend arrived early, and I got to meet and re-meet (that’s not a word, is it?) all the people who have helped make How To Be Autistic possible. I quickly forgot everyone’s names (I’m quite face blind so social events are kinda tricky!) but I got the hang of it by the end of the night.
Some really lovely and amazing people turned up, including Meg Rosoff, who wrote the blurb for my book, and is also the author of ‘How I Live Now’, which, if you haven’t read it, first – why on earth not? and secondly, I love quite a lot, and she was so nice and I actually brought a copy for her to sign which she very kindly did. I have a bit of a thing for signed books, but this one was extra special.
Everyone was so nice about me and How To Be Autistic, and there were speeches (I even made one, which was possibly when my adrenaline peaked and I think I was just on a come down after that). I got flowers, which was so kind (I’ve never received flowers before, so it was so special).
It was just so nice to spend an evening with everyone who was supporting or actively working on the book, as well as my family and friends.
There was lots of good news, and it was just a really brilliant experience I hope I never forget.
There’s probably so much I’m forgetting, but it was such a whirlwind and I was pretty overwhelmed (in a good way!).
After we left, my dad drove me back home, and I don’t think I’ve been happier to see my own bed since I got back from America last year.
How To Be Autistic officially comes out in less than a week now (19th September) in the UK, and I believe the 29th in the US. I’m so excited and nervous and I just really hope you like it. I’m so proud of it.
The last few days have been a bit of a whirlwind, to say the least! I was lucky enough to be asked onto Look East to talk about How To Be Autistic, and it was a very surreal experience, I watch Look East every night and to meet people who you see that often on television, and then BE on television with them, is very strange indeed. They were absolutely lovely though, and I think the interview went really well.
Later that night, I got an Instagram DM from the BBC online team, asking if they could ask me a few questions for an article. Of course I said yes!
In the interests of full clarity, transparency and context, I have decided to include my full answers to the questions I was asked, as I believe nuance can be lost in editing, and I want to make it very clear that it is very important to me that I do not want to speak over anybody else, and that ym experiences are not universal.
With just over ten days until How To Be Autistic releases, I’m feeling Very Nervous Indeed. I head up to London on Tuesday, and my book launch party is on the Wednesday. There’s a bunch of stuff planned, so I imagine it will be a haze of anxiety and Diazepam, but if it means reaching people and helping them find themselves within the book, then it’s worth it.
I’m now counting down the days until my little book becomes a brilliant reality. I’m nervous and excited and a thousand other emotions all at once. My relationship with this book has changed so much between its original conception and now, and I imagine it will continue to do so. I am SO DAMN PROUD of this book, and despite the very real fear that I have made myself very vulnerable in writing it, I feel like sometimes you have to – art is all about telling people the very worst things, but somehow making them beautiful. My approach to art comes in two forms, two goals I hope to achieve: 1) create something beautiful and 2) leave the world in a better state than you found it. I really hope I’ve accomplished this with HTBA.
I’ve had some amazing messages from people, and some amazing feedback and early reviews. I know it won’t all be positive, but that’s okay. The initial goal was to change one person’s life, to make one person find a diagnosis or hope. I think that’s doable. If there is negativity, then, well, we’ll deal with that along the way too.
This time next week, I’ll be in London, which is terrifying in its own right – I don’t like being away from home – but the opportunities and experiences that promises are once in a lifetime, and so I will have to ride the waves of anxiety and make it to shore, because I want this book to matter, and I want to make everyone who has ever believed in me proud.
They say it takes a village, and it really has. There are so many people I need to thank for making HTBA a real, tangible thing.
I still keep expecting to wake up.
This was literally my dream as a child, to have my book in book stores (we didn’t have Amazon back then!) and to achieve that just blows my mind.
I’ll continue to keep you updated with how things are going, and will try to post whilst I’m in London.
The world, this life, is so full of twists and turns, you can’t predict any of it. I’ve been trying to get books published for years without success. And now, here I am.
What I want to say is this: there is hope. Your art is valuable and necessary. And it may take a while, but the right people will find it. And that will mean everything.
‘you bleed gold’ is now live on Youtube to celebrate being one month away from the release of How To Be Autistic!
“You’ve been quiet when you should have been loud. You’ve bent at the waist and held tight to your stomach when you should have stood tall. Looked away when you should have made eye contact. Stayed when you should have left.
You’ve been violent to yourself when you should have been tender. You’ve been tender to others when you should have been violent. A century of rage and you misdirect, misinterpret, aim and fire, self destruct.
You’ve been ugly when you should have been shining. You’ve – well, you’ve never quite figured out a way to be beautiful. You’ve traced the line of your nose and how it twists off to one side, and you’ve hated yourself.
You’ve been a thousand murmured rumours and none of them true. You’ve been a single truth untold. You’ve held your tongue and bitten your lips and the taste of blood is copper in your mouth.
You’ve been a forest fire when you should have been an ember. And, oh, for so long you were an ember when you should have been a forest fire. You could have burned so bright if you’d have only let yourself.
You’ve been blaming yourself for being small. You’ve become small because of how you blame yourself. You don’t think that possibly it’s not you, that it was never you, that people are cruel because cruelty is power, and people find power more appealing than kindness.
You’ve been wondering why you didn’t leave. Why you didn’t speak up. Why nobody told you that it was wrong, that you were being hurt. You’ve checked your wounds like a list of the dead and found yourself to be a graveyard.
You’ve been walking this world like a ghost. You’ve been barely there, seethrough, and wondered why nobody ever really saw you. You’ve risen from the grave and now you’re a revenant, you howl in the night and shake the beds of those who have wronged you.
You’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about what happened to you. You’ve been trying to remember how it felt to be that child, the one who stared out of windows and waited for a car, waited to be rescued. You feel the ache in the back of your throat, muscle memory, that awful certainty that nobody is ever going to make things okay. You shake with it and you dream about it and you wonder how far you’ll have to run before it can’t catch you anymore.
You’ve been through hell, and the ash is still smudged on your face. You have broken every bone and healed each one jagged and wrong. You are not the shape of the person you were before it happened, you are something new, forged from a war you didn’t sign up to fight, but that, somehow, you won.
And no, it doesn’t feel like a victory. That’s the secret of war. There are winners and losers, but ultimately, the cost outweighs the medals, the parades, the written history of battles and triumph.
You wonder, if perhaps, you didn’t survive, so much as live through it. Whether there’s a distinction there. People try to make this a martyrdom, and they try to make it sacred. People try to worship at the words you’ve spat, angry and afraid, and they try to make them beautiful. And you think – I am not special.
And that is the thought that scares you the most. Just because your voice is the loudest, you know (god you know), that doesn’t mean it’s unique. Whispers in the dark, a shared history, we have been there too, and it hurt us just as much, if not more, they say, they say, they say. Dream of silver days when nobody will find these words and find themselves within them.
I see you, you shout. I see you, and I know you, and we all bleed gold, glinting in the sun as it streams from us, more precious than blood, because blood is spilt without thought, whereas this – what has been done, what will be done again and again because goddammit, power and cruelty will always win over compassion, the gold we bleed paths the streets and makes them glisten and people tread over it and don’t seem to realise the cost of it.
You are held together with spit and glue, and you fight with fists and words. Tell you something though, I think maybe you’re stronger than you know. Because the world could have made you heartless, could have made you cold, could have made you just the same as those who hurt you. But you kept something, secret and small, safe and sound, yet big as a soul, big as big can be.
You kept yourself. You kept your kindness. You kept your empathy. And yes, you kept your spite, because sometimes you need that too. You live in spite of, and to spite, and you live quiet or loud, soft or violent, but dammit, you live wonderfully.
And if you think you don’t, if you think they really broke you, if you think, no, you left yourself behind somewhere along the way – I disagree.
You’re not who you were. And you’re allowed to mourn that loss. Because it is a loss. But also know that as long as you breathe, as long as you stay here, as long as you’re in this world, you’re living proof that no matter how bad it got (and I know it got bad, I know, I know) you stood back up. So you know the taste of blood in your mouth, you know the colour of bruises, you know the way words ring in your ears for days or weeks or months or years. Soldier, you fought your war, and you’ve come home, and sometimes that is everything.
They don’t hand out medals. There are no parades in the streets. They don’t mark the anniversary of the final battle. Maybe nobody even knows about it apart from you.
But sometimes, and you might not even realise, you’ll brush past someone in the street who has fought that war too. Who has the scars and the head full of nightmares just like you. You’ll pass them by, and they’ll pass you by, and you’ll both keep living, keep walking forward, ever forward, until you can barely remember what it sounded like when the bombs dropped.
Firstly, I’d like to apologise for not writing lately, I wish I had a better excuse than just being wildly distracted (and more than a little stressed and anxious!).
We’re just over a month from the release of How To Be Autistic, which is exciting and terrifying in equal measure. Things are starting to fall into place with regards to media and the like, I did my first interview the other day, I don’t think I’ve ever talked that much in my life before! I feel so incredibly unqualified to answer the questions I’m asked – and incredibly lucky that people actually want to hear what I have to say, it’s a very weird position to be in, and I hope to use it to benefit people as best I can. The whole point of HTBA, after all, is to not just raise awareness, but push towards real change and progress, as well as offering people who have for so long felt othered a home, somewhere to belong.
My anxiety is making this all very difficult for me, as are the stress migraines that are making the days very hard to get through, but we soldier on! This is a life-changing moment, and I want to make the most of it. I am aware of the privilege I have, and I don’t want to waste it.
The book launch party is on September 11th, and I look forward to seeing everyone who helped make the book possible. A book is not one person’s work, but the work of dozens of people, all of whom, I’ve found, are lovely and kind and generous.
I am working on a new spoken word piece, so far I’ve written the script and recorded the audio and just need a few supplies to film the visuals. I’m very proud of it so far, and hope you will like it too. When it’s done, I’ll be sure to post it here.
The future is unknowable, except that in just over a month, my life will change, and I will be a published author. Which is all I ever wanted to be. This isn’t the path I envisaged I’d take, back when I was seven years old, but I’m glad I’m here now, and I’m excited for whatever happens next.
You really can’t predict these things, nor can you predict the kindness of strangers and the weird twists of fate that put you in positions like this. All you can do, I suppose, is keep looking for the opportunities, entering the competitions even when you feel you don’t stand a chance, keep writing writing writing, and yeah, I guess sometimes you have to flay yourself open and write a book about what you find inside.
I’ll try to keep you updated as things get stranger still.
He had been guarding the object for a very long time. Long enough, and deep enough, down deep below the groaning, shifting plates of the earth, where the ground beneath his feet was warm to the touch, this hollowed out nest of ash and ancient whispers, he had stood, he had waited. His knuckles had grown large and nobbled, his knees creaked a little more and moved a little less easily. His beard, long since white and wiry, hung in intricate braids, braids knotted with the patience and shaking of arthritic hands, made beautiful by time and only time, this never ending amount of time, that kept him here, withered face flushed with the heat of it, the earth rumbling above and below him as though the angels and the demons were minutes away from all consuming war.
I am so absolutely delighted to tell you that the author copies for How To Be Autistic arrived today, and they are GORGEOUS. I always wanted HTBA to be a beautiful art object in its own right, and it is. I’m so, so proud of all the hard work everyone has put in to making it as amazing as it is.
I’m so excited that soon I’ll be able to share HTBA with you all, September 19th really isn’t that far away now! You can preorder it from pretty much anywhere that sells books, international and all. I’m so, so proud of this little book and really hope it can do a lot of good. Thank you for coming with me on this journey.
Poe’s voice is confident, moving and often funny, as she reveals to us a very personal account of autism, mental illness, gender and sexual identity.
As we follow Charlotte’s journey through school and college, we become as awestruck by her extraordinary passion for life as by the enormous privations that she must undergo to live it. From food and fandom, to body modification and comic conventions, Charlotte’s experiences through the torments of schooldays and young adulthood leave us with a riot of conflicting emotions: horror, empathy, despair, laugh-out-loud amusement and, most of all, respect. For Charlotte, autism is a fundamental aspect of her identity and art. She addresses her reader in a voice that is direct, sharply clever and ironic. She witnesses her own behaviour with a wry humour as she sympathises with those who care for her, yet all the while challenging the neurotypical narratives of autism as something to be ‘fixed’.
‘I wanted to show the side of autism that you don’t find in books and on Facebook. My story is about survival, fear and, finally, hope. There will be parts that make you want to cover your eyes, but I beg you to read on, because if I can change just one person’s perceptions, if I can help one person with autism feel like they’re less alone, then this will all be worth it.’
Punctuated by her poetry, this is an exuberant, inspiring, life-changing insight into autism from a viewpoint almost entirely missing from public discussion.