Yesterday I went to Waterstones in Lowestoft to go check out How To Be Autistic on the shelves. It was, and I keep saying this, but it does continue to be so, so, such a surreal experience.
The fact it officially releases tomorrow is terrifying and brilliant and the story will no longer be my own but will belong to everyone who reads it. The narrative is out of my hands and in yours – I hope you will be kind with it.
I can’t believe that as of tomorrow I’ll officially be a published author, a dream since I first started reading books. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. It’s just too incredible to be true.
I really hope you enjoy the book. If you pick it up or if it arrives tomorrow, feel free to tag me in a picture on Instagram or Twitter – my username is smallreprieves on both. I’d love to see it.
Thank you for supporting me and for making this a reality.
“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.”
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.