Today is a special day on the blog for me because, as part of Diverse Books Month, I’m welcoming my very dear friend David Spooner to the blog to answer a few questions and speak about how writing has affected his life. David is part of my writing group, which formed during NaNoWriMo in 2014, and we are still a close-knit bunch that like to hang out when we can.
David is working on his first novel, but when he’s not writing he’s a gifted photographer (he did the amazing photoshoot with me for my first professional photo!) and he also tinkers with phones and computers, as well as some wood and leather work. He is considered to be a specialist in Old English and a piece he wrote for Da Engliscan Gesidas (The English Companions) is being produced as a pamphlet for King Harold Day and the Battle of Hastings Re-enactment.
1. What does the term “Diverse Books” mean to you?
I interpret the phrase in two ways: Firstly, as a way to describe books that encompass subjects, emotional situations or characters that are outside the publishing-industry’s norm. Secondly, as a way to describe books that fall within traditional genres but tackle them in different ways to normal. For instance, not every book has to be science fiction but if you do decide to write science fiction it doesn’t always have to include clichéd themes!
2. Writing is an empowering process for you. What encouragement would you give to other authors in a similar position?
A lot of folk feel empowered by activities such as playing an engrossing computer game; feeling as though the character they make their own becomes an exaggerated representation of their own ability. I can understand that feeling of empowerment to a degree but by the very nature of playing a game you are limited by the creative process of other people.
Writing gives you the power to forge characters and narratives free of restriction, limited only by the breadth of your own imagination. It’s natural to find intrigue and inspiration in the myriad of media we are exposed to but for me the empowerment I get from writing is a result of being able to create a whole world and make it my own. Quite simply: I would suggest to someone who’s interested in writing that if you see or watch a story that really excites you don’t just think “What a great story!” think “I could develop that idea I’ve always had and make my own great story!”
3. Is writing your only outlet or are you creative in other ways?
I would like to think that I am generally a creative person. Although I love writing I also very much enjoy drawing, along with more practical creative pursuits such as DIY. I’m rarely happier than when I’ve just managed to solve a problem around the house with a simple bit of cunning!
4. Would you like to see more differently abled people in fiction?
Absolutely, but in a natural way. As someone with health problems that has to use a wheelchair frequently I would have to consider myself as ‘differently abled’ and I have tried to keep that in mind as I slowly work on what will be my first novel. With history being one of my main interests, my story takes place in an alternative vision of England in the mid-to-late first millennium. What would people like me have done at a time like that?
With that sort of question in mind I have tried to find plausible answers to how folk with different abilities might have survived and functioned in society so long ago. Whether disabled at birth or by illness, impaired by injury after a battle or blinded by old age, a denizen of the world is still fundamentally a person and that should not be forgotten.
I don’t think that disabled people should be included in fiction arbitrarily or merely as token characters but by the same logic I think that disabled characters should be written and represented naturally. If I was included in a story I’d be an intellectually-capable chap that just doesn’t work properly physically. I’d be able to help the story by offering understanding and analysis etc but I would not be doing any heavy lifting or long walks! I wouldn’t want my problems to be the focal point of the story but would not want them to be skirted around artificially.
At the end of the day I would just like to see disabled people represented in books as ordinary people; with neither an emphasis nor lack of emphasis placed upon their physical or mental condition.
5. Please share with us some of your favourite diverse authors and/or books.
This is a difficult question for me to answer as the vast majority of my book collection is actually non-fiction! Instead of trying to blag my way through a paragraph, vainly trying to name-drop authors, I will explain why my favourite non-fiction author occupies that position for me.
Stephen Pollington is an author of historical reference works, primarily covering the Anglo Saxon period of English history. To cover a single subject almost exclusively does not sound very diverse at all but Pollington’s works actually touch on almost every single part of life during that era. From pre-Christian cultural artifacts dating from the Migration Era and Old English translations of originally-Roman medical texts to examinations of building techniques and literary methods; Stephen Pollington has it all covered in fully-referenced and greatly-detailed books.
That level of diversity within a single over-arching subject demonstrates an incredible understanding of the period and that is something I find quite inspiring in its own way.
David has written a piece for us which I hope you find as moving and uplifting as I did.
- The Power of Words: Creative Writing. Creative Therapy.
As we learn our first words we do so without really understanding the meaning or potential
behind them. They are simply a means to an end; a way to tell our parents we are hungry or that we
need the bathroom. It’s only as the years go by that we begin to understand that our words are more
than just a way to express basic needs but are infact an incredibly powerful tool with which we can
enunciate our deepest thoughts and feelings.
Sadly, as the knowledge of our language begins to expand our imaginations seem to have a
tendency to contract and all too easily the power of our words is lost in a sea of normality, of runof-the-mill
goings-on. But what of the folk for whom imagination becomes a key part of life?
In the year 2000 I was a bright fifteen year-old studying hard and planning my future (in that
overly-confident way we tend to at that age). I’d always been somewhat susceptible to illness so
when I began to feel rather unwell one afternoon it was no great surprise; nor was it a surprise to
still feel ill the following morning. I could not have predicted what was to come.
Within a handful of weeks I was literally unable to read; nor indeed write. I couldn’t even get
to the bathroom (a mere 15ft from my bed) without stopping repeatedly. I did not know or
understand what was going on but eventually it was suggested by my doctor that I had most likely
developed ME. A number of years before this point a friend of mine had developed the same illness
and had been laid up for a good six months but I reasoned that as long as I could get by that long
everything would be okay.
Fifteen years have passed since that most awkward of autumns and though the symptoms
and severity of the illness have waxed and waned repeatedly I still have ME. I was devastated when
it became apparent that I was not going to be better in six months and even more devastated when it
began to dawn on me that my education and future was being forever shaken-up by the developing
circumstances. To put it mildly: It was not a nice time.
I began to use my imagination as a way to experience things that my physical body would
not let me do. I’d read about places and imagine being there; I lived vicariously through my friends
as their lives evolved and began to leave me behind. In time, I began to learn things as a way to
stimulate my mind and develop myself as a person. How to build computers was first, then learning
how photography works.
Eventually I would return to a pair of subjects that were always dear to me: Words and
I woke up one morning from an unusually vivid dream and in my morning’s thoughts were
two ideas for stories; completely unrelated to each other. One seemed intriguing yet simple, the
other was a complicated mess that was positively Gordian in nature. I set about writing the simpler
of the ideas with gusto but soon realised that its simplicity was actually a bad thing; the outline of
the story was too barebones and too difficult to work with without ruining the plot. I struggled,
struggled some more and then gave up.
Some months later I was lucky enought to have a eureka moment. Like Alexander, I was
unable to disentangle the problem carefully but instead simply sliced through the Gordian-like
second idea in such a way as to make some sense of it. With renewed aplomb, I began writing.
This spate of writing happened to coincide with a burgeoning love of Old English, of AngloSaxon
history and literature. Suddenly the words I was using had new meaning; their origins of
having been wrought by our ancestors becoming clearer.
Depression has always been an issue for me, as it is for many people with long-term or lifechanging
illnesses, but the combination of learning about the roots of both the English language and
people fuelled my enthusiasm for my story and began to quash some of the negative thoughts that
so easily take hold.
Writing with ME is a difficult process. My memory is appalling, my ability to concentrate
abysmal and my energy-levels laughable. As much as I might like to; I cannot spend hours writing
coherent contributions to my story and I quickly realised that to do so would be impossible.
Working within my means, I began to build up large volumes of notes that helped me to untangle
my Knot and with every step I felt myself buoyed – even though progress on the story itself was
I cannot lie and pretend that the last several years have all been rosey but one constant
positive has been my story; tentatively referred to as Tales from Tursel. It’s development has gone
hand-in-hand with my historical studies and given me a genuine reason to feel confident in my
ability. Though my body may be lacking and my brain may like to work against me I’m doing
something special, something that not everyone can do.
The confidence that writing (and indeed learning) has instilled upon me has brought with it
tangible benefits. In 2013 I met the woman that would become my wife and just last year writing
for National Novel Writing Month saw me meet three people with whom I have become good
friends; friends that I hope I will be able to treasure for many years to come.
It is no great exaggeration to say that writing has changed my life. It has given me a strength
to express myself, to create worlds and characters free from physical boundaries and to feel pride in
my abilities as a person. Not only that; it has helped me find love and friendship.
The power of words, indeed.