My bookshelves were bursting with myths and legends, tales of epic journeys and magical enchantments and warriors and warlocks and princesses; talking animals and terrifying villains. I read many of them over and over and would always think, when I closed the covers, how wonderful the author must have felt to have created such a thing.
I started writing my own stories, on sheets of rough paper, taped or stapled together. I would write the title first, then the author – me – beneath, then carefully index the chapters, number the pages and sometimes, if feeling really enthusiastic about the content, provide rave reviews for the back. I showed my parents, my friends, my teachers. People nodded and smiled.
I grew up, and kept writing. I studied English and French literature, and kept writing. I studied journalism, and kept writing. I got a proper job, and kept writing. Then I had a daughter, and stopped for a while. When I came back to it, I wrote furiously for several months, then realised the embarrassingly semi-autobiographical nature of the novel I had crafted, and put it aside. I got married, and got divorced, and had another child, and got married again.
There wasn’t very much time for writing, let alone for cudgeling my exhausted brain into thinking of something interesting to say.
Then my elder daughter Grace was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. It had taken us years to find out what it was that was ‘off’ – what the teachers saw, and wondered about, and what her peers saw, and walked away from, and what I saw, and thought was just my eccentrically lovable child. Finding out that my daughter had autism was like discovering she had been living behind glass for 8 years and that I had been oblivious to the sound of her banging her fists on it.
We were sent off with a label, and little support. Grace started to be bullied at school as she grew older and her differences became more apparent and other children were drawn to her weirdness and capacity for combustion when they pressed her buttons. They found all her buttons.
Grace spent a lot of time crying. I spent a lot of time crying. We both felt very alone.
Then one day on the way to work, I pulled out my notebook and emptied the thoughts in my head onto the pale blue lines. I scribbled and scribbled, oblivious to the other commuters, thinking that if I wrote everything down then I might be able to make sense of it. I came home and said to Grace: “Shall we write about what’s happening to us?” And Grace said: “Yes. Please tell them what it’s like.”
So I wrote. I wrote a blog and called it Grace Under Pressure. I wrote about how it feels to be the parent of a child with autism. I wrote about the things I was learning and about how much I realised I still had to learn. I wrote about Grace’s marathon attempts to fit in and understand her own limitations and learn to cope with the limitations of classmates who had no sympathy or understanding. I wrote about running a marathon myself in order to raise awareness among those who had no sympathy or understanding of autism.
People started reading the blog. Then more people read it, and more. Eventually, someone said: “You know, you should really think about making this into a book.” A publisher called Little, Brown agreed.
My book is not the book I ever thought I would write. But it is the kind of book that I used to read. It is the tale of an epic journey, and a magical enchantment, and a courageous princess. I am very proud of the princess, and I am grateful to her every day for letting me tell her story and for taking me with her on the adventure that changed our lives.
Grace Under Pressure: A Girl with Asperger’s and her Marathon Mom, by Sophie Walker, is published in the United States by New World Library, and in the UK by Little, Brown (Piatkus).
**Enter to win a free copy of Grace Under Pressure! Comment on this post for a chance to win — we will be choosing a winner on Friday, December 13th! **
This is an original post by our writer in the UK, Sophie Walker.
The image in this post is credited to the author.