Can you think of a famous disabled author? A novel that features a prominent disabled character? Chances are you might struggle, and if you can think of an example it’s probably a character that perpetuates damaging and outdated tropes, like in the novel Me Before You, where the disabled character decides he’s better off dead than disabled. When representation of disabled people is limited to these negative portrayals, something needs to change.

Chloe Timms. The Seawomen

Chloe Timms. The Seawomen

Fiction holds great power to change attitudes and expand our empathy and understanding of the world and the publishing industry has made welcome efforts to diversify the types of stories that hit the shelves. But when it comes to disabled representation, these voices are severely lacking from bookshelves. Over a fifth of the UK’s population are disabled and yet disabled characters and authors are still a rarity.

It seems that things are improving in children’s fiction, with own voices writers like Elle McNicoll and Lisette Auton writing well-rounded characters where disability isn’t used for pity or for a villainous trait. These books are a great way for young disabled people to see themselves in the books they’re reading, but progress is slower when it comes to fiction for adults. Only recently has Amazon agreed to introduce a ‘disability fiction for adults’ category, after much campaigning. But it’s a much-needed change that shows publishers there’s a desire to read books with disabled characters at the heart.

However, there’s still a danger that without the inclusion of disabled writers, the history of damaging and cliched stereotypes about disability will continue. The only way to improve that is by ensuring the publishing industry welcomes disabled talent from the top.

Like so many other authors, writing has been a love of mine ever since I was old enough to hold a pencil. As a young disabled girl, imagination was a great leveller. I couldn’t pirouette like the girls who went to ballet, but I could write about it. On the page there are no barriers. I would fold sheets of paper in half to create my own “books” and now, years later, my first novel, The Seawomen, is published on June 14th.

As a child, I never saw any characters like me represented in books, nor did I know of any disabled writers. That’s why it’s so important for me now as a disabled writer to be a visible part of the literary community, to talk about my successes as well as the barriers I’ve faced. I hope that one day, a young disabled person with dreams of being a writer will see my work and realise their ambitions are possible. In June I’ve been invited to speak at the Margate Bookie, the friendly book festival by the sea, to speak about my journey to publication. It’s organisations like theirs, giving opportunities to and supporting underrepresented writers that really make a difference.

Disabled people like me have a unique perspective on the world, after all we live in a society that is not designed for us – creativity is a necessity. Disabled people are ready to tell the stories, we just need opportunities to voice them. It’s time that we’re welcomed to write anything we want and have our stories sitting proudly on bookshelves for everyone to enjoy.

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