Imagine (a post for #worldautismawarenessday)

Imagine if you were five years old at a birthday party where the noise and the colours and the feelings were all kaleidoscoping into a swirl that made you feel sick and you couldn’t understand why everyone kept looming their huge faces right into yours and saying “Isn’t this fun? Aren’t you having fun?”.

Imagine if your happy time was hours alone quietly playing with your toy horses, drawing pictures of them, reading books about them, soaking up information quite happily until you were an encyclopaedia of knowledge.

Imagine if you met a schoolfriend in the park when you were with your mum, but you couldn’t say hello because you felt physically sick at the idea of getting the words out, even though they walked past you and you could see them catch your eye and frown slightly, as if they couldn’t quite work out why you wouldn’t speak.

Imagine if you learned to read so early and so quickly that teachers wouldn’t believe you so you learned to fake-stumble over words in school reading sessions while devouring adult books at home.

Imagine if you were sitting in the classroom, and the teacher told you she didn’t want to hear a single word from anyone for half an hour, so you sat there, watching the clock, legs crossed, knowing that you mustn’t interrupt her – until it was too late and the classroom was full of horrified amusement because you were sitting there with a puddle under your chair.

Imagine if you were trying and trying to concentrate at school, but the sound of the clock ticking was as loud to you as the teacher’s voice and the scratching of the pens and the breathing of the person next to you, so you had to work so hard to focus that it made you feel dizzy and every day you went home with a migraine.

Imagine if standing in line for school lunches every day, and the jostling and the noise made you want to cry because it was just too much, and then you went inside and the food all tasted of hot metal and washing up liquid and it made you want to throw up.

Imagine if you didn’t know where to eat at university because you couldn’t work out how the cafeteria operated so you bought expensive sandwiches from the shop every day, running down your meagre student budget which you couldn’t manage anyway because paperwork and bills didn’t make sense.

Imagine if you could hardly ever organise yourself to get to lectures, and when you did get there, you found it almost impossible to concentrate on what the lecturer was saying so you shut down, exhausted, and fell asleep.

Imagine if you spun your way through twentysomething, blocking out the world with whatever you could because when you did the noise and chaos stopped for a while.

Imagine second guessing every social interaction, watching it through a lens, checking your behaviour is okay and your conversation makes sense and your body language is matching your words. And imagine never quite knowing if someone is joking or not so you have to ask, even though you know asking means you’re not playing the game properly.

Imagine walking out of job after job – even though you were promoted, even though they thought you were talented and had potential – because pretending to cope was so hard that you’d have nothing left and you’d lie on the bed crying all night at the prospect of having to go to work.

Imagine having your first child and realising oh, this is it. You can do this. And imagine reading everything you can on parenting and being so terrified that you’ll break a rule and somehow break your child that fifteen months later, broken yourself, you walk into the doctors’ surgery and say you can’t do it any more.

Imagine the love for this solemn, owl-eyed child, who doesn’t like to be held when she’s crying and hasn’t read the same parenting rulebook. Imagine watching her at music class, refusing to join in, realising she is hating every second, crying at the noise and the lights and the chaos. Imagine wishing desperately that she wasn’t like you – that she was child in the middle of the room, dancing happily, instead of sitting in the corner, sullenly clacking on the same blue castanet every Wednesday.

Imagine discovering that there’s a thing out there that describes your child’s behaviour perfectly, and imagine the nursery school notice her behaviour and say look, we think there’s a thing here. And imagine realising when you start reading (and when you start reading, just like always, you read everything) that this thing describes you, too. But then the health visitor shakes her head and says no, look, she doesn’t line up her toys and anyway, it affects boys, not girls.

Imagine years of teaching your child everything you’ve learned about how to be a person. About what’s expected, how to behave. Imagine dealing with the exhausted after-school meltdowns, and going in and fighting your corner and saying look, this child isn’t ever going to tick the people pleasing boxes, because she’s just like me.

Imagine, years later, a teacher finally listens. And you’re told that yes, your child has a thing, and then someone mentions gently – you do realise that you tick all the boxes for that thing, too?

Imagine having a job where you spend all day inside someone else’s head, using your powers of observation and your empathy – yes, empathy, the thing that you’re told you can’t have – to create stories which make people laugh and cry. Imagine being able to stand in front of huge groups of people at conferences and talk, and have people come up afterwards and say “thank you for making me feel like I could do it, too”.

Imagine if the payoff for doing those talks was reaching the end of the day so tired that the noises and the people and the chatter all blurred into one until you felt like you were inside a bell jar, mouthing hopelessly.

Imagine if, despite telling your daughter that she should be proud – fiercely proud – of who she is, of her sense of humour and her kindness and her passion and her loyalty and all the things that make her amazing, you were nervous of saying it out loud for yourself.

Imagine that.

I am a mother, I am a writer, I am a friend. I make people laugh. I am kind. I am compassionate. I am bright. I am creative. I am a lot of things.

I am autistic.

 

the state of grace - rachael lucas

I wrote the above when I first received my diagnosis of autism. Three years on, I’ve written the book I wished I’d had as a teenager – one where I might recognise myself. I wrote it for anyone who ever felt like the world didn’t quite make sense.

The State of Grace is published by Macmillan Children’s Books on the 6th of April.

Whip-smart, hilarious and unapologetically honest, The State of Grace is a heart-warming story of one girl trying to work out where she fits in, and whether she even wants to.

A sweetly funny look at first love, family and faking it told from the perspective of a heroine with Asperger’s and her own particular way of looking at the world. (Red Magazine Online)

This brilliant coming of age novel for young adults is set to become a classic. (AGA Magazine)

Buy here:

Waterstones

Amazon UK

Hive

Book Depository (with free world wide delivery)

 

a walk by the sea

I used to blog about walks and stuff and then I stopped, because I got so caught up in writing and work and things.
But I’ve decided 2016 is the year of gentle pottering and peace, of exploring where we live and baking bread and sorting out the garden (oh the poor, neglected garden) and of finding a bit of balance. 

(And writing – but this year it’ll be a more relaxed sort of writing, because I’m saying it here and making it so. No more hurtling up to deadlines in a panic… I’m going to try and be a bit more mindful in my writing as well as my everyday life.)

Armed with my new iPhone 6, which is having to take the place of my much-lamented dead digital camera – I’m going to start blogging here a bit more, as I’ve been promising for ages. 

So hello. Happy new year. Here are some photos of our adventures by the sea with Mabel.

   
    
    
   

we’re on a break

Dear The Internet,

This can’t go on. It’s not you, it’s me. If you weren’t so beguiling, so 24-hours-a-day entertaining. I know, you don’t mean to be, but it’s just the way your pixels are arranged.

But the thing is, I’ve got books to write. Two of them. And every time I remove myself from one of your social media sites, I find myself becoming increasingly fond of another one. So no more Twitter means oh hello there, Facebook.

So I’m calling it quits for the next few weeks. I’ll be around on Instagram in a few weeks time because I’m on an exciting mission for a week (more about that later) but other than that I think we need some time apart. We’ve been together almost twenty years. You can see other people if you like. I certainly hope to. And I’m going to swim and run and think and read and hopefully write quite a lot.

I’ll see you soon.

mark warner levante resort – review

I’ve been on a couple of Mark Warner holidays before so it was a real treat to head back to Rhodes this September but this time with my reviewing hat on, and not a child in sight. If you’re looking for the technical details, the first place to go is the Mark Warner website

Below you can also check out the reviews from my fellow blogging girls who shared a gorgeous few days away – between us, you can get a pretty good picture of Mark Warner Levante and what you can expect from a Mark Warner holiday.

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As mum/stepmum to six children from 8-14, I’ve gathered a pretty good idea of what parents are looking for on a holiday, and there’s no getting away from the fact that Mark Warner have the family holiday experience covered.
You can fly from Manchester (with Jet2) or from Heathrow (with BA) and the flights are chartered, so from the start you’re straight into MW Mode which really does help, because when you’re juggling small, cross children after a flight it’s lovely to arrive and be swept by a cheery face onto the right coach (complete with seatbelts – that’s one of the things I look for) and driven to the resort.

Levante isn’t far from the airport and before you know it you’ve arrived at the hotel where you don’t even need to worry about your bags – you just hop off the bus, grab a drink (they’re waiting for you, which is always a plus) and they’re whisked off to your room. Sue, the resort manager, and her staff are there to welcome you and they will do ANYTHING they can to make sure you have a good time. If you’ve forgotten insect repellent, or you need a particular food or drink – she’ll get it for you. My previous two experiences on Mark Warner holidays were exactly the same – their ethos is based on making sure you have the best holiday you can and they really do everything to make it happen.

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We woke to the most beautiful sunrise over one of the five pools. I’d decided this trip was going to be as much about taking time to embrace the gorgeous atmosphere and scenery of Rhodes as it was about taking part in the activities – and there are loads of them – in Levante. I got up every morning at dawn and sat on the beach watching the sun rise before meeting the others for breakfast.

Breakfast was a huge buffet which catered for everyone – from a full English, to made-to-order waffles and pancakes (gluten free available, too) and a wide range of fresh fruit, pastries and continental breakfast. Coffee or tea and freshly squeezed orange juice are brought to your table, and there are high-chairs galore so no worrying about there not being enough to go round.

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The first morning I decided to give windsurfing a whirl.

You can kayak, paddle-board, windsurf and sail – all for free, with experienced staff happy to teach you how to handle your chosen vessel… well, theoretically. I was the worst windsurfer in the history of the world – after what felt like forever (with Lisa almost weeping with laughter) I almost managed to get my sail upright for a second before falling in for the 89th time.

In the end I lay on the board and had a lovely relaxing float – but I gave myself serious brownie points for trying. It also meant I felt completely justified in eating vast amounts at lunchtime. (My reputation as World Champion Feta Cheese Eater is now cemented.)

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You can also head off to sea for a turn on the inflatable sofa thingy (I’m sure it has a proper name) but I decided against that because I like my lunch to stay inside me once I’ve eaten it. Plus now I’m in my forties I’m allowed to send the young things off to have fun (whilst I read my book under a sun umbrella). Needless to say, this was the before photo. The after one was a bit more bedraggled…

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I stayed in a deluxe family suite which had a huge bathroom with a bath and separate shower (the rooms and bathrooms are very much five star standard and gorgeous). There was a separate sitting room with two sofas which could be turned into beds, complete with a television, perfect if you had children who wanted to get up at ridiculous o’clock and watch cartoons.
The bed was super king size, incredibly comfortable, and there were dressing gowns, slippers, all toiletries, and a little fridge. There’s also a safe, loads of storage space, another television, and the huge balcony you can see below – complete with a high, safe barrier (another thing on my holiday-with-children checklist).

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What you really notice at Levante is the space – the rooms are huge. The balconies are huge. There’s loads of paths all around the resort so you can wear out your toddlers before bedtime (assuming you’re not taking advantage of the famous Mark Warner evening childcare) and in the mornings I quite often met families pottering down to the beach with early-rising little ones before they headed up to breakfast.

If you need toys, flotation devices, baby equipment – the childcare staff are happy to lend you anything you need. You can read all about the childcare details here – but what I’ll say here is this: when I first went on a Mark Warner holiday it was as a very cautious young mother to a nearly-four year old and a toddler, and I’d never left them at all, but they had an amazing time, and when I got home I had friends stopping to tell me that I looked more rested than they’d seen me look in years. It’s bliss.

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You can borrow a mountain bike (free!) and take a trip round the island – on or off road. Or if you’re a tennis fan, there’s a purpose-built tennis centre boasting six Astroturf courts and you can either sign up for lessons with qualified coaches, or have a quick knockabout and then get down to the more serious business of… Pimm’s.

 

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There’s some beautiful countryside surrounding the resort and the grounds have both the ruins from a house from the Hellenic period and a Roman kiln which are mesmerising. I kept stopping to stand beside them and daydream about the people who’d lived there so long ago – one of the magical things about visiting Rhodes is the history which surrounds you.

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I had an amazing time – a perfect mix of relaxation (and making pebble cairns, which was a lovely way to spend time on the beach, in between mojitos, delicious meals, and trips to the spa) and activity, which is a pretty good advert for a holiday.
It’s a testament to how seriously Mark Warner take holidays that I managed to feel completely rested after our five day break.

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For more reviews and some other perspectives on our blogger trip to Mark Warner Levante resort in Rhodes, pop over to have a look at my fellow bloggers:

Kate
Rebecca
Emily
Victoria
Lisa
Alison
Carissa
Monika
Kara
Julie

Huge thanks to Emilia, Polly and Tim from Mark Warner, who made our trip a brilliant experience. Can’t wait to return to Levante…soon!

Don’t forget you can buy my first novel, Sealed with a Kiss onAmazon and you can order the sequel, full of Christmassy sparkle, Highland ponies, an out of control PR, and a wedding disaster in the making here: Sealed with a Christmas Kiss – only 59p for Kindle this week!.

Are you coming to Blogfest?
I’ll be there, talking on a round table about Blogging and Self-Esteem.
I’ll also be on a panel at St Albans Literary Festival on November 7th with Rowan Coleman, Liz Fraser, and Angela Clarke – which comes with champagne and cake which is always a plus in my book.

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Book Camp (like boot camp but with more food)

I’m in Somerset on a writing retreat with very wonky wifi. I’m working on the next book (yes, I only finished the novella sequel last week and no, I don’t know who I am or what day it is).

Outside my cell window bedroom it looks like this.

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It’s all lambs and daffodils and chirpy birds. But instead of that I’m surrounded by this:

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And I’ve turned that into a big heap of plans and beaten the synopsis into some kind of order and now I’m making all these post it notes into a book. See you in a few days (and a lot of words).

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