Posted on 06/04/2018 at 08:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
British author and journalist Laura James had always felt different, from her earliest memories through adolescence and beyond.
And at age forty-five, she found out why that was.
She had visited a hospital to be treated for a physical ailment, and as she told People magazine, a nurse there made a comment that prompted James to visit a psychiatrist as well.
That psychiatrist would go on to make a life-changing diagnosis: James has autism.
Unsurprisingly, the news brought an onslaught of emotions, as James described it in an essay for The Guardian, but ultimately it was a vindication — this explained her lifetime of feeling apart, of not quite fitting in, of acting in a way that often confused others.
And it also brought inspiration. Shortly after her diagnosis, James wrote a memoir, Odd Girl Out, that combines her personal experiences with a broader focus on autism in women, as a whole.
James took time away from a decidedly more busy life to share a few insights on her book and emotional journey.
SADYE: You experience emotion in particularly vivid ways. Was it difficult, then, to write a memoir about a lifetime of intense and misunderstood emotion?
LAURA: I think I feel emotion differently to other people. Whereas many can identify each emotion they may feel, I struggle.
I have the good feelings and the bad feelings, but that’s about as far as I go in being able to differentiate them. I also hate feeling anything too intensely, whether good or bad.
I didn’t find writing about it hard, though, as I’m able to step away from the feelings and observe them with almost journalistic detachment.
SADYE: What led you to realize you ought to write a memoir, in order to raise awareness of autism among women?
LAURA: When I was newly diagnosed, I wanted to read a book about someone like me and couldn’t find one, so that was really what led me to write it.
I had a piece in one of the UK’s national newspapers quite soon after diagnosis, and the response was huge. Many people asked if I would write more and a book seemed like a good idea.
Odd Girl Out became the first memoir by an autistic woman to be published by a mainstream UK publisher and I hope it will pave the way for more as I think we need to hear from a raft of women on the spectrum so we can get a real sense of just how different each autistic person is.
SADYE: Have you received any particularly poignant feedback from readers?
LAURA: I get many messages, and it was into the thousands in the month around the publication of the hardback here in the UK. Lots are from young girls trying to navigate their teens with autism, and they are always delightful to talk to.
I talk a lot about having Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (a connective tissue disorder). Since that was diagnosed in early 2015, I noticed that, although it’s relatively rare, it’s over-represented in the autistic community.
I have had many letters from autistic women saying that reading my book has led them to get an EDS diagnosis. I find this really heartening as it’s a horrible condition and being undiagnosed can lead to someone doing a lot of damage to their joints.
Mainly, however, I get letters from women saying it’s the first time they’ve ever read anything that describes them and their experiences. I find that powerful and humbling.
SADYE: What overall effect do you think autism has had on your writing career?
LAURA: I think my autism has a huge effect on everything I do – from the way I parented my children to the way I write copy.
It has, I think, been very helpful for my writing career as it allows me to hyperfocus, get to grips with complex information quickly and see a subject from all sides without being overly emotional about it.
SADYE: What’s up next for you?
LAURA: Everything has been a bit on hold for the past couple of months as I moved house, which was an epic task and one I found quite destabilizing.
I have two ideas for new books, which I’m currently working on, so hopefully they’ll move on quickly now I’m feeling more settled.
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Categories: Author Interview