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Bits and Pieces – April 2023

Ithaca by Claire North

It’s been a long few weeks, and here are some random bits and pieces of an update!

  1.  Upcoming Events!

There’s a few in the calendar that I can’t announce quite yet, including some lovely podcast chats and hopeful adventures, but the two that are out and official are:

May 11th, Norwich Waterstones

Join me and Jennifer Saint to chat all things Ancient Greece.  I’ve only done one event with Jennifer and she was thoughtful, witty and a real pleasure to talk to, so I’m looking forward to nattering again.  Added to that, the team at Norwich Waterstones are an absolute joy so if you’re in the area, please do drop by!

June 2-4th, Cymera, Edinburgh

I’m probably only there for the 3rd, but everything about this festival is great.  Lovely atmosphere, lovely people, lovely venue, lovely events, and a whole bunch of fabulous scribblers and nerds in attendance.  There’s also a digital tranche if you can’t make it up to Scotland, so again, if you’ve got the opportunity, come say hi!

  • Edits finished!

I’m gonna level with you: I finished writing the Penelope trilogy fairly early last year, and have just finished edits on Penelope 3, which doesn’t publish until late 2024.  Given that I am a woman who famously once got 8/10 on a quiz on one of her own novels, please bear with me if in future conversations about the content of this trilogy I take a moment to remember exactly who said what to whom and where….

  • A couple of random nice things.

Firstly, as a climate nerd, it’s always lovely to see more and more professions getting behind the urgency of action.  In an age where the government are enforcing ever more draconian laws and demolishing UK human rights, it’s nice that lawyers are starting to join in at time when fossil fuel companies still have huge influence in our politics – and by extension, our laws.

On a far more parochial theme, my local council ran a one-off Repair Cafe as a free service for local residents to drop by and try to get items repaired. As a nerd who loves tinkering with things, this seemed like an excellent idea and so along I went with a broken CD player.  The CD player itself was, alas, also a bit more broken than could be easily repaired by the engineer at the event – but while waiting in the queue I got chatting with a lady who had a busted angle-poise, and since there was nothing else to do and lights are my literal thing, I fixed it while waiting.  Though I would have loved to also get my CD player repaired, there is a genuine buzz of satisfaction in using what skills I have to help others, which combined with giving a loved, broken object a new lease of life, was a real Saturday morning treat.

Though run by my local council, the repair cafe itself was organised by the Restart Project, which I highly recommend you check out to see if they have any events in your local area.

  •  Less Lovely Things

As a few people have cunningly picked up on, I am waiting for an autism assessment.  I was referred in August 2020, and when my GP last checked in they found that I may be assessed if I’m lucky in September 2023, after a three year wait.  With this in mind, reading an article about NHS autism assessments being reduced in south-west England, really hit me in the feels.  There has been a surge in cases being referred for autism assessments – including, I suspect, plenty of people like me who grew up being told that “girls aren’t autistic” which, to be clear, is top-notch BS.  To reduce the number of assessments, what is happening in this particular NHS trust is that the goalposts are being moved, to eliminate a whole bunch of children from even being considered for assessment.  If we accept the premise that there is no other way, then this makes sense – the most urgent cases, people with the highest needs – are being assessed first.  But of course, moving the goalposts is not in fact the answer: the answer is to hire more damn doctors and pay them properly.  We are as a society more than capable of doing this.  Tax the goddamn rich.  Fund the goddamn NHS.  Level the inequality in this country.

I cannot fully express how frustrating and upsetting it is, spending years in limbo, not quite sure if you’re one thing or another.  This potentially life-changing thing is denied to you, and instead you have to wait in this uncertain void, not quite knowing how to engage with society or indeed your own internal identity in a way that is meaningful, constructive or well-defined.  I don’t really have words to express my horror at the base-line assumption behind the decision to cut back autism assessments for kids, because it is this: that if you can “mask” well enough (i.e. pass vaguely in society as seeming to be less/not autistic), you are not going to be assessed.

Let me be clear: people mask in order to survive in a society that is not built for them.  And masking is exhausting.  It is a minute-by-minute slog.  Taking away support for people who have capacity to mask, risks condemning those same people to a life of grinding exhaustion and uncertainty. 

Passing for “normal” does not mean you don’t have needs.  It does not mean you don’t need support, or just need to be seen and humanised and acknowledged by society for who you are.  All this decision does is condemn potentially thousands of children to invisibility in the eyes of the system that should see and support them – it doesn’t make their lived experience any less real.