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ASPartOfMe
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01 Jul 2021, 7:30 am

Waterstones prize winner Elle McNicoll: ‘I never saw autistic girls in books’

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When Scottish author Elle McNicoll was first trying to enter the publishing world, she was repeatedly told that people didn’t want to read about an autistic heroine. “In job interviews, I was saying that I wanted to see more books with disabled characters in them that were not traumatic, boring or educational, but fun and full of life. A lot of the reactions were, ‘Waterstones don’t like books like that’,” she says.

Now McNicoll’s debut novel A Kind of Spark has won the Waterstones children’s book prize. Published by tiny independent Knights Of, it follows Addie, an 11-year-old autistic girl, as she campaigns for a memorial to the witch trials that took place in her Scottish village. The novel has been praised by Waterstones’ booksellers as “eye opening, heart-wrenching, sad [and] inspiring”.

McNicoll, who is autistic herself, wasn’t looking for a book deal when she first met Knights Of; she was offering her services as a proofreader for books that involved disability. “The meeting started with me venting about job interviews that had been very soul destroying,” she says. “And they said, ‘We don’t have an autistic character, if you would like to write one’.”

By then, McNicoll had already written two thirds of A Kind of Spark, with Addie shaped by her frustrations with publishers. “I’d been working on a draft for a couple of years, but I was missing the main character. As I was going to these interviews and getting more and more disheartened, Addie started to form. She was definitely born out of a kind of defiance – the more that the industry pushed back, the stronger she got,” she say

Published last summer, A Kind of Spark has already won the Blue Peter prize for best story, and was named as Blackwell’s book of 2020. Now Waterstones booksellers have picked it as the overall winner of their £5,000 children’s books prize, with the chain’s children’s buyer, Florentyna Martin, calling McNicoll “undoubtedly an outstanding new talent in children’s books [who] will inspire readers young and old for generations to come”.

McNicoll called her win “completely staggering”. “I will never say ‘I can’t’ again,” she says.


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Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity.

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman


cyberdad
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06 Jul 2021, 10:52 pm

Published by tiny independent Knights Of, it follows Addie, an 11-year-old autistic girl, as she campaigns for a memorial to the witch trials that took place in her Scottish village. The novel has been praised by Waterstones’ booksellers as “eye opening, heart-wrenching, sad [and] inspiring”.

I know we should encourage and congratulate authors like Elle McNicoll, but I wonder how much of this is "adult" Elle projecting her own desire for a memorial onto a fictional 11yr old Aspie girl?

Perhaps I'd believe it if it was an 11yr old Greta Thunberg campaigning about climate change.



IsabellaLinton
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06 Jul 2021, 10:58 pm

I'd like to read that. Thanks APOM.

cyberdad I'm a bit confused. Why do you think the author shouldn't / can't project a bit of herself onto the character?

All authors draw from what they know, and what they care about.



cyberdad
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07 Jul 2021, 2:29 am

IsabellaLinton wrote:
I'd like to read that. Thanks APOM.

cyberdad I'm a bit confused. Why do you think the author shouldn't / can't project a bit of herself onto the character?

All authors draw from what they know, and what they care about.


Don't get me wrong, I like the storyline. But for this type of story I do prefer some authenticity, for example a real life person either biographical or autobiographical.



IsabellaLinton
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07 Jul 2021, 10:43 am

Elle McNicoll's second book is earning rave reviews as well.

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From Waterstones:

"Show Us Who You Are is a heart-wrenching novel full of friendship, grief, and bravery. The main character, Cora, is autistic and her best friend Adrien has ADHD."

“I’ve never felt for a book like this before... unflinching, unapologetic and ultimately human.”

“A love letter to neurodivergent people!”