With an increasing number of children being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) every year, it is more important than ever to have these children and their families represented in mainstream media, including books. Portraying children like Oliver and Tilly not only provides kids in similar situations with literature they can relate to, but it also helps to foster tolerance and acceptance of difference and diversity in all readers.
1. Did you draw on personal experience when writing The Thing About Oliver?
I have the privilege of knowing several children on the autism spectrum and their families. There is a lot of support out there now for kids on the spectrum, which is fantastic. But often the siblings of these children are overlooked. They are sometimes called glass children, because it can feel as though their overstretched parents look right through them. They have to grow up quickly, are often expected to take on far more responsibility than other kids their age and can feel guilty about their own problems and worries in comparison to that of their siblings. They can also struggle with feelings of resentment and guilt towards their parents and the sibling with special needs.
2. The story centres around the move to Townsville, which is described quite vividly. Do you have a history with the area?
I spent several years living in Townsville while I attended university. Because moving there coincided with leaving home (and the whole world opening up), Townsville will always have a special place in my heart. When I visited a couple of years ago for some writing workshops, a lot had changed since I left and most of the people I knew there had moved on. However, I felt that the sights and smells, plants and animals, and the humidity that had hit me all those years ago was the same.
3. Is marine biology an interest of yours? What’s your favourite fish?
I loved marine biology in high school due to an enthusiastic teacher and went on to study it at university so I could help protect the reef for future generations. Like Tilly, colourful nudibranches are high up on my list. So is the goofy-looking parrotfish, which chomps so noisily on coral that you can actually hear it underwater. I’ll never forget the time I came face-to-face with a baby tiger shark! And I love the magic of a night dive. There are tiny creatures in the water that glow at night and if you turn off your torch, it’s like floating in a night sky, surrounded by stars.
The Thing About Oliver is available now.