A shocker

It was late in the day of an already-trying week. I was in the playground for the afternoon pick-up, where several little ones storm the roost before their older siblings emerge from their classrooms.

I saw rather than heard a few of these teeny beings (some toddlers, others nursery age) getting into a tangle in the corner. I observed two of the mums turning exactly the moment that their own children cried out. I admired this parental precision. Once the errant toddlers had been hailed and hauled into place, I casually admitted “I could never do that. I have no idea what my son’s up to unless he confesses or someone complains.”

“Should you be a parent, then?”

I was… dumb-struck.

Sure, I’d make a terrible penguin, but in many respects, I’m still a good parent. I play footie with him. I do his homework with him. I find furtive and cunning ways of smuggling fruit and vegetables into his diet. I read with him. I create with him. I listen to him, worry with him, and strategise with him about the worries he has.

Yeah, I can’t hear him. I’d make a terrible penguin. The ability to pick out one call of distress above all others is a great and sacred thing. I agree with that on some level.

But I’m not raising a sodding penguin, am I?

comments and hugs welcome. hugs exceptionally welcome.


The tale of the dirty knight and the clean scumbag

A true story from 20 years ago…

Your date is supposed to protect you from harm. When I’m walking and lipreading, I’m not looking at the ground. Or ahead of me. I’m paying attention.

This means that I’m vulnerable to plunging down unmanned manholes. This manhole was unmanned because the man who was supposed to be manning it had sodded off into McDonald’s without leaving his warning sign up.

Thankfully I only dropped seven feet to the first platform, but bashed my elbows, ribs, forehead and shins on the ladder on the way down and was feeling rather delicate in both body and soul.

My date appeared periodically at the surface of the hole, but was laughing too hard to be of use to man or beast.

My hero of the hour was the guy who was working on the manhole, as it happened. He zipped down, helped me out—full of apologies, turns out his little warning triangle had been kicked away to one side—and relocated me on terra firma with a nice warm bomber jacket to wear until the shock wore off.

My date’s laughter made me think of stinging nettles and throwing knives.

Manhole guy punched him quite comprehensively in the face, in a way that made me think of Arthurian Knights and other snoggable men.

Manhole guy then closed up and drove me home.

It was such a shame his other half was called ‘Brian’.

But he restored my faith in nature, that day.

Manhole guy, Matt, if you’re out there, thank you.

Answering the question I’m so often asked…

I got a FaceBook message the other day from someone I haven’t been in touch with for a while. I’ll call him ‘Wilf’. We were friends in a ‘real life’ writing group which has since dissolved since the library kicked the group out. While things were going strong, Wilf and I had something of a vigorous debate about the ‘wisdom’ of me including a few deaf characters in my various stories.

I hadn’t thought of this tendency of mine as a matter where wisdom had to be applied, to be honest. Wilf’s view was that I ought to rein those characters in or write more hearing characters if I didn’t want to be thought of as a ‘one trick pony’.

This led to a heated group debate, and was probably one of the reasons we got booted out of the library. Now, I could understand where Wilf was coming from; although he’d never read anything I’d written apart from the odd snippet read out loud, his automatic assumption was that the character’s deafness was part of the plot. It never was. I did try to explain that these characters were deaf because people sometimes are just deaf, and that it wasn’t any more complicated than that.

“So, what happens when Ryan’s hearing worsens, then?”

“It doesn’t,” I replied.

“How come?”

“Because he isn’t going deaf. He’s already deaf. The story is about his relationship with his father.”

“Does it get better, then?”

“His relationship with his father?”

“No!” Cue elaborate rolling of eyes. “His hearing!”

“No, his hearing has nothing to do with the plot. But it does complicate his relationship with his father, who isn’t the most patient man in the world.”

“Oh. Why make Ryan deaf, then?”

I didn’t roll my eyes. You’d be proud of me. I was very calm. To begin with. But when he started asking me if Ryan was really me, in disguise, I got fed up and accused him of writing his hero, the blue, three-boobed Duke of Narg as a fictional manifestation of himself. He looked at me as if I were mad. Of course it wasn’t him! How could I think so? Well, the Duke of Narg had perfect hearing. So did he. So there must be a direct correlation.

He told me off for being facetious.

Okay, maybe that was a little facetious, but I was running out of debate steam in all honesty, and it seemed the quickest way of showcasing my indignation.

So why do I include more than the average number of deaf characters?

There is an element of writing what I know. When I write hearing characters (which happens more than 90% of the time), I have to remember:

  • To make sure that I include sound effects
  • That they (hearing characters) can talk on the phone, do FaceTime or Skype
  • That they can hear each other in different rooms
  • That I don’t have to engineer their spatial relationship so they can see one another’s lips
  • That they don’t need to be talking in good light
  • That they can hear their name being called
  • That they don’t have to hit a fatigue wall because they’re not lipreading
  • The list goes on and on. It’s actually quite hard work for me, putting myself in the shoes of someone who can hear.

When I write deaf characters, they tend to have severe or profound losses, and they are always oral (non-signing). I do try to keep the tone light. I’m not writing about deafness to make any political points; I’m just trying to show what normal life is like, and to show the range of experiences different people have. I have yet to write a signing deaf character, and that won’t happen until I’m familiar enough with British Sign Language to do justice to a character who will essentially be not just speaking but thinking with an entirely different grammar and who lives in an entirely different world. Until I can treat BSL with authenticity, I won’t try to tackle it.

There’s quite enough of a challenge trying to convince readers that there is such a thing as a profoundly deaf person who doesn’t sign. We exist. We’re just not widely heard of because people associate ‘profound’ loss with entire loss, rather than people with a loss at the very top of the continuum. I can hear a little with my aids in but nothing short of a gong being clanged next to my ear with them out. That’s quite profound enough for me, thanks very much 😉

My current project is the novel-length follow-up to Single-Syllable Steve (link below). I barely touch on the details of his deafness in the initial short story because it’s written from the heroine’s point of view, and she doesn’t realise that he has a hearing loss until late in the story.

A Brotherhood of Bouncers, the sequel, is divided between the perspectives of Steve and his hearing girlfriend Celeste, and shows a lot more of the finer details of love either side of the hearing line. It is a rom-com with the bedroom door left open, and it has been absolutely liberating writing the truth about deaf sex, covering both the joys and the infuriation.

Any questions? Similar experience of being told you’re overusing a niche, personal experience in your writing? I’d love to hear from you.

Until then, I bid you a pleasant Monday evening.




Apparently, I’m not very quiet

My saga began on Saturday morning, when I had to unload the fridge in order to reload it with shopping. You know how that game of Fridge Tetris goes…

  • realise that what’s on the counters is not going to fit in the space permitted without some Escher-like genius
  • remove some suspect items from the fridge and bin them guiltily, making a point of not checking the scoff-by date
  • check condiments for anything which needs to be hoovered up within two weeks of opening
  • realise that you’ve created all of 80sqcm of space
  • remove more items
  • realise that there is nowhere to put them
  • feel your hearing aid get sucked into a feedback loop when the fridge starts beeping impatiently at you
  • rearrange veg drawer
  • decide that the cold meats can go in with the sealed raw meats (so long as they’re on top)
  • breathe a sigh of relief
  • revert swiftly to panic when the food on the counter starts sending ‘put me away!’ in your general direction
  • rearrange fridge, all items snugly deposited
  • step back and admire work from the top of the armful of stuff which is going to go in tonight’s dinner
  • trip and nearly kill oneself on a rude little cucumber.

I did all this with my hearing aids out, and when I finally picked myself up off the floor, my husband and son were looking at me with astonishment, wondering how such a basic task could take so long, and involve so many, many interesting words.

I nearly told them to pack the damn fridge themselves (and many more interesting words might have been used), but I refrained. See, I’d learned the art of calming myself down earlier in the year, to prevent the usual volcanic eruption that bursts from me when people tell me to calm down when I’m hopping up and down with frustration.

So, for a while, silence reigned.

I’m reasonably convinced that I managed to sustain a dignified level of noise management until this morning, when I had a fight to the death with the packaging of one of the Co-op’s high-security sandwiches. I thought at the time that I was alone in my struggles until the sandwich was taken from me by a kindly octogenarian, who opened it effortlessly. Cue a red face from me, and many spluttered thanks and apologies (probably sotto voce, ironically enough) before I drove home to enjoy my treat.

Seriously – a packed sandwich is a treat for me these days; it’s just cheaper to buy one prawn cocktail jobbie every now and again than to buy more prawns than I know what to do with.

This afternoon, a battle with a Tesco’s ice cube freezing bag drew a small crowd among my son’s friends, who had been making a great deal more noise upstairs playing FIFA, until they realised that other live entertainment was taking place downstairs.

I want to hear from you… deaf or not…

Share your inglorious experiences of making considerably more noise than you thought you were. If this episode involves a bed, so be it.

I just don’t want to feel like the only noisy penguin on the Arctic shelf!

I shall sign off for now, wishing you a very merry Tuesday.