One thing I’ve tried to do in my books is to represent the communities where my stories are set. Across the first six books in the Cornish Midwives series, I’ve written about the different forms families come in and diversity in terms of ethnicity, culture, age, gender and sexuality. Whilst I can’t claim to have experienced life from all of those perspectives, I’ve always drawn on the experiences of family and close friends, who have either been generous enough to share their stories with me, or whose experiences I have witnessed for myself.
When I was beginning to think about the storyline for the seventh book in the series, A Change of Heart for the Cornish Midwife, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about. It’s probably one of the least represented subjects in commercial fiction and yet disability affects almost twenty per cent of the population, including one of my closest friends.
How many novels have you read where the main character was a person with a significant disability? Of those, how many of the protagonists were portrayed with the same wants, needs, ambitions and desires as anyone else? I’ve read a lot of commercial fiction and I can only think of two books that feature protagonists with a potentially life-changing disability and only one of those portrayed the character as someone who wasn’t defined entirely by their diagnosis.
Who each of us are is a melting pot of so many things – our life experiences, beliefs, hopes and aspirations to name but a few. Most of us wouldn’t expect to be defined by just one aspect of who we are and yet that’s something that people with disabilities face far too often. I’ve seen this happen to my brilliant friend, Paula, to whom A Change of Heart is dedicated. For her to be defined solely by disability misses so much. For a start, she’s the funniest person I know and our sense of humour was the first thing that bonded us. We’re still constantly surprised that no one has given us our own show! Yet I’ve genuinely heard other people comment that they didn’t expect a person in a wheelchair to have a sense of humour. It’s breathtaking when you think about it.
Sadly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also very little mainstream representation of people with disabilities in romantic relationships, navigating the ups and downs that brings for us all. I wanted to do that in A Change of Heart, but I also wanted to be realistic about how blindsiding it can be to receive a potentially life-changing diagnosis. It’s not all about being inspirational, or simply accepting a diagnosis and moving on.
For many people, it’s a huge adjustment that can take them through similar stages to other forms of grief – shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and eventually acceptance. I’ve seen first-hand that the journey to acceptance often isn’t an easy one and I was determined to represent that accurately in a Change of Heart. It took lots of discussion with my editor for us to agree what that would look like, but I’m so grateful I’ve had the chance to write a story that’s so important to me. I really believe that the journey to acceptance is made harder because of the stereotypes often used to portray people with disabilities and I hope I’ve done the subject justice. Just as an aside, Paula and I are still looking for our own show, if there are any takers!
Get your copy of A Change of Heart for the Cornish Midwife: https://mybook.to/changeheartsocial https://mybook.to/midwifechangesocial