Describe The State Of Grace in the length of a tweet.
The State of Grace is a story about a girl with Aspergers who can’t work out how to fit in – or if she even wants to.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
I was walking down the street when Grace’s voice popped into my head and said “How do you follow the rules when they don’t make any sense?” After that she just didn’t stop talking, and I realized that perhaps I ought to write the book. I scribbled down some notes and sent them to my agent who loved the sound of her, and I wrote three chapters very quickly. Then I put it aside for a whole year – I wasn’t ready to write about autism, or to talk about my own recent diagnosis, as I was still getting my head around it. When I picked up the book again I wrote it incredibly quickly – in a matter of weeks.
The main character, Grace, has Asperger’s. Where did the inspiration for her character come from?
From my daughter, who is funny and brilliant and interesting and who found school a real challenge, even though they tried hard to accommodate her needs. (She has Aspergers.) I wanted to write a story so that Verity could see a character like her in a book and I also wanted to reflect the lovely friendships that she has – Grace’s friendship with Anna is an important part of the story.
The book explores Grace’s curiosity with trying to fit in, or whether she even wants to. What’s the importance of including this struggle as part of the story?
I think it’s something we all experience in adolescence – and as we are older, too – and not necessarily something that relates only to autistic teenagers. I think we’re all guilty of thinking that everyone else has it figured out, and the message I wanted to get across in Grace is that we’re all muddling along and nobody – not the adults or the teachers – really know what they’re doing.
How much of the story did you draw from your own life?
It’s set in a fictionalised version of Southport, where we live, so there is that. But the characters are very much their own people and the story doesn’t reflect our experience at all. Grace has been diagnosed with autism long before the book begins, whereas I fought for ten years to get a diagnosis for my daughter. Grace’s family situation is also quite different to ours – we live in a noisy, chaotic house of six!
This is an #ownvoices novel about autism. Why is important that more books are #ownvoices to you?
I think the #ownvoices movement is vital. If we are to understand we need to listen to the people who live the experiences being written about – and why, if you’re reading about autism, wouldn’t you want to read a book written by someone who lives it every day? I think it’s vital that we try and redress the balance.
What’s next for you? Do you plan on writing any more books?
I’m writing my next YA novel which will be out early next year – it’s called My Box Shaped Heart. I’m also looking forward to doing some school visits and book festivals where I’ll be talking about The State of Grace.
What tips do you give to any aspiring writers?
I have two! My first one is to start a blog. The habit of writing regularly is a really useful one, and it’s a way of building up a profile which is helpful when it comes to getting published. And finish something – it’s relatively easy to write 30,000 words but it’s a lot more of a challenge to write another 50,000 and make a full length first draft. But it’s only once you’ve written that first draft that you’ve got something to work on, so I always tell people to keep going until they hit the end!
The State of Grace is out now from Macmillan Children’s Books. You can follow Rachel on Twitter @karamina.