Tag Archives: writing

How growing up with cerebral palsy helped me achieve my dream of being an author

Throughout her life, people have made Rachel feel like she couldn’t achieve as much, because she has cerebral palsy. Those negative attitudes always spurred her on and today her hard work has paid off. Not only is she realising her dream of publishing a novel, she’s done this alongside her full time job, proving that with hard work, you can achieve anything.

In this blog, she writes about determination, pursuing your goals and seeing disability as a strength. 

Having had cerebral palsy since birth, I realised when I was in primary school that I would always have to work harder than everyone else to achieve my dreams.

I worked so hard to learn to walk, to hold pens, to tie my shoelaces and to fasten buttons. Sometimes, I’d become angry and frustrated at not being able to do things my friends could but then I started to think about alternative ways of doing things, such as getting Velcro put on my shirts and shoes.

I have difficulty holding a pen, so it took me longer to write essays and do homework. Despite that, I loved writing diaries and stories as a way to understand my experiences and I dreamed of being a writer.

Having spent hours of my childhood having physio on my legs and hands to improve my co-ordination, it was ingrained in me that if I put the effort in, I would reach my goals. Which is why, when working full-time as a primary school teaching assistant, I decided to stop writing in my notebooks and actually knuckle down to take writing seriously.

My own experiences shaped my novel

When I started my novel, I wanted to use my writing as a vehicle to say something about my life. I chose to write about a young woman with a facial birthmark and relate some of my experiences and feelings growing up with cerebral palsy through her.

One theme in particular is how suffering cruel comments as a child forms her view of herself as an adult and how she finally accepts herself. The main difference between my central character and me is that Ivy can cover her disfigurement whereas my impairment is on view to everyone I meet.

People sometimes make judgements when they first see me. I’ve also had strangers ask what is wrong with me which I find intrusive. I can almost hear them breathe a sigh of relief when I say ‘cerebral palsy’ as they can compartmentalise me beneath that neat label.

A book on a table next to a mug of coffee

Not giving up

There have been some evenings after challenging days in school when I just felt like sitting in front of the T.V. instead of looking at a computer screen for three hours. But having a long-held dream in my sights of becoming an author, I stuck at it.

Early last year, I submitted my first three chapters and synopsis to half a dozen literary agents. A couple got back to me to say that they liked my writing but my novel didn’t fit their list. Although disappointed, I was heartened by their response to my novel and I wasn’t about to give up on my dream.

The theme of the book is about putting the past behind you to live every day in the best way you can, which resonates deeply with me and I felt it was a message other people should read. So, I was delighted when the Book Guild offered me a publishing deal!

Seeing disability as a strength

From an early age, having cerebral palsy has given me a different perspective on the world to most people, forcing me to question why people act the way they do towards me, aspects which I’ve incorporated into my writing.

Writing is also all about hard work, routine and perseverance. Growing up having to spend hours learning how to walk or how to pick up and use a pen gave me qualities which have enabled me to complete my novel and achieve my dream of becoming a writer.

Somehow, I’ve managed to write a novel while having a full-time job and I think it’s my sheer determination that has got me through it.

Having cerebral palsy has not only made me into the writer I am, as I touch on disability themes in my work, but it’s been a defining factor in achieving my writing dreams. 

Roses of Marrakech by Rachel Clare is out this week. We’ll be giving away two copies over the weekend via Facebook and Twitter, so get involved!

If you have a story you’d like to share, get in touch with the stories team. 

Taking risks and the importance of support – why I wrote a book about my recovery

After an accident, Ben was in a coma for a month and has been working on his recovery ever since. He hasn’t let things hold him back, even when others doubted him. To give others hope, he’s written a book about his experiences. In this blog, he shares a bit of his story. If you want more, you’ll have to buy the book!

I got run over in the Dominican Republic. I was on holiday with my girlfriend at the time. It was the day before we left, we went out for a meal and we were walking back, literally a road away from our hotel, and a car span off the road on to the pavement and hit us both. It killed my girlfriend instantly and I was in a coma for a month. I had private healthcare insurance and that paid for me to go to a private hospital while I was in the coma and fly me back to England when I was able to travel.

Starting to recover

I didn’t know anything when I first came out of the coma. I couldn’t recognise people. My parents were there and my family but I couldn’t recognise that they were my family. To start with I couldn’t speak but that came back quite quickly.

I’d lost so much weight and I was so weak. The physio in the hospital was really good. They got me to do lots of things and my strength started to come back really slowly. Once I was out of hospital, the care team supported me for about 5 months. They were very cautious about what I could do. They wanted to risk assess everything. Fortunately I had a carer, Andrew, who’s now become quite a good friend and we just went out and did things. I think my recovery would have been worse if I hadn’t done that.

Head and shoulders shot of Ben

Basically the brain injury that I had is that my neurons were shaken up so much that they lost lots of connections to other neurons. You brain is just a bit messed up. I think over time the brain recreates those connections so it is something that generally gets better but I’m not there yet. Recovery is still an ongoing process.

Not taking no for an answer

I wanted to go to Glastonbury that year and the care team was like “no, not for three years” but that just made me more determined to go. They said recovery would take a long time, anyway and there were leaps I took to aid my cognitive rehabilitation. Leaps I took into the unknown that did help my recovery. These were leaps that people told me I couldn’t do, however, this made me more determined to do this.

Deciding to write a book

When I was seen by Hammersmith hospital they did lots of brain scans and showed them to doctors, saying “What do you think of this guy, how he’s doing?” and from looking at the scan they guessed that I would be doing terribly and would be in a wheelchair. When he told them that wasn’t the case they were like “Really? How?” – it just shows that brain scans aren’t the best way to predict someone’s future. So he said to me afterwards, you need to write about this because it will give hope to other people going through this.

I went away and thought about it a lot. I wanted to get lots of voices in and it took a long time to find someone who could edit it all together. It’s all about me and my recovery from lots of different points of view and it all comes together as a melange of different stories. To begin with it was incredibly difficult but it was good writing the bits from my own perspective, my take on things.

Front cover of Ben's book showing a profile of a person's head pieced together out of ripped up paper

I hope it helps people going through a similar experience

My experience really shows just how much support you need and how difficult it is to find the right support, but given the opportunity you can do a lot. My best support has certainly been from my family and friends but I’ve had help from people from all different walks of life. I hope people going through something similar would get something from it and also their friends and family. This has had an impact on me and my family, massively.

I don’t know what will happen next. I want to promote the book and see how that does. It’s been difficult having to change my plans. To begin with I was trying to get back to where I was, especially in terms of the job I used to do, but I’ve started to accept that some things will have to change. It’s been good to broaden my horizons.

To read more about Ben’s experience, buy his book here.

If you have a story you want to share, get in touch with Scope’s stories team or visit our stories page to find out more.