Autism specialist wants more diversity in children's fiction
Cardiff independent publisher Candy Jar Books has published the first novel from north Wales author and autism specialist Alison Thomas.
As a learning disability nurse and through her work within an autism assessment centre, Alison has developed a perceptive understanding of the careful tools found helpful by children with autism and their families. Now, the author has combined her specialism in this area with her passion for writing in a fantasy-adventure novel for children – Amulet.
The novel centres on a young boy, Dion, who recognises he is different to his sister and other children his age, struggling with day to day life in ways his peers don’t understand.
Alison said: “Inspired by my work with autism assessment, it was inevitable that Dion would have some social and communication difficulties, but it was crucial to me that those traits didn’t overshadow his character. I felt that it was important to use my writing to create a better understanding of learning disabilities and autism, but also to show Dion assimilating with the world around him.”
Shaped by Alison’s Welsh background and set against the backdrop of the fantasy mining world of Llanglofa, the book is enriched with Welsh culture and idioms, which the author grew up with in the picturesque hills of Holyhead, Anglesey.
Amulet follows Dion and his sister Megan’s journey learning about bravery and the importance of family. Flying dragons, magical wolves, underground cities, and secrets are entwined in a race against the clock through an unknown world.
Alison said: “This story explains how Dion learns to evolve and discovers how much his family means to him. Megan, too, learns that it is Dion’s idiosyncrasies that make him special.”
Already Amulet has been highly praised, achieving a glowing recommendation from Autism Ambassador Anna Kennedy OBE. She said: “Amulet is a delightful story about Megan and Dion. On one level the reader is taken through a beautiful fantasy world which is a product of the children's imagination. On another level it intelligently highlights the difficulties presented by the real world to a child on the autism spectrum. The reader is shown how the child on the autism spectrum can be guided through life such that he becomes a full participant. I have no hesitation in recommending this book.”
Although like Mark Haddon in The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night Time Alison avoids explicitly labelling Dion as autistic within the novel, it is her hope that through sharing the character’s thoughts, attitudes and tendencies, readers will relate to Dion and recognise some of his habits in themselves. She hopes that the book will encourage and help those who relate to Dion’s struggles.
Alison continued: “Dion’s family employs many strategies used by real families I have experienced through my work to help him with his struggles. Should these strategies help other families, individuals or carers then Dion, Megan and I will have achieved something worthwhile.”
Shaun Russell, director and head of publishing of Candy Jar Books, said: “Alison came to us with Amulet in 2014 and I knew immediately that this was a story worth telling.”
He continues: “In the world of children’s fiction, there is a definite shortage of characters with mental or physical difficulties which are central to the plot, and Alison’s background in nursing has been a fantastic tool in creating a vibrant story with the additional function of increasing awareness of autism and learning difficulties.”
Amulet is out now and available to purchase from Candy Jar and other good retailers (RRP £6.99).
Alison Thomas lives in Holyhead, Anglesey with her family. She has a 1st Class Honours degree in Learning Disability Nursing from Bangor University, and now works as a Learning Disability Community Nurse and as part of an Autism Assessment Team.
For all enquiries please contact Lauren Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 02921 157202.