Social Queue is a romantic coming-of-age story that includes themes of self-discovery, love, bullying, disability representation, ableism, loneliness, autonomy, burnout, and friendship. I set out to put an autistic young woman at the heart of a romance, and to explore some of the issues facing young people today. While there are some heavier themes involved in the story, I really wanted it to be a joyous and celebratory story that people can read and enjoy.
Inspiration for Zoe came from a few different places. Connecting with readers of my first novel Please Don’t Hug Me was a great way to hear about issues impacting other autistic people, particularly young people. Bullying was something that came up again and again, so I wanted to bring that into my new book, looking at the ways bullying can impact someone’s self-esteem, even after it has ended. Zoe faced a lot of bullying in high school, and she views university as a great time to make a fresh start. From there, I probably equally used personality traits and interests from people in my life, as well as my own. The autistic community online brings so much to my life, and I learn a lot in those spaces every day.
Once I had an idea of Zoe as a character, I developed her voice and that allowed me to write her, making choices along the way that aligned with what she would or wouldn’t do in any given situation. I wanted Zoe to be a fully well-rounded, flawed, funny, loveable character.
The reason I got my autism diagnosis as an adult in my 20s was because I had reached a point of burnout and started to explore the hows and whys of that. I can see now that being in that state meant my ability to function diminished and so did my coping skills. It felt important to talk about burnout in the novel as I think we live in a culture that values and prioritises output, and being ‘busy’ can be seen as a badge of honour. I still find myself feeling guilty when I prioritise rest, so writing a character who does that quite well was probably my way of telling myself I need to do it more.
Well, as a former journalist I still read a lot of news, and unfortunately these stories pop up a lot. I think the thing I find most upsetting is that when an autistic person is the victim of violence in their home, school, or community, there seems to be a focus on how difficult things must have been for the perpetrators of that violence. Autistic people can be dehumanised in the media, and that is without even touching on representations in film, TV etc. Although I am sure they are not unrelated issues.
As much as it was a difficult topic to write about, I wanted to shine some light on that, to perhaps start some hard conversations, and to encourage people to think critically about these things. The more allies we can have in pushing back against ableism, the better. If you see these angles in news stories, please let the writers and publications know it is not okay.
It definitely did. I struggle with not knowing the step-by-step process of anything new, so just the act of having done it once made it a lot easier to do it again. I knew what to expect from the editing process this time around as well, so my first draft was more complete than the messy, short, lacking-in-plot first draft of Please Don’t Hug Me. That being said, I think every book is its own thing, so I don’t feel as though I’ve ‘cracked the code’ by any means. I just know a little better what I’m aiming for.
I hope people will gain a better understanding of autistic people as whole people, rather than defining them as a list of autistic traits. I hope people will see that being autistic doesn’t mean being placed somewhere on a line from ‘low functioning’ to ‘high functioning’, and that abilities and support needs can fluctuate depending on where someone is in life, the stressors they are encountering, and the support they receive. I hope my books encourage readers to pick up other books by autistic authors because there are some great ones out there.
I hope autistic readers find something to connect with, or to make them laugh, or to feel like they are being represented on the page in some small way. There is something about reading the work of other autistic writers that feels so magic to me, it is the flow or the form or something else that I can’t quite put into words… Anyway I hope maybe my work can be that for another reader!
Oof, yes. Heaps. In writing Social Queue, I reflected a lot on my experiences in romance, dating, and love, and the ways I tried to bend and twist myself into being what other people wanted me to be. In hindsight, I can see it was to do with autistic masking and trying to fly under the radar in that way, without realising, because I wasn’t diagnosed at the time. I found myself in vulnerable situations, and writing helped me to process those. Similarly, writing Please Don’t Hug Me made me reflect on friendships, and the ways I perhaps wasn’t a great friend at times, or at other times wasn’t treated well by friends. It made me value the friendships I have today that much more. I think I am probably drawn to writing certain stories because there is a pull to dissect and process experiences of my own and others.
I am a hyper-focus queen, so when I’m really in the writing zone I don’t eat or drink or move or go to the toilet for long stretches of time. And then I’ll come out of that state and want to eat everything in sight. I struggle to keep on top of daily life chores like preparing food when I am working on a book, so I am a big fan of snack foods, namely chocolate and popcorn. I am not necessarily recommending this technique, but want to be honest about how hard it can be to get the balance right. I am also always tired 🙂