If you’re in journalism, you’ve probably picked up a lot of advice by now. (I’ll never forget when on work experience at a National, and the Editor called me into his office. He told me to do my NCTJ!) Anyway; I thought I would share some of the best advice I have received. It may not be particularly practical, but it has always been helpful to me.

Kick up. Never stamp down.

Your job, in a potentially archaic way, is to be the people who hold those in power to account. (Unless you write for a different purpose-like entertainment, etc. ) In this sense, you need to kick up; do not stamp down on people, such as private citizens.  I was listening to a podcast recently, and the editor on it had an excellent maxim: “The story is the means for the people. People are not the means for a story”, to paraphrase.

You don’t ask, you don’t get.

(I’d like to thank my grandparents for this.) If you don’t ask, you’re aren’t going to get what you want. It’s as simple as that, and I’ve applied it to most areas of my life.

I wouldn’t have got to do my NCTJ; I wouldn’t have met Queen Extravaganza; I would not have interviewed half the people without this. In short: persistence pays off. So does being upfront about what you want to do, write, who you want to interview, etc. If you have the idea, the tenacity, the need to write, say it.

Don’t make things up.

Common sense, this one. Making things up, legally, is not a very good idea; similarly, staging a story is also not good. Making things up is the job of someone who writes fiction, like Rowan Coleman; it’s best left to the professionals.

Get a ‘journo’ mate.

If you have a friend who is also in the same industry, it makes it a lot easier for you, as well as more bearable. (Sorry for the terrible use of English!) I can’t emphasise this enough, but this blog post spells it out a lot better. 

Network. Like crazy.

Networking is daunting. And when in a room where that’s required, I often have that sinking feeling, denoting anxiety. It’s hard to start up a conversation, least of all make a contact out of it. However, it is your bread and butter, so it’s probably good to know how to network. (And you can even do it on your break!)

Have fun with it.

Hard work counts. But there needs to be a balance to it; we can’t be serious all the time, can we?

Check everything twice.

You can’t check everything enough. And you need to proof read your work-check the fluency, spelling, etc.

Accuracy is key.

Accuracy is key. And this is something so important; you need to get the facts, names, dates, spellings, etc. And it’s why Shorthand is such a wonderful skill to have, as it plays into this retirement.

Be curious. Question everything.

Curiosity counts. Question everything you see; my classmate wrote this blog post about doing exactly that. However, being curious leads to stories. It also makes other journalists fun to talk to. (In my opinion, my ‘colleagues’ are some of the most fascinating people to talk to; I want to know all about their projects, stories, podcasts..)

We need to talk about stereotypes. Like, now. I

‘ve noticed a lot of stereotypes online amongst the Autistic community-mainly unhelpful comments from people who don’t necessarily have understanding of the condition. These are nine stereotypes I have counted, and sometimes experienced:

“You’re a liar because you can’t look me in the eye!”

Apparently not looking someone in the eye is a sign of guilt. It may well be. However, I think that this is slightly unfair; if a hallmark is that you find eye contact incredibly hard, I think it’s unfair to be automatically deemed a liar. (I’ve written more about this in “The eye contact problem.”) But please: don’t force eye contact with me. It’s unpleasant and invasive.

“Naive”

Yes, I can probably be naive at points. And it sucks, really; it’s not something that I enjoy, as this often comes from not understanding the world around me. But it’s not helpful in some of the contexts used: “She’s so naive it’s embarrassing!” I also think it brings in connotations of being an ‘Airhead’; it can be dismissive in a way.

“Rainman”

We’re all familiar with Rainman, aren’t we? Remember: Autism is a spectrum condition. We are not all the same, with the same hallmarks, same reactions. (But then again, that’s like being human.)

“Obsessional”

There is a difference between a special interest and an obsession. (The latter is something that you can’t step away from, and it consumes everything. ) But why be stereotypical about it? I feel very indignant when people have said to me, “You’re so obsessional!” And I’m pretty sure that if I was neurotypical, this would not be a criticism; it would be embraced. (And it has been an asset to me, over and over again.)

“No friends”

Talking from a personal experience here: a “friend” to me is very different from what someone neurotypical would count as friendship.

But: I think it’s damaging, in a way, to write individuals off as having “no friends.” Online friends surely count towards this; they may also show friendship in a different way. Then again, I also wrote The Friend Application. 

“Emotionally redundant”

Yep. I’ve been described as being like this. (But surely from my blog alone, you can see that I am very passionate? I am curious about the world around me; I care for ‘just causes’, to borrow an expression from My Paperchase. ) Music also is highly reactive for me. (I love the sound of “Help me find a way… c’mon everybody!” in the clip below.)

In spite of being on spectrum, we are more alike than you think. 

“No empathy”

Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

“Must have no life quality whatsoever”

And I mean this in a sort of pitying way; a few times when I have met people with a diagnosis, their parents react in (what I think is) a bad/non-constructive way. They forget that there is a person underneath a label, and set about reducing their activities, staging more intervention, managing their hours. (They also sometimes think “it’s my fault!” and “I wish we could cure it.”)

I have also seen this online; individuals, sometimes self-appointed experts, make horrible assumptions about ‘quality of life.’ And it makes me sick to my stomach.

“Loner”

I see this in the American press, particularly around the times of a school shooting. (And then, sometimes, there is an Autism diagnosis afterwards.) Now, I’m not disputing this, or the need to report on this; this is very important. (And why would I say otherwise? I’m a journalist, albeit in training.) But, I think the facts around diagnosis need to be clearer; I have seen a few reports using this label, but then using it almost like a stick to describe other people on spectrum.

For a little while now, there’s been an issue that I’ve been mulling over; beauty products when you’re on spectrum. My approach to this is shaped by my sensory issues.

I’m not one for a lot of make up; in terms of sensory issues, I dislike the feel of how foundation sits on my skin. I’m not a fan of how some lipglosses are greasy, how lipstick is waxy. I find Mascara really fiddly; eyeliner sometimes makes my eyes weep.
In spite of this, I like beauty. Messing round with nail varnish, trying the occasional face mask, sampling perfume…

There are some products that do ‘work for me’, as the expression goes; one of my favourites is Dr Paw Paw balm. (Because you can do anything with it. You can do EVERYTHING!) I also like the occasional use of a NYX eyeliner I recently bought. (And it has only caused weeping once, possibly due to the heat as I write this.)

One of the things I have started to love recently is perfume, enough so that I always have a bottle in my handbag.

In terms of sensory issues, I’m not one for strong scents. (The ones that you can smell from a mile away, that are a bit heady, and leave you wrinkling your nose.) The perfume I usually go for is a more subtle smell, usually flowery. (Sometimes it also has a memory attached to it. But that’s me being sentimental.)

My ‘collection’ so far:

Allure by Chanel. (Thank you to my Grandmother!)

By Night by Christina Aguilera. (I saw it in Duty Free in Germany, loved it, and bought it.)

Strawberry spray from Boots, thanks to my sister.

Christina Aguilera self titled perfume. (I love the bottle, so bought it in Duty Free.)

Sensory issues are less about personal issues for me, meaning that I occasionally enjoy beauty products. (It’s more likely to be noise that bothers me. For example, I cannot stand airports; the noise of clattering machines, people everywhere, bright colours, checking bags in, going through security, waiting around for hours, all comes together in such a way… But that’s a topic for another blog post.)

Lydia x

 

The Thalidomide Catastrophe is a book written by Martin Johnson, Raymond G. Stokes, and Tobias Arndt. Released today, I was lucky enough to be able to review an advanced reader copy.

As a journalist, I have been interested in this story for a while now; I’m working on a story that’s related to it. It was also around the tie of the fiftieth anniversary BBC documentary that I was introduced to the concept of Thalidomide. (What still strikes me-and what is further illustrated by the book-is the lack of awareness or knowledge of it.)

The tagline on the cover says it all: ‘How it happened, who was responsible and why the search for justice continues after more than six decades.’

The Cover:

The cover is brilliant, in my opinion. It’s stark-the white background, with the innocuous object of a medicinal bottle. It looks harmless, however because of the history since Thalidomide was on the market makes it kind of terrifying. It’s horrific to think that this pill-marketed on the basis of apparently being a “wonder drug”-was, and still is capable of so much harm.

The white background also makes it stand out on a book shelf; if I was at a bookshop, my eye would catch this. I’d be curious as to what it was about, etc.

Content:

Initially, I found it a little bit hard to get into. I think that after seeing Attacking The Devil, I perhaps expected too much of the book. My expectations were also flawed in this respect; the book gets into the nitty gritty of Thalidomide, not the Sunday Times campaign. (It’s not about the journalistic side. It’s the full-on, comprehensive history.)

It’s also shocking to me how there hasn’t truly been justice. I haven’t got to this particular chapter yet, however it is alleged that there was corruption surrounding the German trial. There is a lack of accountability surrounding Thalidomide, and I can’t understand that. Surely, as an empathetic human, you’d do your best to help, when you’ve caused this catastrophe?

I was also struck by the images that are dotted throughout. I have met one Thalidomider; however, I wasn’t aware of the full range of disabilities that Thalidomide caused. (It sounds silly, doesn’t it?)

There had previously been a disconnect for me; it’s all very well to watch footage on the TV or whatever. There’s a distance in that respect; I don’t think that there is with books and photos. The use of photography bought it home to me, making this story truly alive for me.

What would I have changed?

At times the book can be clunky, in the way it’s written; however, I think that is partly caused by being a book of history. It’s not a book about people; it’s the factual facet.

Conclusion:

I think that this is a book that everyone should read, or at least be aware of. Thalidomide is known for its notoriety, however I don’t think the full scale of its history is known. I hope that this book goes towards correcting some of that, along with bringing it into the public consciousness. And I hope that this book, in its majestic state, goes towards contributing to the justice that has been denied for so long.

As a follow up, could I make a suggestion? I’d like to have a book of interviews, with people involved: so people like Mikey Argy, Harold Evans, people at the trust, etc.

The Thalidomide Catastrophe is published by Onwards and Upwards. For more information, visit their website. You can buy the book here. 


Disclaimer: I was lucky enough to be gifted this book at my own request. I have not been paid to review this. For more information, please see my disclaimer.

I’m not sure how I came across Odd Girl Out; it has been a book on my reading  wishlist for a while now. It was probably the bright cover, or the tagline; anyone, as I was given book vouchers for my birthday, I decided to buy it. And I was not disappointed.

About the book:

Odd Girl Out is a biographical account of Laura’s life; it examines with flashes back and forth, having received her Autism diagnosis. It begins with looking at paperwork related to her diagnosis, with her husband, on holiday. We then see Laura as a child, struggling somewhat. (I find how she writes this account very effective!) She is also a young mother, a journalist, a wife; there are also moments after the diagnosis, such as wondering how her life could have been very different.

Thoughts as someone #ActuallyAutistic:

Finally, at last someone ‘gets it’!

I have read around the subject of Autism, especially since I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome in January 2015. Even by that point, I had had enough of medical jargon, the assumptions, and various individuals forming ideas of who I was as a person. (Not always someone who was valued a lot; they were the sort who freaked on finding out the diagnosis, then being horrible.)

But this book is a reflection, really, of what I felt. Since then, I have wondered what my life would have been like if diagnosed early; some teacher were not necessarily the best help with or without it. I also think that I’d have been told less of what I can’t do; I was told that I can’t cook well, that I cannot do PE well enough to be considered ‘good’.
As an Autistic individual, I was happy to find this book. I am bored with the instruction manuals about how to be more neuro-typical, the books by parents writing about how hard it is to have an autistic child is. Laura has an interesting writers voice-one we need-and I hope to hear more from her.

What could have been better: 

I found the first chapter revealing, really.

At times I think the book can be a little be ‘fact heavy’-which is ironic, as I kind of live my life by facts. (To illustrate further; I can recite all Presidents since Herbert Hoover, what their party was, and if they were a Vice President.) However, this is a way to illustrate a point-which comes across as being very much a hallmark. Though I couldn’t always quite get my head round it, I wouldn’t have changed it at all.


To buy the book on Amazon, click here. Follow Laura on Twitter here.  And read my interview with her here.