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.

Laura James has written the ultimate book about Autism ; Odd Girl Out should be on your ‘must read’ list.

It’s about an Autistic woman, Laura, in a neuro-typical world; she looks back at earlier parts of her life, and how she reacts and gets on with her diagnosis later on in life. As an autistic female, this book felt very ‘human’ to me; it spoke to me, almost as if Laura was inside my head. Forget the diagnosis, and medical terms; here is someone who ‘gets it’, and is probably undergoing what you feel.

I was lucky enough to speak to Laura about Odd Girl Out via email; she is also a journalist, which was another thing that interested me.

First of all, how did you come to write your book, Odd Girl Out? 

When I got my autism diagnosis, one of my first thoughts was ‘will I write about this?’. About three months later I wrote a piece for the Daily Telegraph and the response was so huge, writing further on the subject in the form of a book seemed like a natural next step.

Why did you think writing about your diagnosis, which came later in life, should be the centre of the book? 

I used it to underpin the book, so it’s where I start, but I also dart back in time and look at my childhood, my teenage years, young motherhood etc. It felt like a good jumping off point as it was so fresh in my mind and writing was allowing me to process all the emotion around being diagnosed.

How has the reaction been to the book?

The reaction has been amazing. It’s not often that I’m surprised, but I have been surprised by the sheer number of people interested in my story. I got thousands of messages in the month around publication and most days I still get a message or two on social media from someone who has come across the book.

What do you think about early intervention to diagnose people on spectrum?

I think everyone deserves to know who they are and to have the very best opportunities in life. If that can be done by spotting autism early, then I am all for it. What happens afterwards, however, is important, as is that ongoing support, nurturing and caring is put in place. I don’t like interventions that major on teaching children how to behave in a neurotypical way, as they can only do damage in the long term. Support that encourages children to be their best and most authentic selves is what we should be striving for.

What did you think on finally being diagnosed? 

Overwhelmingly, I felt relief and vindication. My autism diagnosis came a few months after my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome was diagnosed and suddenly everything in my life made sense. I wasn’t a hypochondriac or unlucky – there were concrete reasons as to why my body behaved the way it did. The autism diagnosis was so vindicating as it allowed me to know why I find some things much harder than others do.

“The reaction has been amazing. It’s not often that I’m surprised, but I have been surprised by the sheer number of people interested in my story.”
-Laura James on the reaction to Odd Girl Out.

How did you start out as a journalist?

I was working for a publishing company and an amazing editor called Gill allowed me to interview Jilly Cooper, who was my absolutely favourite writer and one of my intense interests.

In terms of being autistic, how do you think people on spectrum could be an asset to journalism? 

For me, the ability to hyperfocus is a huge asset at deadline time, as is the way I can get to grips with complex information very quickly. Having intense interests helps a lot too. Finally, I can look at all sides of an argument in a non-emotional way and I think that really makes for balance.

For people who are on spectrum, who aspire to get into journalism, what would be your advice? 

If it’s someone who likes to be around people, then maybe contacting their local paper and asking if they can do some work experience or intern for a bit. I am not necessarily a huge fan of journalism degrees as I think you learn much more in the working environment. Most of the really great journalists I know have done an NCTJ course or apprenticeship and I can’t recommend them highly enough. I was lucky that I learned on the job and my husband, who at the time of our meeting was a magazine editor but who spent many years working in news, taught me everything over a number of years.

“Overwhelmingly, I felt relief and vindication. My autism diagnosis came a few months after my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome was diagnosed and suddenly everything in my life made sense.”
-Laura James on what she felt after her Autism diagnosis.

Random: If you were on Desert Island discs, what would be the book you’d take to the Island with you, and why? 

Oh gosh, only one? That feels terribly hard. I think if I had to pick, I would probably choose Rivals by Jilly Cooper. It’s real comfort reading to me and the characters feel like people I have known for years. They are beautifully drawn and feel very real, plus it’s funny, has lots of stuff on W.B. Yeats (my favourite poet) and the book is quite long so would take me a while to get through.


Thank you to Laura for answering my questions; you can follow her on Twitter.  If you’d like to read an extract of Odd Girl Out, read it here. And you can buy the book on Amazon. 

Update: where it says films, the film “I, Tonya” should also be added. 
February was a bit of a difficult month for me. I had been sick for a long time-due to the numerous bugs that have been going round. This meant going back and forth to the Doctor’s office, and trying to cope with my workload in between. But I am happy to report that I am better now!

jOURNALISTICALLY:

I went up to the NCTJ Student Council conference! (So, when you’re on an NCTJ course, each class has a ‘Rep’ who reports to the council. For my course, that’s me.) This was in Birmingham-and meant making the longest trip I have ever undertaken solo. But: I got to meet lots of Editors, Journalists, and network! You can read about it here. 
Alistair Morgan, the author of Untold, also came to my course building to give a talk; out of respect for his privacy, I’m not going to blog about it. However, you should definitely listen to the Podcast and/or read the book. (But I was so excited for this-although I had to kick myself out of bed, due to tiredness as I was sick. He also signed my book!)
I also got to interview Sir Harold Evans for an assignment; I’ll be posting more about this later, however it was a very big deal for me.

Writing:

This month, I gave up writing my column. (Various reasons-and I’m not going into it.) But I have written more for The Growing Up Guide, and my review of War Horse was posted on Brighton Girl. 

Media consumption:

I haven’t read as many books as I would like to, simply because I was very ill for the first two weeks of this month, and I have been busier than usual. I read two in the end: Good Times, Bad Times by Harold Evans (research purposes!), and Everything Is Lies by Helen Callaghan.
Books have not been my solace this month; I have been looking for something different, something different than the bog-standard thing written for people my age. (Carlos Ruiz Zafron is having his novel translated, which I have been eagerly awaiting for a long time-I can’t wait to read it. But until then, if you have any suggestions, do leave them in the comments.)
I also watched Black Panther and Darkest Hour at the cinema. (Black Panther I enjoyed for its diversity, but I thought the music during car chases was a bit anti climatic. Darkest Hour? Way too over-hyped. The portrait of Churchill is too patriotic, and doesn’t have the depth of character; I also think that parts of the film were misleading in terms of historical accuracy.) On Netflix, I watched The Lost Honour Of Christopher Jefferies; the things that happened to this man horrify me! The last film I watched was Back To The Future; I’ve also been gorging on boxsets as I work.

NCTJ:

I think I’m getting on alright? I’m not sure where I am at yet, to be totally honest.
I took another sixty words per minute exam, however I think I didn’t pass it; my hands were shaking due to a late night, and I was very tired. But I know that I can do this-I have practiced and practiced-which makes it the more frustrating.
I’m struggling a little bit with Law, and I feel nervous about the exams; there is so much to memorise, in terms of statues, but there is also the theory. (E.g given a scenario such as working on a magazine, what would you do to avoid the risk of Defamation?)

Lets see what March brings.

Note: this review may contain spoilers. 


I have been a huge fan of Helen Callaghan’s work ever since I spotted the paperback of Dear Amy; the sleek, red paperback stood out of the pile of best sellers that dominated an already crowded table. Therefore, I was delighted to have been sent her new book, Everything Is Lies. 
This book is a departure from Dear Amy, and I think the quality of Callaghan’s work is better because of it. The language is bolder, the characters more realistic, the plot grounded in realism. This book made me feel much more positive about reading, as I had been wanting a book to captivate me for a long time; it is addictive, a thudding read that craves attention. (To illustrate further: I stayed up to midnight, anxious to get to the bottom of the mystery, prior to an interview the next morning.)
Plot? It has more substance than Dear Amy had; the dual narrative is what lends to its distinction.  On the one hand, Sophia comes home to find her Mother hanging from a tree, her Father terribly wounded, barely alive. But another character has a story to tell; they compliment each other, reaching a startling conclusion.
This book is also made for English students; on an A level course, your teacher is probably going to bang on about the symbology, the techniques used. But this book uses a wide variety in such an effective manner, creating a sophisticated narrative.
To improve, I think that there could have been a lot less scene setting, and more subtle hints to the true nature of some characters. The book is hard to get into; for the first chapter, I was a little bit bored. The phone call which dominates the opening could have been more dynamic; the protagonist, Sophia, can also sometimes be slow on the uptake-enough so that I could feel myself getting frustrated, as if she was real.
If you need a crime novel fix, or are in withdrawal from your Netflix boxset of choice, this book will perfectly fill the void for you; buy it from Amazon. And see my interview with Helen Callaghan here. 


Disclaimer: I was sent this proof copy in exchange for a review by Sarah Harwood at Micheal Joseph. However, prior to this, I had read Dear Amy by the same author and loved it. This review is my honest opinion. You can read more under my Disclaimer. 


A little while ago, I posted about how technology can have a wonderful impact for people on spectrum (you can view it here.) That week, I had meant to review it-but I was not at all well. So, I thought today would be an apt opportunity for review 😀
I am a huge fan of technology. (I wouldn’t be a Blogger, otherwise!) But, I saw the Penclic keyboards over on Criddle Me This and…. the rest is history as the saying goes. These keyboards connect either by wire or by Bluetooth to your Tablet (dependent on model) or to your Desktop. The design is also to allow for quieter keys; perfect for commuting!

What I liked:

The packaging is hot. (Maybe that’s not the right word for it.) It was very similar to Apple in that respect; space conserving, slick, sophisticated. My excitement was palpable at opening.
Setting it up was also easy; unlike other ‘toys’ that I have previously possessed, it was so simple. I did not have to fuss with it, tinkering; it was complete in a flash.
Oh, and, it’s wonderful to type with. And that’s saying something from me, when I own a typewriter.

What could be improved:

The instructions were not particularly clear-it took me a little while longer than usual to work out how to set the keyboard up. (But I think that that’s okay, given where the keyboard is manufactured.)
I also think that it would have been better to have a slot for the tablet; the tablet I have, due to the case it’s in, has to be leant against a wall to stand up. (It slides and makes a horrible noise.)
The keyboard is also a little bit bulky; it’s a little bit too big for me to stick in a bag when moving round.

iN CONCLUSION:

This is a BAMF piece of tech. (And no, if you don’t know what that means, I’m not going to explain; Google it.)
I love the feel of it; it is so gratifying. I also think that my relatives are grateful for the in-built noise suppression for typing feature. (I have a terrible habit of banging away when typing.)
What’s not to love? I feel that it has enhanced my life-and it’s so useful. If you’re on a budget and in need of some technology, this is for you.

Lydia XO

Buy the keyboard here.


Disclaimer: I was gifted the keyboard in this post, in exchange for review, and an agreed upon amount of posts featuring in. However, this post is my honest opinion-and does not constitute advertising. For more information visit the Disclaimer page.