Blog The Importance of Representation: Arthur's Journey to Publication
Arthur has verbal disfluency, better known as a stammer or stutter. He’s had this since he was four years old, and he has always struggled with seeing his disfluency reflected in other people. No one at his school has a stammer and no one in children’s television shows has one either. As adults we are aware of people who have had, or who do stammer. We know that people are different and present in many ways. But for Arthur only he had this way of talking. So isolated did he feel in his disfluency that he thought he could ‘infect’ his friends with his stammer. That his stammer was a disease that he had caught.
Last year the charity STAMMA.org called on its members to contribute to a Pearson writing competition called ‘My Twist on a Tale: Represent!’. The competition invited 4-19 year-olds from diverse and under-represented groups to send in their work. I’d read that writing helped children process the world around them better and after seeing STAMMA’s previous campaign 'No Diversity Without Disfluency' about seeing people with a stammer in the media I encouraged Arthur to enter the competition.
Arthur wanted to express what it felt like to stammer. Working in true collaboration I helped Arthur turn his feelings into words. I wanted Arthur to express himself in his own unique way. Our collaboration was a truly beautiful thing, I asked him questions like: ‘when you think about your stammer, what images come into your head?’ ‘What makes you sad about your stammer?’ What do your friends say about how you speak?’ From these early questions we brainstormed words and phrases. The more we talked the more Arthur was able to express his feelings and thoughts about his disfluency and how it affected his life. One thing he was very clear on was that he did not want to lose his stammer. Whatever he wrote he wanted to make sure that point was very clear. That he may have struggled, and still struggles, with his disfluency but it is part of his identity.
Arthur is naturally drawn to the poetic form: rhyming for a 7-year-old is fun, but also the unruly nature of poetry is more appealing to him that the three-part structure of a short story. Phillip Larkin once said that novels are about other people and poetry is about yourself, and for this work, which is truly personal in nature, a poem was the right form. That’s not to say Arthur thinks about his writing in an academic sense. He’s a perfectly ordinary child who likes playing with his friends, laughing at toilet jokes, and everything to do with animals. My point is that Arthur writes for himself, he writes things that make no sense, and things which are deeply poignant. He doesn’t write to create a book; he writes because he can’t help but write.
Arthur’s poem, Do Animals Stammer? didn't win the competition, but believing it had potential, I sent it off to publishers to see if they'd be interested. It was picked up very quickly by Olympia Publishers and book was released at the end of September 2023 - it is available to buy from all major bookshops.
As soon as we got the contract for Do Animals Stammer? Arthur was thinking about his next book and has since written three more stories. Arthur writes from what he knows and sees, he doesn’t feel the pressure to produce perfect pieces of writing. Instead, he takes the mundane and propels it into a fantastic adventure.
Whatever he writes or does next he'd like to see himself (as a person with a stammer) represented in lots of different fields.
You can find out more about this book here and it's available to purchase now.