April, month of Absolutely Everything

Gosh, it’s been a bit of a while since I was here last, hasn’t it. A busy while.

And so, we go live to April, the home of big feelings, anniversaries and so on (see also, July, November, Christmas, my birthday. Basically I’m a cucumber with legs and a face throughout most of any given year now. But April’s the daddy of them all…). Despite my best intentions to space events out, everything has converged around the last fortnight of the month like an annual blue-arsed fly convention. Maybe being incredibly busy and incredibly knackered seems a good way of handling things to you; maybe it doesn’t. Whatever. I am it, and I am – touch wood – doing well.

Late-April is exactly seven years since I last saw two people I knew separately alive in the same week. We had an early heatwave and an imminent Royal Wedding then too. Late-April also means it’s two years since I ran the London Marathon (no heatwave then, thank God. In fact, it was bloody freezing, which was OK for me. Not so much for my poor parents who had to stand and watch for 5 hours after they’d just come back from four months in the southern hemisphere…).

As I recently said on Twitter, recent years have basically represented me going through what anyone goes through when faced with the possibility of losing/not having things which our society assumes/expects you inherently get/keep. You make your own normality. In January, probably the most important piece of work I’ve written in years was finally signed off, after two years of back and forth and will-it-ever-happen. It very much did, and the feedback has been very much great. At the same time, having spent the better chunk of 2016 running huge distances and the better chunk of 2017 writing and editing my book, I arrived at the “Shall I spend 5K in relocation costs in order to take a two-year contract job at a department which may not even exist in a years’ time, or invest half that money into my business to make it better instead?” crossroads, and I chose the latter, relaunching my business with a stronger identity and focus. So, say hello to Genuine Copy. I’ve kept meaning to blog about it here and not done it – my website will speak for itself soon, when it fully goes live. If you know me well, I’ve probably already told you something about it, and you’ve probably said something lovely and encouraging. Thank you!

This month I was also chosen as one of fifty “rare minds” to attend RARE London’s two-day masterclass, designed for mid-career people in the creative industries and aimed at encouraging greater diversity in those industries. As a freelancer I was awarded a scholarship place next to people who’d had theirs paid for by the likes of YouTube, Google and Saatchi & Saatchi, which was extra rewarding. It couldn’t have been a better first outing for my business, or a better illustration of what said business is about.

What else? Early next month, all being well, I’m sending my book out to a first batch of agents. And being generally eager to discover what the next few months will bring, on every front….

Oh, and did I mention the small matter of my driving test? I postponed booking it for at least six months, and have been postponing taking it for at least the last four months.  But I’m doing it this time. INCREDIBLY soon. For definite.

At some point in all this, I might manage a drink and a little lie down. With you, if you’re so inclined (Ahem, the drink, not the lie down. I am slightly more discerning on that front…).



On being thirtysomething and single by choice

I’ve hesitated over writing this because I hate the massive market for articles by people – overwhelmingly women – justifying their lives to the public. Justifying myself to other people is something I’ve done too much of throughout life and am trying to do less of. And there are about seven more important things than this I should be writing right now, including circa 37,000 words by early May. But an event last week twisted my arm. A playwright friend of mine, Nicky Werenowkska, has just written a relationship play, HIDDEN, which is about to go on tour. It’s semi-autobiographical, and centres around a woman who is diagnosed with dyspraxia whilst adjusting to being a new parent and coping with her husband’s redundancy following the 2008 financial crash. To help bring the play to life, and add another perspective, she asked me to do an informal Q&A about dyspraxia with the cast last week during rehearsals. Nicky is in her 40s, married to a former City lawyer, and has three young children. I am emphatically none of those things so my perspective on dyspraxia (and life) is a bit different to hers. Inevitably, during said Q&A I was asked about my own relationship history and attitude towards relationships. I decided afterwards, having been asked and answered that I am essentially single by decision, to put some of my thoughts around it down here in writing. Also, doing it specifically off the back of being asked professionally feels a bit less like a self-indulgent random ramble…

It’s generally thought that there are various “windows” in life for finding love and if you don’t manage to succeed in one, never mind, there’ll always be a next one. Unlucky as a teenager? Well, aren’t we all, dear. Wait until you get to university. Nothing good going on there? Never mind, you’ll meet someone at work. Or try online dating. Forget running bores; online dating evangelists are the worst. “Have you tried online dating? Everyone does it these days!” they chirp, as if its existence might have escaped your notice. Yes, thanks. I spend half my life online but there are plenty of things you can do online that I don’t want to. I know people who’ve met partners on Tinder/Match/Soulmates and whatnot. I know people who’ve met their partners on dearest Twitter, but my own impression is that it’s basically a dating app for people who are too dysfunctional to be in relationships, already in one, or both.  Through my twenties I progressed – if you can call it that – from unrequited boarding school-type crushes on people I didn’t so much want to be with as be like or be fixed by, to mutual but hopelessly messy attractions to larger-than-life but vulnerable men. The bottom line is that at pretty much every life stage I have consistently attracted people in the wrong circumstances or for the wrong reasons, and now, at nearly 33, I’m just too, too tired of it. As a teenager I used to look at single people in their 30s or 40s and think “What’s wrong with you?” Now, I think: “What happened to you?  And who are your might-have-beens?”  

There was one time, one little window, in my late twenties – this time about six years ago in fact – when I felt on the verge of something big, which might eventually include a serious relationship, along with other watershed-type things. I was newly-freelance, work was progressing rather well and certain people who appeared at the time felt like an affirmation of that. It prompted a lot of big questions, but, you know, my mum defied the Berlin Wall to marry my dad, so big questions are rather in the genes. With a heritage like that, I suppose I was never likely to make things easy for myself and fall for the boy next door. Suffice to say, unlike for my mum, there was no happy ending here. There really is such a thing as an extraordinary meeting in the wrong universe…

As things currently stand, I don’t want a relationship where someone sees themselves as my carer and me as a person to be micromanaged, or where I’m a carer for someone, and vice versa. Hypocritical as it may sound, I no longer want to attach myself emotionally to men with mental health issues. This is not because I believe they’re unloveable, have nothing to offer or anything offensive along those lines – quite the reverse. Most halfway intelligent and empathetic blokes are somewhere on the spectrum of anxiety or depression. But it’s a pattern that hasn’t previously served me well, and I don’t want to get into a repetitive pain sequence where each reminds me of the last. I’ll always be a passionate mental health campaigner. I will lobby, letter-write, chat, tweet, run and walk for the cause. And the affected friends I have will always be dear ones. But I now step back from situations where I’d have leaned in before. It’s not selfishness; it’s self-care. I prefer the word “decision” to “choice”, incidentally, because choice is complicated. Choice suggests complete autonomy, and nobody really has that. “Decision” is more about reacting to circumstances you have varying amounts of control over.

It’s very hard to feel this way at the exact point in life when you are assumed/supposed to be feeling the exact opposite, and society is organised around that assumption, with little empathy for those who are going off-script. Even if you’re not the sort of person who’s planned your wedding, named your kids and can picture your future partner like an e-fit before you’re 25, you probably don’t picture what not being with someone when others are will look like. There are various forums and support groups for the infertile, disabled, divorced, widowed and all sorts. But I don’t fit neatly into any of their tragic boxes. The fact that I actually like and would like to have children is another complication. But if life so far has taught me anything, it’s that growing up and into yourself is about so much more than the accumulation of people and stuff. I haven’t grown or matured by having things. I’ve done it through losing things, or not having things. Or dealing with David Lynch outcomes in a society of Disney aspirations. And maybe the root of preferring to be alone is in what I said at the beginning: “Justifying myself to other people is something I’ve done too much of and am trying to do less of.”

Anonymous Valentines: Basically, don’t

In today’s post for me was an anonymous Valentine. My reaction was not a happy one. This is not a humblebrag, I promise you. I’m 33 years old this year. Social drama involving Valentines cards hasn’t been my idea of fun since East 17 were my idea of fun…

The envelope had a non-local postmark, and the only eligible person I’ve ever met in my life from near that area has been dead for six years, so, naturally, I’m a bit confused. Very few people alive have the address it was sent to, which narrows the sender down to a handful of longtime friends, a weird ex from a brief relationship four years ago who basically ghosted me but still sends them, or a serious creep who’s tracked it down without me knowing (FYI, it’s quite easy to look for an address – I know how; as would anyone who’s done journalism or marketing, or knows the slightest thing about IT). I’m writing this post reluctantly, because if it’s the first category, this is going to be embarrassing and awkward to someone lovely who was just trying to be nice. And if it’s category two or three, I’m giving them a public reaction, which is probably what they want (God knows what’s going on in their head – just stop and get help. Please).

But I thought I’d make this general plea to the world that if you send an anonymous Valentine (or make an anonymous gesture on any day, for that matter), please think about the impact it might have, and how differently something that seems cute and fun in a book or film might go down in real life (actually, this quite often goes wrong in books and films too – ever read Far From The Madding Crowd?). For women over sixteen who aren’t fictional, it’s as likely to be ominous as flattering. Thankfully, I’ve only been involved with people in the weird or daft rather than dangerously horrible bracket, but just imagine how scared you might make someone with an abusive ex feel (and please do not think this applies to no-one you know because you’re respectable and well-educated, innit…). If you want to send a card to flatter an innocent crush, or be kind to a mate, good for you, by all means do, but just do them a favour and put your name or some kind of clue on it, or they might not see it that way. If you feel you have to be anonymous, ask yourself why (and if you’re in a monogamous relationship with somebody else, just don’t. I won’t get into moralising here, but come on).

Forget the Valentines Day Sucks pieces about how terribly cheesy the marketing is (or, ahem, how terrible it is being dumped by phone in Durham by someone who’s panic-realised it’s next week…). Why it truly sucks is that few people in happy relationships give a toss about it, but it’s so easily used to manipulate people outside that. Sending someone a card after you’ve been told not to contact them again? On any other day, that’s stalking. But do it once a year on Valentines Day and it’s just fun, right?  No. I feel disconcerted and reminded of sad things I’d rather forget, or at least not be reminded of this way. It may well be down to someone nice and well-meaning – I hope it is. But it may be someone I don’t want to hear from, and at the moment there’s nothing I can do about it because I can’t prove anything. In short, intentionally or not, someone’s upset me. That’s no fun, and it certainly isn’t something you should want to happen to anyone you love or respect.


Crowdfunder: Please help a wonderful writer dealing with her husband’s sudden death…

As some of you know, I have very happy memories of my (not half as frequent as I’d like) stays at the Retreats For You writer’s retreat in Sheepwash, Devon. I’ve hoped to visit later this year to work on a new project which was given an Arts Council-funded read before Christmas. As well as its beautiful rural Devon surroundings and plentiful home-cooked food, the retreat is adored by many for the hospitality and warmth of owner Deborah and her husband Bob, with their mythical combination of scrupulous efficiency and permanent sunny smiles. I was only 26, little older than their own three children, when I first visited in 2010, and she joked about “adopting” me.

Very sadly, Bob has recently died suddenly. I don’t know the details and don’t need to: the word “sudden” says enough. Deborah – a writer herself – has understandably had to close their business and put aside her own writing while she grieves. As a self-employed, single person, no work means no earnings: and no sick pay or compassionate leave for bereavement. A Retreats For You regular, Angela Clarke, has very kindly put together a crowdfunder to help Deborah cover her costs for the duration, and I wanted to link to it here in support. I was deeply shocked, saddened and moved when I heard the news – not just because Retreats For You meant so much to me, but because of the unique struggles that self-employed people face at times like these.

Without wishing to make Deborah’s tragedy All About Me, or pretend to know in any way what it is like to lose someone you’ve lived beside for three decades, I do know that being self-employed makes coping with an unexpected death all the more challenging, in ways largely unknown to and unacknowledged by others. In 2011, just six months after I’d tentatively gone freelance full-time at the age of 27, one of my closest friends took his own life. In the next few months, my small-but-burgeoning income plummeted to nothing, as my very new business struggled to recover from the time off. In 2014 a second friend did the same, which triggered another dip in my own mental health. I’ve pulled through financially for now thanks to luck, grit and generosity (though I can’t be sure for how long I’m “in the clear” and few jobs come without some uncertainty over when I’ll see the money for them…). This blog post is partly the thinkpiece I’ve never written: I have been trying for four years to put something on self-employment and sudden grief into the media and had various pitches ignored. It’s tiring seeing article after article crowing about “women entrepreneurs” or the satisfaction of “being your own boss,” and not one acknowledging how difficult and painful it can be when you’re faced with the unthinkable without the cushion of a guaranteed income. If she wants to, once she’s able to work again, I’m sure Deborah could use her contacts and experience to bring this issue the coverage it deserves.

Meanwhile, if you’re a writer or self-employed and you have the means (I know money is tight for most of us too) please please consider supporting the fund to help Deborah, in Bob’s memory. I’ve written to Deborah privately and my love and thoughts are with her and her family.

The 2015 Review

2015 was an extremely difficult year: one of lessons, and of facing difficult realities. But I hope, one I will ultimately look back on as something of a game-changer…

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before? 

  • Ran a 10K and a Half Marathon
  • Fitted into size 8 clothes the other side of puberty
  • Get asked to be a bridesmaid. Twice! (I said yes)
  • Had an anxiety attack on a train
  • …and in Berlin. *sings ‘Angsting all over the world’ to the tune of Status Quo*

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Let’s see… (*looks back at archive*) Oooh, in fact, yes, I do believe I actually did…

Last year’s resolutions were:

  • Grow all areas of my business Well, it took me until October to actually do what I needed to do to really make this happen, but I’ve had a lovely mentor this year, and more money than I’ve had at the end of the year since 2011, so we can probably call that “grown”. Now, to make it last….
  • Get proper therapy Result! Free and non-time limited counselling. Getting to it takes up most of my Monday, but what price my mental health.
  • Manage procrastination Hmmm. Probably needed to refine this one a bit.
  • Finish The Novel Due to to the election result and other external adversity, I made the difficult decision to put The Novel on indefinite hiatus. But, out of that project came another. Which has just won an Arts Council free read with a lit consultant. Which is rather nice.
  • Run to raise money for mental health charities Yes, this very much happened! £700 for Mind from the London 10K, and I’ve entered the London Marathon, for which I have to raise a minimum of £1,750. Gulp.
  • Launch a successful new mental health blogging project I did. It never really took off, perhaps inevitably given the subject matter. But one of the posts was widely shared (Props to Alastair Campbell for retweeting it…).
  • Make a list of all the unread books on my shelves and work my way through them. Didn’t manage this one. There are still tonnes.
  • If not actually achieve any dramatic change in terms of moving out, travelling or meeting significant new people at least get to a point where any of these things feel a bit more feasible. They do. That’s not saying a lot, but.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Not this year. Give it eighteen months after all after the engagements/weddings…

4. Did anyone close to you die? Mercifully, no. I want a ten year moratorium on death, so to speak.

5. What countries did you visit? Germany.

6. What would you like to have had in 2015 that you lacked? Money, mainly. Happily I have some of that now for the moment.

7. What date from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 

Certain sentimental trips I made in April and June. Getting drunk with an old friend, and the photoshoot. My Berlin trip. The dates of my big runs, obviously.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Although I was quite unwell in parts, and it didn’t often feel like it, there were quite a lot:

  • The 10K, half marathon and entering the London Marathon
  • Gaining financial support and business mentoring
  • Also, finding counselling that was free and not time limited
  • Becoming a charity trustee
  • Getting an Arts Council-funded read of my book
  • I’m not sure this qualifies as an “achievement” as such, but two people who don’t know me from a hole in the wall have recently offered to meet me for a drink and a chat related to last year’s tragedy. I don’t know whether this will actually happen because it rests on a bit of logistics and involves communication with two strangers, one of whom sounds keener than the other. But I wasn’t hopeful of a response at all (and frankly, finding them was a better show of my journalistic acumen than most of my actual journalism since 2011, so there’s that…).
  • Going to a media shindig outside my field by myself (shouldn’t be a big deal but it was in October, and given my record at social things for the rest of the year, a considerable achievement).
  • My short play Who To Follow, about political differences, awkward tensions, and Twitter.
  • Though I say it myself, a few of the lines from said play:

HENRY: You work for skint nobodies; how do you know all this boardroom gossip, little Mattie Storin?

ALEX: Never underestimate the curiosity of a skint nobody.


ALEX: I don’t eat meat. I think it’s immoral.

HENRY (loaded): You have a peculiar moral compass…

ALEX: Don’t we all.

9. What was your biggest failure?

  • Not making it to a couple of friends’ parties because of anxiety attacks (I have since made up for it, I think/hope).
  • Appearing to have rather over-estimated a friendship, or the potential for one. And not knowing whether this is just a reflection of life’s ebb and flow and different circumstances or something more personal than that. And not having any way of finding out which isn’t rather awkward, or can just be ignored…

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? See above.

11. What was the best thing you bought? My mum’s 60th birthday present, which she’s getting on Monday.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration? There are a handful in particular, who I’ve told privately at length, or I will do before the end of the year. Most of all, those who are open, honest and decisive in their dealings with me, rather than sapping up emotional energy that could be going somewhere more productive. Also, the actress and writer, who I won’t name, but who very sweetly replied to an emotional fan letter I wrote to her after re-reading her book and finding it comforting at a difficult time.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed? The knee-jerking and whataboutery of all political hues on social media in reaction to terrorist atrocities upsets me. It is very difficult to explain to anyone until and unless you have known anyone die a sudden and violent death so I won’t try in this amount of space.

14. Where did most of your money go? Train journeys. Though again, work paid for the most expensive of them so not complaining.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? My first 10K and half Marathon.

16. What song(s) will always remind you of 2015? Paloma Faith’s Only Love Can Hurt Like This, L.I.F.E G.O.E.S O.N by Noah and the Whale, Tulip by Jesca Hoop (Beautiful voice. The internet tells me nothing about her except that she was once Peter Gabriel’s backing singer. Cheers, internet). Changes by Faul/Wad Ad, Lean On by Major Lazer, Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, I Know Him So Well by Elaine Paige (I listened to the lyrics properly for the first time this year. Wah). Too Young To Remember by Florrie (my running song). All my running playlists.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you…?

– Happier or sadder? Happier. I couldn’t really be sadder.

– Thinner or fatter? Put it this way, the last time I wore size-8 dayglo patterned leggings before this October was the mid-90s. The payoff for running like a demon to distract you from searing mental pain is losing weight and being spared all the ritual food-guilt nonsense.

– Richer or poorer? Richer. As in, I don’t feel physically ill if I spend more than £10 in one go, and the bank send me offers, not nasty letters.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of? Travelling abroad.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of? Feeling controlled by anxiety.

20. How will you be spending New Year? With family, as I won’t be seeing them for four months afterwards.

21. Did you fall in love in 2015? Does it sound like it?

22. How many one-night stands? For the effort required I may as well plan my wedding (See also: point number one of this post).

23. What was your favourite TV programme? I got completely hooked on the box set of the original House of Cards series in the spring and summer. In fact, I may watch it again over Christmas.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? Not that I can think of.

25. Do you like anyone now that you didn’t like this time last year? As above.

26. What was the best book you read? About 20 years late, Helena Kennedy’s Eve Was Framed. Also saw her lead a panel at the Art Newspaper’s 25th birthday party.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery? Jesca Hoop.

28. What did you want and get? Out of the woods financially. For now, and hopefully for good.

29. What did you want and not get? Enough certainty of anything.

30. What was your favourite film of this year? Can’t remember, but I saw Carol recently, and liked it.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I was 31 and it was probably the first or second rainy birthday I’ve ever had. I saw the Henley Regatta. The following week I went to see Kylie in Hyde Park.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Things that involve an alternate universe, so are not really worth going into.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?  Black clothes and a forlorn expression teamed with bright blue eyeshadow. Also a fan of this look. 

34. Who kept you sane? My mum’s suggestion that I take up running almost literally saved my life, so I think that counts…

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Can’t remember.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?  Other than the ones that do every year, the treatment of Syrian refugees.

37. Who did you miss? The obviouses.

38. Who was the best new person you met? Reconnected with a very old friend.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015

  • That some people exist to one as life lessons.
  • That I will not devote another nano-second of my life to analysing somebody’s ambiguous behaviour. I may never be able to stop myself doing it in relation to current and past people but I’ll never put myself through it with anyone new. As a wise friend said: “The most important thing you can take from certain interactions is what they teach you about the interactions you want.”
  • That the right to know what’s happening in certain people’s heads or their histories is not one I’ve earned.
  • That people who might be described as outgoing/social/good at parties/able to talk to anybody can be quite rubbish/evasive when it comes to talking about things which are emotive, awkward or personal – particularly around grief or mental health. Not learned this year, learned a decade or more ago, but by God it hit home this year.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up 2015:  

“And you won’t see me surrender, you won’t hear me confess; ’cause you’ve left me with nothing, but I’ve worked with less.”  Dilate, by good old Ani DiFranco

Also, this doesn’t, unfortunately, “sum up 2015” but I love it very much…:

“So, welcome to our winning streak, no broken bones or old deceits, just you and me versus this little town. We’re the rag dolls in the gutter; we’re the curses that they’ll mutter. And you will still be trying on my heart just like a crown. And we’ll tear it all down…” Tear It All Down – Thea Gilmore.

“Running saved my life…” (Me too)

Content note: This post, and the article it links to, mention suicide.

I don’t normally do response blogs to people in the paper; it can look a bit thirsty. But Zoe Margolis’s brave and wonderful Guardian piece Running Saved My Life chimed so much I couldn’t not. Especially as by 10 o’clock this morning I’d had three people say: “You could have written that!” 

I have long lived with anxiety and depression. This has spiked recently due to the suicides of friends. And like Zoe, running has saved my life. With the best will in the world on both sides it’s very hard for people who aren’t predisposed to depression or anxiety to understand the profound effect that suicides – and other external events – can have on your own mental health if you are. And, as we all know, finding the right support isn’t easy. It’s not a matter of being “pro or anti” pills, or therapy, it’s finding the right sort at the right time. Although I’ve taken medication briefly in the distant past and it worked for me at the time I’m reluctant to go down that road at the moment. Antidepressants increase thoughts of suicide while your body adjusts to them, which puts you at greater risk when people you know have done it. Finding affordable talking therapy is a never-ending game (I’ve just reached the top of another waiting list – woohoo), as is finding work as a freelancer. I need certainty in my life to function, and running is currently the only certainty there is.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think running or fitness are quantifiably much different from any other hobby that might help you find solace in a crisis. You can easily substitute the words “Faith”, “Choir” “Stamp collecting” or “Macrame” and you’d have just as moving an article. Anything that gets you through is valid. For me as a dyspraxic woman who would generally prefer people not to watch me cook pasta, never mind run across London, running just happens to have acquired a particular symbolic value.

As for “You could’ve written that…!” I have Ambitious Plans in that direction, which some of you know about. There has been some interest, but when and whether it all comes together depends a lot on the execution, so to speak. It needs to be carefully thought through and organised, and all the sorts of things which are inherently a bit difficult when you’re alright one minute and sobbing in a restaurant loo in Berlin the next. I will keep anyone who cares posted.

Meanwhile, the latest news, just in case you missed it (or, again, because I still can’t quite believe it…)


What media coverage of disability can learn from ‘Girls With Autism’

ITVs documentary Girls With Autism (shown last night, available on catchup) is a lesson to the media in covering disability. Filmed at Limpsfield Grange, the UK’s only state-run boarding school for girls with autism and related conditions, it was a lovely, exemplary piece of TV. Here’s why:

  • It avoided “Inspiration Porn”. It didn’t call the girls “inspiring”, or “brave” or “heroic”. The premise was not that neurotypicals had so much to “learn” from autistic people. (There is lots that we can. If we all stopped saying “I’ll pop round sometime” or “Let’s do this again soon” when we didn’t mean it, we’d have less anxious lives, but that’s by the by). The focus was on the girls themselves, their families and their lives, not how they might enrich the lives of people watching.
  • It showed the different types of behaviour that can be classed as autistic, and it showed the girls’ different, and vibrant, personalities.
  • It showed good days and bad days – neither shying away from difficult subjects such as self-harm, or being implausibly upbeat. It wasn’t an assumption about the quality of the girls’ entire lives based on a single meeting.
  • It was about girls, and it showed girls wanting friendships and relationships. The girls are autistic but they also do and want things every other teenager does and wants.
  • It featured autistic boys from a neighbouring specialist school mixing with the girls at an end-of-term disco. Not doing Maths, or playing chess, or monologuing about science fiction or dinosaurs. There’s nothing wrong with those activities but they are cliches seen as synonymous with autism (and sexual inexperience) so it was nice to watch something different.
  • It showed how caring and thoughtful the staff were and the attention given to individual girls’ needs.
  • It didn’t present the school as a “cure” for autism and made quite clear a cure doesn’t exist.

Yes, it featured girls at one end of the autistic spectrum – it would have been a lot more challenging to make a film with people who don’t communicate in any way an average viewer can recognise. And of course, pupils at the school benefit from specialist support, which is reflected in how they manage their autism. But it was a lovely representation of the girls, which avoided generalisations, cliches, too much sunshine or too much negativity.

Disclaimer: I’m not on the spectrum and I don’t know how people with lived experience felt about the programme, but I am neurodiverse by a wider definition which includes dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. If were advising the media on covering disability I’d definitely refer to it.