A mini interview with Chris

We first met Chris in 2017 (face to face, I’d followed his page a long while). Eliza is in his book ‘What we love most about life’. Since then we’ve become very close friends and Eliza adores spending time with him. I’ve had the honour of reading his upcoming novel, Underdogs, which is incredible and is released next month! He’s one of our favourite geeky humans in the world and here are his answers to my questions:

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m a special needs tutor, formerly a primary school teacher, and I run the website Autistic Not Weird. Since starting it I’ve also become an international speaker and autism trainer, and a published author too- which wasn’t the plan but I love how it turned out!

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Chris Bonnello

What is your connection to autism?

Being autistic myself, diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 25. Having grown up before knowledge of autism was widespread, and being described as having a “slightly odd personality” in an official report at the age of ten.

What made you start a Facebook page/blog?

I left mainstream teaching in December 2014, having also worked in special education. In the gap between teaching and tutoring, I really came to miss having the opportunity to build up autistic people. So I thought I’d start up a website to write about autism while I was getting anxious and failing job interviews for a living.

Do you think there is enough support and resources in your area for autistic people and their families?

I waited literally five years between my diagnosis and my first follow-up appointment, so not particularly.

What are your thoughts about how autism is portrayed in the media?

We’re certainly heading in the right direction, although we’ll never get it perfect. Autism is just too wide and varied a spectrum for everyone to be represented accurately. But at the very least, we’ve moved on from the Rain Man days and started listening to feedback from people who are actually autistic!

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Chris and Eliza, Sept 2018

What 3 books, related to autism, would you recommend to people?

(Not sure whether I can recommend my own. XD Happy to skip this one actually.)

Tell us about your novel that is due to be published next month.

Underdogs is a near-future war novel featuring autistic (and otherwise neurodiverse heroes). The whole of Britain has been taken over and imprisoned in giant walled citadels, under the watchful eye of countless cloned soldiers. Only a dozen people remain free in the abandoned countryside, eight of whom are teenagers who escaped the attack on their special school. Now they’re Britain’s last line of defence, learning how to play to their strengths in a world that’s always defined them by their weaknesses.

Turns out there’s quite a demand for neurodiversity in fiction- Underdogs has now had 2.5 times as many copies pre-ordered as the average novel sells in its opening year (and we’re not even at Day One yet!). It’s been endorsed by Steve Silberman (author of Neurotribes) and by Carol Povey of the National Autistic Society, which I’m utterly thrilled about, and I can’t wait to see everyone’s reaction once it’s released. Not least because the publisher has already accepted the sequel!

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What do you hope the future holds for you as a writer and for your advocacy work?

I’ve never had any idea how to answer this question! I’m honoured to have such a well-read platform for my autism advocacy, astounded that people have even given me awards for it, and events such as having a novel published and speaking at Sydney Opera House have been totally outside anything I ever dreamed of in my teaching career. I think maintaining what I already have is absolutely enough. Although I’d love for the Underdogs series to be successful enough to continue beyond its current two volumes- I have four planned in total!

What would you like the world to know about autism?

I don’t think there’s enough room for me to answer that question! But mainly, I want the world to know that we get to be individuals too rather than just walking diagnoses; that the world becomes better for autistic people when we’re defined by our strengths rather than just our weaknesses; and that opportunities to play to our strengths do wonders for our self-perception.

 

You can find Chris on Facebook here: Autistic Not Weird

Website: ANW Website

Chris’s novel can be ordered here: Underdogs

Chris’s book ‘What we love most about life’: WWLMAL

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A mini interview with Miriam

Miriam is a lovely friend and fellow blogger. We met through our Facebook pages and online groups that we are both in. She’s always supportive and encouraged me to keep blogging during times I felt like giving up. Here are her answers to my questions:

Tell us a little about you and your family.

My name is Miriam and I live in Scotland. I have a husband, two children and a large tank of tropical fish. I have a degree in primary school teaching but I am currently a full-time parent carer.

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What is your connection to autism?
My husband is autistic, though he wasn’t diagnosed until he was 59. Both of my children are autistic.

What made you start a Facebook page/blog?
Both were started for very different reasons and both serve a different purpose for me.
My blog (www.faithmummy.wordpress.com) was started on my 36th birthday. I realised I was closer to 40 than 30 and wanted to do something worthwhile with my life but having two four-year olds, one of who is significantly disabled, I felt so alone and stuck. My son had just been diagnosed with a genetic tumour growing condition the month before and I thought writing my story might help others. I wrote my first blog called ‘the story so far’ and within hours over 800 people had read it! I asked my brother (who wrote a blog for his work) what I should do next and he said I should update it. I asked how often and he said weekly! I was shocked but the next week I wrote more and for the last six years and three months I have written a weekly update.
When my first blog was published on another site after a few years everything changed. I began getting not only a lot of abuse and hate but a huge amount of support and hundreds of strangers friend requested me as they wanted to read my weekly updates. It was then I felt I should start a page where I could have followers and post updates without taking away from the intimacy that I posted on my own wall for friends and family.

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Do you think there is enough support and resources in your area for autistic people and their families?
That’s a great question. I think much depends on the individual needs of families and children. There are lots of support groups and groups for children but not everyone is able to access these for various reasons. I also think there is very little nationally for more severely affected children like my non verbal son.

What are your thoughts about how autism is portrayed in the media?
The media, by nature, have an agenda and want views so will always naturally be drawn to autism from the view of ‘Will people watch this?’ That means they are most likely to use extreme examples and in that aspect it can portray autism as extreme one way or other. The other factor is that there is no such thing as a ‘typical autistic’ which makes their task almost impossible. The more they feature it though the better for everyone.

What 3 books, related to autism, would you recommend to people?
It very much depends what the person is looking for. Story wise I love ‘After Thomas’ which is a story of one autistic boy and how getting a support dog helped him. My best feel good factor one would be What we love most about life by Chris Bonnello. As a general knowledge about autism book ‘the ten things everyone with autism wants you to know’ is good.

What would you like the world to know about autism?
That while every autistic person may have difficulties in social awareness and understanding, rigidity of thinking and have some repetitive movements plus communication difficulties that doesn’t mean they are any less than anyone else. For some autism is very much a major disability but for others it is more a difference. It’s about accepting people regardless.

You can find Miriam on Facebook here: Faithmummy

Interview with the author of Guerrillas – a novel with special needs heroes written by Chris Bonnello

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Bonnello who runs the very popular Facebook page Autistic Not Weird. Chris is a very close friend of mine, we met via our Facebook pages and he kindly added Eliza as one of the 150 children in his book What We Love Most About Life and now he’s about to become a published author of the novel ‘Guerrillas’. I’ve had the pleasure of reading the book already and it really is incredible. Action scenes that had me on the edge of my seat, some great humor and inspiring messages inside the story. Oh and at one point I swore at Chris for a certain scene that literally made my pulse race with anticipation! Don’t worry, no spoilers. Guerrillas is a book where the heroes are from Special Education with Autism, Anxiety, ADHD, Down Syndrome and PDA. I’ll add the link to where you can pre-order Guerrillas at the end of the interview.

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For those that may not know you, tell us about yourself.

My name’s Chris, and I’m the writer behind Autistic Not Weird (http://autisticnotweird.com), diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at the age of 25. After I left primary school teaching I launched my website to talk both personally and professionally about autism, and it’s taken off a bit better than expected! Three years on I’ve won three awards for my advocacy and given over fifty autism talks, some internationally (including at Sydney Opera House!). I’m also a special needs tutor, a Boys’ Brigade captain, an enormous chess geek and a soon-to-be-published novelist.

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Chris Bonnello – Autism Advocate, Writer , Chess Geek… Also known as Captain Quirk!

 

When did you start writing Guerrillas and what inspired you to write it?

Guerrillas has gone through a bunch of incarnations, but the very, very first draft was in 2010. I wanted to write the ultimate underdog story: a novel series where the good guys were almost mathematically certain to lose, but would fight anyway. Hilariously, writing the book was also a coping mechanism for my unemployment at the time, giving me something to do with my days. It was clearly never going to get published, but that wasn’t the point of it. And now it’s literally being published, with over 350 copies sold already and we’re not even halfway through the pre-order phase!

Some of the characters are from Special Education. What made you decide to go with this amazing idea?

In 2014 I was working at a special school, and looked at Guerrillas again. The thought of having the main characters being teenagers from a special school crossed my mind, and the more I thought about it the more I felt it absolutely had to happen. Not only would it be a unique idea in the dystopia field, but also there’d be major opportunities to discuss important topics. Guerrillas would become a novel that would actually have something to say.

There are some powerful messages/life lessons in the story. What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

I don’t want Guerrillas to be too preachy: underneath everything else, it’s an intense action novel filled with loveable characters, and as a novel it should be seen that way. With that said, there are massive opportunities to be taken (and a lot of responsibility on my part) to make sure the reader is richer from the experience of reading. I want neurodiverse readers to experience a novel where they can identify with the main characters, and see people similar to them who go through massive challenges due to their conditions but do incredible things anyway. I want neurotypical readers to leave the book with a better understanding of teenagers with special needs: not just what makes them different, but also the largely unspoken common ground they have with other teenagers.

Finally, I want all the book’s readers to gain a little more insight into what happens when those defined by their weaknesses get a chance to play to their strengths.

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What themes/genres does Guerrillas fit?

Aside from the obvious young adult/dystopia genres, there’s an up and coming genre called “disability-lit”, which Guerrillas is perhaps around the edges of.

As for themes… I’d say the big ones are the difficulties of being an underdog (both in the war sense and in the special needs sense – these characters have been raised to believe they’re “inferior” to those they’re fighting to save), and trying to be the best you can be when the world is not on your side.

Is there a certain age range the book is more suitable for?

I’d say “12+”, which obviously is an age range that includes adults. It has that Harry Potter/Hunger Games cross-age-range appeal, written for teenagers but adults are likely to love it just as much. Among its dozen or so beta readers, both teenagers and adults have been equally enthusiastic.

Guerrillas is available in paperback and eBook once published. Is there any possibility of an audiobook version?

A lot of people have asked this. Unbound Publishing have told me that it’s rare that they do audiobooks, but they will if the book’s wildly successful and proves that there’s a level of demand for it!

Who is your favorite character in Guerrillas and why?

I’d say it’s a tie between Jack, a 17-year-old lad with Asperger’s who understands computers better than people, and Dr McCormick who leads the Guerrillas as a calm, guiding force who loves building people. Jack is a loyal, honest (sometimes too honest) young man who helps his friends put things into perspective, and a nice dry sense of humour. McCormick is like Dumbledore and Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender rolled into one, except a mathematics lecturer.

Kate comes close behind though. She suffers massively from anxiety but makes a point of confronting absolutely everything that makes her nervous. She is by far the bravest character in the whole Guerrillas universe.

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Will there be more Guerrillas books to follow?

Oh yes. I’m on book three already! Obviously, the reception to book one will determine whether the publisher will accept book two, but going by Guerrillas’ performance so far I think we can afford to be optimistic.

As the author, tell everyone why you think the world needs a book like Guerrillas.

Because representation matters. Meaningful, accurate representation of neurodiversity in fiction is so rare, and most neurodiverse characters in novels (or movies) are either tokenistic or based on stereotypes. Guerrillas, if it performs well, may be a key part in the battle for representation as well as being a heart-pounding action novel in its own right.

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If you want to, you can Pre-order Guerrillas here (It’s already over 100% funded but please don’t let that put you off, it can still be ordered).

***The first chapter of Guerrillas is available to read on the pre-order page too ***

There are a variety of order options available with exclusive rewards linked to the pre-orders including the chance to have your name (or someone else of your choice) in the book as a patron. We have a few copies coming, I’m putting one away for Eliza for when she’s ready in a couple of years time. She’s super excited that Chris is publishing a book. To those of you that order, I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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