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Writing about Disability

Sarah Ismail is a writer and poet who recently published her poetry collection as an e-book. Here she talks about how she became interested in creative writing and the inspiration behind her work.

I’ve always loved reading books. Unfortunately, when I was growing up, in the 1990s, there weren’t many books around that had disabled main characters – or any disabled characters. Those that were available were non-fictional stories like My Left Foot, which is about a person whose level of disability is much more severe than mine. Now, as a writer and reader with Cerebral Palsy, Christy Brown inspires me. Growing up, however, I was far too young to understand this. I wanted to read fictional stories about young girls who used wheelchairs or walking frames. Young girls who didn’t let their disabilities stop them from having the same thoughts, hopes, dreams and experiences as everyone else. Young girls like me. But no such young girls existed on the pages of 1990s children’s fiction.

Studying Creative Writing at University, I realised that the only way to solve this little problem was to create characters with disabilities in my own fiction. Left to write what I liked, I was finally able to write what I had grown up wanting to read. Poetry came to me easily, and, at that time, seemed a faster and more fun way to share my experiences with my non-disabled classmates and teachers than a long, boring book.

So I started writing what has now become my first collection of poetry. Through fictional poems based on real life experiences of real disabled people, Listen To The Silence covers every challenge of life with a physical disability, from unpleasant stares to unpleasant stairs. I hope that disabled readers of the collection will be able to relate to at least one poem or character in some way, however small. I hope non-disabled people will also read the collection. I’ll be happy if they enjoy the poems as works of fiction- but if even one poem makes them stop and think that maybe, just maybe, disabled people really are just like everyone else, then I’ll be even happier.

As for my inspiration to write about disability? That would have to be the many severely disabled people who have so much to say, and to give, but can’t speak out for themselves. They are all very intelligent and very special. Their thoughts and feelings deserve to be expressed, heard and listened to just as much as anyone else’s. That’s what I try to do through my writing, and in particular, through my poetry.

I know there are some disabled writers and artists who don’t like to focus on disability in their creative work. I’m pleased to see the progress that’s being made in this area today, with many more fictional books – for children and adults – featuring disabled characters. So maybe they don’t feel the need to focus on disability. That has to be a good thing.

As a writer, my advice to new writers would be to focus on writing about something that you think you can write about well. As a reader, I can always tell when a writer knows their subject well, or when their subject is very important to them. Those are the pieces of writing that I enjoy reading more than any others.

For now, Listen To The Silence is available to download, for a low price, from my website, Same Difference, which also features a blog that covers all kinds of disability issues. As well as running the site and still writing poetry, I’m working on writing a book which will feature Paralympic swimmers.

By Sarah Ismail

To find out more about me or my writing, please visit Same Difference by clicking here.

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