Elle McNicoll highlights the importance of neurodivergent protagonists
Year 7 and 8 students were incredibly fortunate to be able to participate in yet another live author talk in the lead up to World Book Day, this time with acclaimed Scottish author Elle McNicoll, whose first book A Kind of Spark has just won the Blue Peter Book Award 2021 for the Best Story as well as being a Blackwell’s Book of the Year.
Elle explained how autism presents differently in everyone with some common traits affecting social skills, motor skills and the way of thinking; and shared her experience of being autistic but keeping it secret at school. She now believes you should always be open about who you are.
A voracious reader as a child, Elle never saw positive autistic characters in the books she read, with only the occasional autistic sibling portrayed as a burden or nuisance to the family. This really bothered 12-year-old Elle and made her feel that she didn’t belong in society.
As an adult and keen to gain a job in publishing, Elle started to tell people that she was autistic and passionate about seeing neurodivergent characters in children’s fiction, but found the same response from all the publishers that such books wouldn’t sell, until the day she had a meeting with Knights Of to offer her services as a proofreader or editor. The meeting with the head of this new small publisher of diverse children’s lead to Elle submitting her manuscript of A Kind of Spark and, despite being published during lockdown in June 2020, the story where the main protagonist is autistic has become a bestseller.
Every day Elle receives messages, letters and drawings from children telling her how much the book means to them, how important it is for them to see themselves represented. When someone has a disability that impacts everyday life, Elle said, the biggest challenges don’t come from within but from other people’s assumptions and prejudices.
Elle’s second book Show Us Who You Are featuring two neurodivergent main characters was published on World Book Day, Thursday 4 March.