I read and reviewed Katherine’s book The Electricity of Every Living Thing back in April. And I’m delighted that she has agreed to be interviewed as part of my “Introducing….” series. So, without further ado, I present to you one of my favourite autistic authors, Katherine May.
How would you describe yourself?
I’m not sure! I suppose the thing that I always say first is that I’m a writer. That’s the overriding part of my personality, that has been there ever since I could pick up a pen. I can’t survive without putting together stories and formulating sentences. My writer-ness is almost certainly linked to my autism – there’s a compulsive, elemental quality to it – but it also links me to other creative people too.
Before I knew I was autistic, I used to find it hard to say ‘I’m a woman’ – I didn’t seem to be anything like other women. But I now feel at home saying I’m an autistic woman. We’re a slightly different category, I think.
When did you first realise you were autistic?
I was 38, and driving in my car one night, when an interview came on the radio with an autistic woman talking about her experiences. I’d known forever that I was different to everyone else – and that I seemed to be invisible to the mental health profession – but I suddenly experienced a burst of utter certainty that this was what I was, too. Until that moment, I would never have even considered it. After that, I did some research, and then spoke to my GP. Eventually I went to see a psychiatrist, too, but I felt uncomfortable with the diagnostic process, because it seemed to want me to say I was unloveable and hopeless. The psychiatrist also told me that he found my creativity surprising, given that I was clearly autistic in other ways. At that point, I realised that I knew more than he did, and decided that I’d just get on with it all by myself!
How do you think being autistic has impacted your writing?
Well, first of all, I’m hyperlexic, and so I constantly overflow with words, needing to read and write them. Even if no-one published my books, I couldn’t ever stop writing; it’s fundamental to me. I think that means that I have a really intense focus on my writing, and an obsession with the detail of it. I also develop little fixations on the facts that go into my books; I’m currently really into tunnels because I’m sketching a character who shares that interest. That’s the fun part, without a doubt. I sometimes say I’m a method writer, because I have to live what my characters live, and I tend to go to the nth degree in researching my non-ficiton too. I can’t separate the personal from my creative life; it’s all rolled into one. Overall, I think it gives me a kind of resilience – I can’t stop writing, so I have to endure the tough times because it’s not a choice.
What advice would you give other autistics who want to develop their creative side?
Just give into it! If you feel that calling, then don’t fight it, or tell yourself you can’t, or try to funnel it into what you think you ought to be doing. Follow your instincts, and let that be as weird and wild as it comes. I also think that creativity comes out in lots of different ways, so that you can alway nurture it, even when you’re not working on your usual creative practice. For me, it’s all about dropping into that state of deep focus and flow whenever I can, and allowing myself to be drawn to the details of life – and then using those experiences to populate my writing.