A novel approach to writing

Graham Clements
Most writers dream of writing a novel. Having a disability should not be a barrier. Many authors with disabilities have published novels. Famous authors through history have had many different disabilities. Australian writers K.A. Bedford and Karen Tyrrell have not let bipolar disorder stop them writing. Bedford has had four novels published. Two of his books won major awards. Publishers are also positive about Tyrrell’s first three novels. Both Bedford and Tyrrell are determined to keep writing.
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Graham Clements on 24/02/2011
Australian author K.A. Bedford signing a copy of his book Time Machines on a table surrounded by many copies of the book. He has a beard and is wearing a black cap and black tshirt.

Australian author K.A. Bedford

Most writers dream of writing a novel. Many of these dreamers have disabilities. Some worry disability might make finishing a novel an impossible dream.

But a disability is not a barrier to writing a novel. Authors with disabilities have published thousands of novels.

Authors with disabilities

The father of science fiction, H.G. Wells, had diabetes. He was a founding member of the British Diabetic Association. His novels included The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man.

Sue Townsend also had diabetes. Later in life she was declared legally blind. She then dictated her popular Adrian Mole stories to her husband.      

John Updike had psoriasis and asthma from an early age. But that didn’t stop him writing over 50 books, including The Witches of Eastwick. He won many American literary awards, including two Pulitzer prizes. 

Arthur C. Clarke’s imagination was not stalled by polio. His predictions of future technologies were very accurate. For much of his later life Clarke used a wheelchair. He wrote over 100 books including 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rendezvous with Rama.

Christy Brown was almost completely paralysed by cerebral palsy. He learnt to type with his left foot. He wrote an autobiography and three novels. His life was made into the movie My Left Foot.

Bipolar no barrier

Australian author K.A. Bedford has not let bipolar disorder stop him writing four novels. All four books were short-listed for an Aurealis Award as Australia’s best science fiction novel. Two of them won, including his most recent book called Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait. 

Bedford told DiVine he has had bipolar disorder all his life. When he was 10 he thought he was dead, but did not have the sense to fall over. He likens depression to a dodgy TV getting a bad signal when there’s bad weather.

As a child he wrote hundreds of stories. He would write for 15 hours a day, every day. Some days he wrote three stories. He now thinks they were all utterly awful. He realised later that his huge output was due to massive manic phases.  

Did not stop him

Bedford was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 16. He then spent four months in hospital. That did not stop him writing. He took his typewriter with him. He later found out the doctors were secretly reading his writing. They were checking his writing’s coherence to see how integrated he was. 

Bedford has made several promotional tips to the US and Canada. Only during his last visit in 2008 did he have serious trouble with depression. He also has some ongoing depression that leaves him feeling unhappy. He said it interferes with motivation for everything. It leaves him with no energy. But he still continues to write. He knows his writing done while depressed is of better quality than writing done while manic.

A memoir

Karen Tyrrell is currently submitting a memoir, crime novel and children’s novel to publishers. The memoir called Me and Her is about her triumph over bipolar disorder.

Tyrrell’s novel writing began as an escape from revealing her bipolar history in the memoir. Writing her children’s science fiction allowed her to zoom off into space. 

Writing output varied

Like K.A. Bedford, Tyrrell’s writing output varied with her bipolar disorder. She filled notebooks full of journal writing when manic. While in the early stages of recovery her medication prevented her from focusing for long periods. But as she became well, her concentration and memory were restored.

Tyrrell says triumphing over bipolar has made her think she can do anything. She has a busy writing schedule. She assists the Logan Writer’s Group in Queensland and last year organised the Logan Writer’s Festival. She also visits schools to read her children’s novel to pupils. But she stresses she is not cured. She still has to keep her bipolar triggers of stress and insomnia in check.

Publisher reactions

K.A. Bedford has worked with two publishers. One is based in Australia, the other in Canada. He said both have been brilliant about his bipolar disorder. Edge, in particular, have gone out of their way to be accommodative and supportive. He thinks Edge were very reasonable when bipolar caused him to miss deadlines.

Tyrrell says it is hard to access how publishers view her bipolar disorder. But she says the publishers who have contacted her have all been supportive and encouraging. 

Advice for aspiring writers 

Bedford says writers should read everything they can. Don’t stick to just reading your preferred genre, he says. Branch out. See what writing can do, all the different things it can achieve, then apply those lessons in your own work.

While you are doing all that reading, he recommends writing a million words. Bedford thinks he is somewhere in his fourth million.

When Bedford is feeling down, he often thinks of Christy Brown tapping away with his toe. Bedford says Brown shows that if you need to write you will find a way. Any way, no matter what it takes.

Tyrrell advises aspiring writers to never, ever give up.

Readers comments (4)

What a great article. Thank you for sharing.

Hi Graham,
Thanks for interviewing me for this article and asking thought provoking questions. I hope this story will challenge their preconceived ideas ...Karen T.

Thanks for your comments Carol and Karen. Good luck with your writing.

Great Article.. quite inspirational.

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