Daniel Isn't Talking
“I adored Daniel isn't Talking. I was riveted, engrossed
-- all those
wonderful things one hopes for when opening a book…very real and
" Powerful, moving and also surprisingly funny. A love story
in every sense."
author of Tulip Fever
Daniel Isn’t Talking is a novel about a woman who discovers
her young son is autistic. I wrote it five years after my own
son was diagnosed with autism,
so it is also a very personal story, mixing my real life with an invented fictional
narrative. When I read it I see myself so clearly in it – not me exactly, no,
but a stylized account of myself – that I can sometimes barely bring myself to
Let me state at the outset the very obvious: I would much rather
have written a different book, or no book at all, than to have
gone through the experiences
that enabled me to write Daniel Isn’t Talking.
About my son I can tell you I was certain there was something
wrong with him for some time before the actual diagnosis. I used
to ask the doctors
these obscure symptoms. Why does he walk on his toes, I’d ask. Why does
he grind his teeth like that? Why doesn’t he sleep at night? Or eat for
that matter? I mean, surely he should eat? And why doesn’t he talk?
And then one day the answer came and I wished I’d never asked
the questions. Because he is autistic, I was told.
Autism in a child does not affect only that child. It affects
a whole family. Suddenly, everything in my life was different.
My normally wonderful
became remote, unhelpful. The only way I could be sure he took in what
I had to say was if I text him on his mobile (he got better, by the
his relatives went around saying things like, “Well, we have no history
of autism in our family.” My own relatives -- who are not warm and
fuzzy people let me tell you -- weren’t much help either. My sister
would say things like, “Wow, that sucks that he’s autistic. So I guess
you’re going to have to do something with him.”
Do something with him? I hate to think what
she had in mind.
But, yes, I had to do something. And just like the character,
Melanie, in Daniel Isn’t Talking I
found myself scrambling to figure out what.
But of course, the novel is not a memoir, and what Melanie
does in the novel ends up being far more entertaining than anything
actual life. The
great thing about fiction is that you can take subject matter
difficult as that
in Daniel Isn’t Talking and fill it with humour, with
surprises, with events that escort the reader gently through
which has become
these characters’ lives.
I positively loved writing this novel and I feel a particular
affinity for it. I admire the main character, Melanie. She
was so much braver
than I was
at the time of my son’s diagnosis. I fell in love with the
therapist who shows her how to teach her son and I was glad
that I could write it so that she fell in love with him, too.
And of course the Daniel in the novel is so much like my own
son, Nicholas, and brought back memories of the day Nicky finally
said his first word – at the age of 3 and 2 months – and how
hard he fought to learn the simple things that other children
take for granted.
Whenever I talk about this novel, I find people leaning toward
me. My nephew is autistic, my son, my grandchild, my brother… It
seems there are more and more of us whose lives have been
changed by autism or another developmental disability. Perhaps
it is not so surprising, therefore, that a book like this
has emerged from the ashes of my life; the story is all around