Tag Archive | deaf

I’m a Writer, yes?

Cover of Grandma's Poetry Book by Di CastleWhen I retire I want to be a writer …….

When I retired I wanted to get published, but without an ongoing project, four years later I was no nearer my goal. I had manuscripts gathering dust and more to say but I couldn’t call myself ‘A Writer’. There is a plethora of discussion on when one can be called this on writing forums.

So at a recent literary lunch, when the author, Sarah Challis, described her route to publication of ten books, all since the age of fifty, I had to ask myself what I’d been doing all these years?

‘It all started,’ she said, ‘when I retired from teaching.’

Well, that made me sit up and take notice. Yes, I’d been retired sixteen years and my aims then were the same as Sarah’s. So what happened after the day I retired and where am I now?

I’ve always had an urge to write and secretly hoped retirement would free me to put words on the page. I was determined that, eventually, I would say whatever it was I had to say.

From the time I could hold a pencil I’ve been writing in one form or another. Someone said that you are a writer if you have to write and if ‘not writing’ causes withdrawal symptoms. That’s me.

Once I’d mastered the alphabet and found letters worked together to give a range of words and that the choice or order of words could change the meaning, I began writing stories. They were lengthy – I never knew when to stop – and they served to save me from outside play on a cold winter day. I made sure ‘finishing my story’, lasted until my red-nosed, blue lipped and frozen classmates returned from the icy wastes of the infant playground before I wrote with abandon – The End.

My creativity had a bad start. After beginning My Life Story, at around seven years of age, my mother discovered my ‘book’ which contained a multitude of family secrets and shocking habits, after which she took me to one side for a ‘talking to’ of the ‘What Would the Neighbours Say?’ type. I was disappointed, having been so pleased with my humorous take on life in our house. My imagination stunted, I realised any talent would have no encouragement from that quarter.

The creative juices were again sorely sapped at Junior School when I came face-to-face with She Who Slaps Legs for every spelling mistake. Such was my fear that every Monday evening was spent preparing twenty spellings for the dreaded Tuesday test. Her regime worked. I was never slapped and became the world’s best speller, especially with family games of Trivial Pursuits, during which my children groaned ‘It’s not fair’. Well, they didn’t have teachers like She Who Slaps in the 1970s, did they?

I didn’t give up entirely, as I had what every writer should have – a den – my own private place. It was made from broken canes – the good ones held up Dad’s runner beans – and hessian sacking which, before the days of plastic bags, came in all shapes and sizes. I created a door with a make-believe lock of string and twigs. In this den I would write – anything. By now, I was more adept at hiding my scribbles in an assortment of tins buried in the mud. So no more ‘what will the neighbours say?’

I continued writing in my teens with classmates taking turns to sit next to me in French to hear the next instalment of my latest novel, usually something fashioned after the Scarlet Pimpernel. I crafted a female character – Adeline – of similar aptitude to Sir Percy, only female, and she aided the escape to England of many. Unlike many authors, whose talks I’ve attended, I don’t have these early masterpieces as at some point these disappeared from our loft, probably to my mother’s waste bin.

The sixties and seventies are a blur of babies, weaning, boiling nappies and the occasional pen in my hand writing a shopping list. But everything changed in the eighties, when, as a single parent with three daughters and a career to nurture, I found time to join a writing group. We read aloud anything we’d written which motivated me to put pen to paper and type drafts on the portable electric typewriter. The result turned out to be the opening of my first novel which was regularly returned from publishers with a large thud on the door mat.

Then my partner bought a computer – an early Amstrad – and I struggled to make sense of it, wasting much continuous stationery and temper in the process. Stimulated by this new experience, I wrote the start of a book about a young mother with toddlers who struggles with a word processor. The plot of the book matched my own tortuous learning curve but adding the toddlers meant I could make bad things happen like jelly tots in the floppy drive. I sent it to an agent whose name I’d been given and she asked for more and then for the whole script. The book went to Headline and Arrow but was not taken up.

My first book was costing me a lot of postage but I didn’t waver. Someone in the group suggested I send it to the then Watson, Little and Brown and they telephoned asking me to come to London. I’m there, I thought. Of course, I wasn’t.

‘It’s not marketable,’ said the person on the line, ‘in its present form, but we would like to see you.’

The meeting was with two of the junior commissioning editors. If I re-wrote the book into articles, perhaps diary pieces, they would market them with newspapers and magazines, after which the articles would be put together in book form. The readership, having been wooed by the diary pieces, would then buy the book. Wow!

I left the office promising I would send the work. I didn’t at the time comprehend the harsh truth that a writer should ALWAYS do what an editor asks. I was about to move house, combining two homes, mine and my partner’s and our seven children. There was much to do, not all of it nice, but worse, once we had a joint household, the freedom to write I’d had when on my own vanished.

Recently I’ve read both manuscripts and am horrified at the sloppy sentence structure, banal clichéd expression and lack of or, worse, abominable punctuation. I broke every rule in the creative writing bible. No wonder they weren’t published.

I began Open University study and for a few years wrote only coursework but I didn’t give up writing. I sent tongue-in-cheek articles about mature students juggling study and family demands which were published in the OU magazine Sesame. I also took on a Village Voice column in the local paper and I began writing press releases promoting new courses and student achievement in my college of further education.

Around 1999 I worked with Helen, a primary teacher, on the Family Literacy Programme. I taught the mothers and Helen taught their children. Once a week we had a combined session. Email was in its infancy – few of my friends had email but Helen and I did. We liaised and our email exchange was hilarious, as were some sessions. We still want to publish, under pseudonyms of course.

My early manuscripts were now a mere memory, yellowing, fading copies and brittle, stuffed in the loft. My Millennium introduction to grandparenting stimulated the latent writer in me and, inspired me to write poetry. At a poetry group, I read my poem about a deaf girl which was harshly criticised by those with no experience of the disability. It was another example of the ignorance of hearing people with regard to Deaf issues. The seeds were sown for a later book. At last, I had something to say. But the time wasn’t right.

However, there was still email. After 2001, other friends were keen to correspond on a regular basis. I was loath to delete these and for several years selected a few of my wittier sent mails each week to copy and paste into a diary. The joy of this, I thought, was that I could refer to it if my memory failed due to dementia. I also planned a book entitled ‘The E diaries of a Downshifter’ based on the e mails. I just needed to find the right voice and I’d be away.

One turning point was that, after some family history research, I was motivated to write a family memoir for my grandchildren, which still awaits completion but from this I developed the idea for the book about a hearing girl growing up with a deaf sister.

Another turning point was in 2009 when Mslexia, arrived and on tearing it open something fell out. It was a flyer advertising the Winchester Writers Conference. This was within easy reach of where I live and the speakers and topics were just what I needed. Immediately I went online to see what I could find and also wrote away for details. I was too late to enter competitions or send work for appraisal in 1-1s but I put myself down for several useful seminars, one of which was on memoir writing by John Jenkins.

So now I had two books in progress and a poetry collection as well as two older corny novels awaiting major revision.

I was back at Winchester in 2010 and took the first prize for one of the Conference competitions which inspired me to apply myself seriously to my writing. I also had a 1-1 with biographer, Bevis Hillier, who said I showed much promise as a writer and asked me to stay in touch. I felt liberated and energised.

In 2011 I attended a Novel writing weekend run by Winchester Writers’ Conference at Shawford. At the course I met a writer who was organising a competition for entries into an anthology of the Royal Wedding. My contribution was selected and in July the collection was all over Facebook and sold on ebay with half the costs going to UNICEF.

My 1-1s in 2011 were helpful but I had other ideas. As autumn approached I jotted down some sketchy plots for a possible novel to write for the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and on 1st November I got cracking. To hit the target of 50,000 words I had to achieve 1700 words a day. It was the most enjoyable month of writing I’d had for a long time. I finished it sketchily and hastily knowing that for acceptance by an agent or publisher, there is much needing development – it has a saggy middle I fear. If I finish the editing before 12 June, I can have six copies self-published, the vouchers for this being part of the prize.

Stephen King says in ‘On Writing’, If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it? Why wouldn’t I indeed?

I do have to write and I’m not as content if I don’t. I am happiest fiddling with words on the screen, flicking pages of the thesaurus and the slog is always worth it at the ‘eureka’ moment, be it a sentence, phrase or merely an elusive word.
The road to writing has taken many turns, roundabouts and dead ends and I still haven’t had a book traditionally published but I am getting there and now I write every day – another definition of a writer. I have no strict routine of writing 9-1 like some, but I can easily manage 1000-2000 words, usually in the evening.

Since writing this article for a competition at Winchester, I found an illustrator, Denise Horn, whose work delightfully encapsulates my poetry written as a new grandmother. Grandma’s Poetry Book took form. In 2013, my task at Winchester was to trail round the self publishing stands asking for guidance, prices, requirements – anything! Some wanted pdf documents. What was a pdf, I wanted to ask? I found myself, eventually, at the Matador stand and their only requirements – a WORD document and Jpeg files for the illustrations – led me to placing my book with them in the Spring of 2014. Grandma’s Poetry Book was published in October that year and has enjoyed healthy sales. We are now working on a new book of more general humorous poetry, Should I wear Floral? Poems on Life, Love and Leaving, which we hope to have ready later in 2015. The marketing of the first book requires a whole blog post of its own. Green doesn’t even begin to describe me a year ago. Steep learning curve doesn’t go near it; suffice to say that I have gained 1200 Twitter followers in six months!

As for fiction ….. This book about the deaf ………. someone at Winchester once said, ‘it sounds like it would work for the older children’s market.’ You know what? I might just have another go.

It’s been a while coming but I do now call myself a ‘writer’.

Grandma’s Poetry Book was published by Troubador Publishing in November 2014

http://www.dicastle.co.uk/book/4586441911 https://www.facebook.com/pages/Di-Castle-Writer/266866193324409
follow me on Twitter @dinahcas
email me on dcastle32@talktalk.net

Invisible Disability

I continue to strive to find the right format for my book ‘Deaf – not Daft’ which I have been working on for about six years. I have received tremendous encouragement from various people over this work and after reading a fantastic novel while on holiday I think I have cracked the formula which will work for the novel. It was an incident in my childhood which prompted the title but the reasons for writing the book go much deeper. There is still so much ignorance about the deaf and how to interact with them. They tend to be ignored, those around them frightened of being embarrassed. Hopefully the following article will cast some light on my reasons for writing this work.


‘What’s wrong?  She’s deaf not daft.’ 

My mother’s friend, Mrs T, was admonishing a passer-by on Victoria Station as the children waited for their train.  The woman wrought this mother’s wrath by staring at the noisy party preparing to return to their boarding school in Sussex.  The group including my sister were all deaf.  Only the chaperones and teachers could hear.  My mother, unlike her friend, never challenged gawkers – I’d been told to stare back so I did.  At eight years old I relished breaking rules that, somehow, didn’t apply here.

Before television was widely available, few people understood the Deaf, often referring to them as ‘deaf and dumb’ regardless of whether they used their voices.  The noisy rabble on the platform should have put paid to that misconception.  Hearing and deaf siblings were causing an equal measure of commotion, their joy equal as they faced each other, touched arms for attention, waved hands at their mothers.  Of course, their speech was different – some would say odd – as was their body language.  Yours would be if you’d never heard the words you had to use every day.  Some shouted.  Others were quieter. But they were neverdumb.

Years later several people referred to my bravery, even imprudence, at having babies.  Wasn’t I being rash, risking bringing a deaf child into the world?  Few recognized the difference between the born deaf and the deafened.  My sister was in the latter group.  It was not genetics but the meningitis as a baby that left her profoundly deaf.  Another myth is that all deaf children can be helped with hearing aids but for the profoundly deaf there is nothing.  Also, in 1953 no-one could foresee something called a cochlear implant.

It was three years before my sister’s diagnosis, with my mother repeatedly dismissed as neurotic.  Even now some deaf children are misdiagnosed with learning or behavioural difficulties.  Their other senses and curiosity enable deceptive behaviour which gives the impression they can hear.

In wartime, the tentacles of conscription extended into the heart of schools for the deaf, with young men and women snatched from their vocation.  Teacher of the Deaf was not a reserved occupation.  Even today, charities must campaign to retain funding; such is the invisibility of deafness.

Our local authority, Hertfordshire, refused to fund my sister’s boarding school until she was seven, despite professional advice that language and learning opportunities were being lost.  Specialist teaching from three was available privately at Mill Hall with Mary Corbishley.  An ‘oral’ school for the deaf, the children were taught to speak and lipread.  Sign language was forbidden although children with deaf parents often signed at home.

As a baby, I didn’t have to be told that my sister couldn’t hear.  Somehow I knew and, from an early age, would smile and wave to get her attention, crawl over, tug her clothes and point.

Family entertainment was visual.  Radio and music didn’t feature.  We played card and board games.  Ice shows and circuses were ‘in’; pantomimes with oral banter and jokes, were ‘out’.  ‘Signed’ performances with a BSL (British Sign Language) interpreter are now available but not then.  On cinema trips, we sat in the back row mouthing parts of the storyline at intervals during the film.  Likewise with explaining who’s who and what’s happening on television.  But the Deaf never get the whole story, only disjointed snapshots. 

Family events were difficult.  There was the uncle who shouted behind her back, moustachioed and bearded uncles, who mumbled behind their hair, the aunt with a hare lip and cousins, who weren’t taught to get her attention, face her, wait and speak slowly and clearly.  She sat always on the periphery, isolated and unable to join in fast-running debates.  We always left early.

At thirteen, my sister gained a place at Mary Hare Grammar School for the Deaf again an oral environment.  She was a Queen’s Guide and camped one year with her hearing peers from Harpenden.  Excelling at sport, she later played weekly fixtures in the Harpenden Ladies Hockey team.  A brilliant tennis player, she always made the semi-final or final in the local tennis club championships.

On leaving school, she trained on the comptometer.  Highly intelligent, she could only do repetitive boring jobs with no use of the phone or face-to-face contact.  Isolated and frustrated she battled depression, a common problem for deaf youngsters.

Fiercely independent, she bought a scooter, passed her driving test and then the advanced driving diploma.  Her success featured in the local paper, the banner headline ‘Young person overcomes disability’.  Later she learnt to drive a car.  People asked me, should she drive?  Wasn’t it dangerous?  ‘Well,’ I said, ‘hearing drivers with music blaring out of their in-car entertainment can’t hear an ambulance or car horn either.’  I still have to repeat this analogy.

The stance on signing has changed with most schools for the deaf using mixed oral and sign methods.  The Deaf world has a vibrant network and, as adults, even the oral deaf resort to signing, the main form of deaf communication in the many deaf clubs in the country.

Eventually my sister met her to-be husband, who is ‘deaf without speech’ and uses finger spelling with a smattering of Australian sign language.  Far from a language barrier, they communicated well from their first meeting and lead a full life travelling the country to Deaf events and abroad on holiday. They beat us at Scrabble and are certainly not daft.

For important meetings and medical appointments they have a qualified interpreter but clearly they are unusual or lucky, as the charity Action on Hearing Loss is campaigning via Facebook and Twitter for every deaf person to have an interpreter at GP appointments.  My mother, a founder member of the National Deaf Chldren’s Society, would be appalled at such lack of progress over seventy years.

Even as recently as 2005, at the time of my sister’s hip replacement, I accompanied her at her admission to the ward, demonstrating her lipreading skills and her notebook and pen to use for difficult or important words.  Yet half an hour later a nurse brought her a satellite phone. When the interpreter arrived she expressed little surprise.  Eventually I returned to the hospital armed with a guide sheet.  This was greeted with immense appreciation, the nurses’ training apparently having missed out this element of communication.

Now attitudes are less biased, although only three years ago, visiting Harpenden for research, someone had a eureka moment and referred to remembering my ‘deaf and dumb sister.’ 

Unfortunately, some things never change. 



Note: this article was written in 2012 when The National Deaf Children’s Society launched a campaign LOOK, SMILE, CHAT, with learning resources and lesson plans to bridge the gap in understanding.


Please be Deaf Aware

I have just had my sister and brother-in-law staying for a few days in Swanage. What’s new in that, you might say? Well there is no doubt a great difference between your family visitors and mine. Both my sister and her husband are profoundly deaf which means there is nothing that can help them – no hearing aids, cochlear implant – as the nerves are dead.

So here is one myth about deaf people which I wish to dispel – Can’t they wear a hearing aid? No, not all deaf people can use technology.

On Saturday afternoon we visited Durlston Castle, a short walk from the centre of Swanage. It was an enjoyable afternoon which was slightly spoilt by the attitudes of other visitors. When a deaf couple are walking around a visitor attraction they will interact just as hearing people do by talking to each other. The difference is that hearing people can walk and talk all at the same time. Not so the deaf. To speak to each other, they need to stop walking and concentrate their eyes on their partner’s face, lips and hands. It would appear that those on holiday who were visiting Durlston were in a great hurry, impatient to get to where they were going and their inability to get past this couple prompted large sighs of exasperation, exclamations and quite angry facial expressions. No, the deaf couple are not rude. They do not hear people coming up behind them and they do not hear you – you know who you are – say ‘excuse me’ even when you say it for the second time in a loud cross voice. These hearing people lack any iota of deaf awareness and only show themselves up. So next time you come across two people who are holding you up, just take a minute to consider that they might be deaf. My sister is very polite and she says ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ very clearly which is more than any of the hearing people did that afternoon.

Deafness is a hidden disability and there has not been enough Deaf Awareness over the years. My mother was a founder member of the Deaf Children’s Society, now the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) and if she was still alive she would be very disappointed and, dare I say, angry that things are not that much better since her campaigning during and after the Second World War. I am still asked questions which make me hold my breath and count to ten.

Should deaf people drive? Of course. They are more alert than many hearing drivers and those with loud music thumping out of their vehicle are more likely to have an accident, especially as they are singing and closing their eyes revelling in their latest favourite hit.

Surely they all have these implants now? No, there are many older deaf people and they cannot have the Cochlear Implant (CI).  These are suitable for some younger children.

Are they deaf and dumb? Most deaf people have healthy vocal chords but many have not been taught how to use them. The connotations of ‘dumb’ are negative and it is more appropriate to say Deaf without Speech now.  New terms such as ‘hearing loss’ and hearing impairment’ are sometimes used as the term ‘deaf’ is not accurate for all.  Most deaf people would describe themselves as ‘deaf’.

Weren’t you taking a chance having children yourself? My sister’s deafness is due to suffering meningitis at the age of six months. My brother-in-law does have some deaf relations but he married a hearing girl and has two hearing grown up children and three hearing grandchildren. Deaf culture does not see ‘deafness’ as a negative. The deaf world is vibrant and few deaf people would forgo having children.

Does she sign? My sister went to an ‘oral’ school for the deaf where she was taught to speak and lipread. In the 1940s and 1950s signing was frowned on but more recently there has been a move to ‘total communication’ which is the use of all methods, writing down, finger spelling and British Sign Language (BSL) as well as speaking and lipreading. Even deaf adults who were taught orally, eventually learn to sign as this is the best way to communicate with other deaf people. Also signing is a useful skill for times when an interpreter is used, for example in a GP appointment or hospital consultation/operation.

A few pointers now for recognising the deaf and communicating with them.

1. Deaf people do not respond unless they have face to face contact. If someone does not respond, rather than think they are rude, consider they may be deaf.

2. Always face the deaf person and WAIT until they are looking at your directly before speaking.

3. Get the deaf person’s attention before starting to speak by waving to them or touching their arm.

4. Don’t shout.

5 Speak normally but with clear open mouth movements. Speak slowly though and do not let words ‘run together’. Separate the words clearly.

6 If you can’t learn BSL, at least learn some finger spelling so that you can spell out difficult words.

7. Try to use simple language and only essential words while still speaking in sentences. Deaf people cannot follow you if you elaborate your speech.

8. If you see they do not lipread a word, repeat it slower and more clearly. Failing that try another word which may be lipread more easily.

9. Write down information if they cannot lipread or do not understand.

10 Make sure your face is in a good light. Do not have your back to the sun or the window.

I hope this has been useful. Please comment on what is my first Deaf blog.