Why I Wrote a Funny Book About a Girl with Autism | Guest Post by Emily Critchley

What a treat I have to share with you today. Emily Critchley is the author of Notes on My Family, a young adult novel published in November of last year about an autistic girl Lou and her life with her extremely complicated family. I really loved this family drama, rife with wit and heart. As an autistic author writing a novel about an autistic main character, Emily found the experience illuminating and agreed to share her experiences with me.


When I began writing Notes on My Family, I was unaware of two things. Of course I was unaware that the book would be published and I wondered, almost daily, if I would be able to finish writing it, but the two important things I was unaware of were that Lou was on the autistic spectrum, and so was I.

I had written Notes on My Family before I carried out the bulk of my research into the ways autism specifically affects girls and women, and before I got my referral through the NHS. I then wondered if I had a problem. The novel I’ve written, which is soon to be published, is, in parts, a deliberately funny book, even though Lou is quite clearly on the autistic spectrum. For me, this isn’t a problem, but I find myself wondering about the book’s reception, how readers will react.


I feel that if those who read Notes on My Family find the book offensive they are missing the point. Life can be funny, even when at its darkest. My teenage years were extremely dark and I believe that reading a funny book, or a book that presents, as inseparable, the positive and negative aspects of being human would have been far more beneficial to me than reading a book that accurately reflected my mood and experiences but left me without hope. I think it’s very important when writing for young people to provide an element of hope.

For me, comedy has always been an integral part of life. I grew up in a family that joked around a lot. My dad has, and my grandad had, a very dry and, at times, wicked, sense of humour. I learned early on how to laugh at myself. I was small and skinny. My dad used to joke that I had to run around in the shower in order to get wet. I remember standing in the kitchen with my dad and my older sister, who must have been about twelve. My dad is laughing because my sister is hopping around complaining her mouth is on fire after eating the end of a chilli from the chilli plant. There was always laughter in our house and most of the time we were laughing at each other. You learned to give as good as you got.

Joking around with my friends and family has always made me happy. Humour can shed light on a dark situation and can bring about a change of mood quite unlike anything else. Laughter, as the saying has it, is a powerful medicine.

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The first copy of Notes on My Family I found out in the wild, at Foyles Charing Cross.

There are touching moments in Notes on My Family. There are also moments of despair when we see how Lou struggles so valiantly with life. The comedy in the novel helps provide a contrast to the dark times. It gives Lou a greater depth of character. Sometimes Lou knows she’s being funny but more often she doesn’t, and that’s okay. If we laugh at Lou that’s okay too because she would most definitely laugh at us. Neurotypical people may think autistic people are a little odd but, believe me, we think neurotypical people are even stranger. Comedy in fiction can be used not only to provide tonal contrast but to highlight diversity.

I have a very good friend with cerebral palsy. She has mobility issues and walks with the aid of two sticks. When I saw her recently she told me a story. She was in the park with her Italian friend. My friend tried to get up from the grass, using her sticks and her Italian friend slapped her bum, causing her to fall back down. They both rolled around on the grass laughing. My friend told me how horrified those around them had been that not only had he failed to help her up but that he had slapped her bum and actually caused her to fall. My friend loves those who see her before they see her disability. She loves people who aren’t afraid to joke around with her. Having cerebral palsy does not impinge upon her ability to laugh at herself and the world. Of course there are times when laughter is inappropriate, but I find those times occur less often than you might think.  

I also think it’s important to teach teenage girls that being funny isn’t just for boys. Girls can be funny too. It’s brilliant to laugh and to make others laugh. Making others laugh is a wonderful gift.


You can pick up your copy of Notes on My Family here: UK (Hive) / International (Book Depository).

If you want to read more books with autistic main characters or find out more about Autism Spectrum Disorder itself, check out The Essential Autistic Reading List for more book recommendations.


Notes on my Family by Emily Critchley | 1 Minute Reviews

This book has been on my radar for some time. A few months back at the launch for Editing Emma by the wonderful Chloe Seager, I met Emily Critchley and we got talking. She mentioned this book she was working on, and of course she said the golden word – “autistic”. I knew I had to read it.

Lou is thirteen-and-a-half. Her school life is terrible. Her family are falling apart now that her dad has announced he’s leaving her mum for a schoolgirl.

And she’s autistic, but she doesn’t know it yet.


This hook is what originally interested me, having lived that experience myself – the way you explain away your quirks, assume everyone else must think the same way you do, presume everyone finds the world abjectly terrifying at all costs. In a world where so many people raised as women aren’t diagnosed until their late twenties, this book is incredibly timely. Lou doesn’t have a diagnosis, but she knows she is different, citing some of her problems as undiagnosed dyspraxia.

Lou’s narrative voice is rich, witty, and charming, her slightly baffled viewpoint ringing out with humour even in the hardest situations. As with The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas, Critchley has constructed not only a memorable character, but a neurodiverse person that many, many people will resonate with. I absolutely fell for her, the girl with a rich fantasy world of a homeschooled life in Scotland, who’d rather watch a nature documentary than answer a phone call.

In the darkest moments of the book, I kept having to pause, tears streaming down my face, desperate to reach through the pages to talk to her. I think every person, especially those who are also autistic, will feel very much the same as me.

Autistic representation aside, this novel is an impressive, heart-aching family drama that investigates divorce, the realities of complex mental illness and the freeing nature of true friendships. The heavy subjects are buoyed by Lou’s witty observations, gently approached through Critchley’s talented writing.

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While not technically published until the 23rd Nov, I’ve already found a few copies out in the wild! This one at Foyles Charing Cross.

One of my favourite plot points was Lou’s burgeoning friendship with extremely cool new girl Faith. Raised in a co-parenting family and haunted by dark days, Faith is never without a music recommendation or a fitting quote from philosophical texts; I’m not sure if I wanted to befriend her or be her. Perhaps both.

Notes on my Family is an impressive debut novel from Emily Critchley, a tale of relationships and people told from the point of view of someone who struggles to understand either. This is not only a tremendously enjoyable read, but an important piece of autistic literature.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Notes on my Family is published by Everything with Words, an independent publisher of children’s books. Thank you to Emily Critchley, her agent Chloe Seager and Everything with Words for sharing this copy with me.

If you want to read more stories with autistic protagonists, or books about autism, go check out The Essential Autistic Reading List.

Happy birthday to me | Hux Tales

This week was my birthday.

Not my real birthday as in the day I emerged into the world, twenty three days late and pretty mardy about it; that’s back in September.

But this day is my real birthday in another way. On Monday was one year since I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.


I’m sure it probably seems weird to celebrate a diagnosis, but hear me out.

I have spent my whole life knowing I was different, but not being able to put my finger on it. There were certainly parts of my personality and interests that were different from many of the other kids – nerdy, book obsessed, awkward, not remotely interested in fashion – and a regular target for bullying. I managed to get through school and university by surrounding myself with like-interested people, good kind people who didn’t mind that I was a bit odd, or even better, cherished it.

It wasn’t until I was 27 that a friend of mine was diagnosed with Asperger’s that I started realising this was probably the missing keystone. This friend and I have long joked that actually we must have the same genetics, as we both have non-epileptic seizures, wonky joints, an insensitivity to gluten, anxiety in all the same places… and it was only when I looked into Asperger’s* that I realised it was me.

That realisation was really freeing. I had a name for my differences, for how I saw the world, how I experienced it. And I immediately stopped beating myself up about it. Once I got the final stamp of approval pictured at the top, the last vestiges of attempting to remodel myself as a neurotypical person flew out the window. I’m autistic, I’m different, and that’s actually really cool.

I also looked extremely cute this week tbh

It is not a panacea, of course. Being autistic isn’t all super awesome, as it comes along with a bunch of comorbid conditions, both mental and physical health. I still have the hang ups, the trauma, but I genuinely care less.

I used to celebrate November because (and this is going to sound weird) it was when my seizures came back after my last trip to the Philippines. This marked a seriously dark time in my life where I realised I had to give up diving, but being the person I am, I refused to let myself slip into that place, got a job at a marine focused charity in London and carved out a new life. That is what I used to celebrate, the refusal to let my body get the best of me, remembering that each change to my life is an opportunity for something new.

I’ve now switched it over to my Autism Diagnosis, but essentially the reasoning is the same. I found something new out about myself. My life changed. But I still have control of it. It is still very much my life and I’m in the immensely privileged position to be able to live as I do.

What has changed in the last year?

I got Nerys! She’s my little daemon and also my emotional support dog. In the UK, this type of service dog has no legal recognition but they are a big deal in America, so I hope one day in the future they’ll be recognised. Basically, she goes everywhere with me, she helps me feel less anxious, she reminds me to look after myself by looking after her too. She’s helped me knock a big chunk of my anxiety about going outside out of the park (not literally) and means I go outside much more.

At 5 weeks old on the day we met and at 9 months old

I stopped being a booksellerMy health was making working in a bookshop very difficult and so it became unsustainable to continue working such a physically demanding job. I miss aspects of it every single day, which is why my social media has become so book intense.

I came out as nonbinary! This is something I have sort of known about myself forever, living in the space of not-girl and not-boy, but only having the word “tomboy” to describe it. In terms of the “I always knew” narratives of LGTBQ lives, while I didn’t know I was queer for a very long time, I have had what I now recognise as gender dysphoria for much of my life. But, it wasn’t until I started reading about autism, and how many of us are trans, the intersection of those two identities, that I realised that I was two for two.

I’ve been out-ish to some people in the past few years as I felt it out (admittedly, mostly only to other non binary people and Tim), but this year I started using the phrase more, talking about it more, told my sister and my parents. I’ve been thinking a lot about pronouns, and whether I ever want to masculinise my appearance to be a bit more in line with how I see myself. At the moment, I’m sticking as I am, feeling out my happiness in open about it. I’m considering buying a binder, though I’ve found that throwing out some clothes that would trigger my dysphoria has really helped. For now, sports bras do the trick and aren’t incredibly uncomfortable to wear.

I moved in with my inlaws! Tim and I realised that our rental situation was financially precarious and moved to the West London suburbs to live with his parents. We are incredibly lucky to be able to do this, and they’ve been really caring and kind to us. We both miss our old flat a lot, but I was waking up overstimulated every single day due three building sites semi adjacent to our building. It was the right decision, not least because now I get to see fields from my window.

I helped start a independent publishing press! Literally I’m never going to stop mentioning 3 of Cups Press, go admire our website and preorder our first book On Anxiety which publishes in January!! We are launching our second book on Kickstarter in early 2018 and submissions for our future books shortly after that, so follow us on Twitter, sign up for our newsletter and get ready for a 2018 of amazing new authors. I’ve got a bundle of other creative things that I can’t announce right now so I’m positively vibrating with secrets.

Writing it down… wow. A lot has happened. And you know what? I feel great about it. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself lately, so I say happy birthday to me.


* A little aside: in the UK, people who fit the Asperger’s criteria are now more likely to get an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis, but my report made it clear that I also fit the Asperger’s profile. Asperger’s has been integrated into ASD along with a couple of other conditions.

Got any questions? Ask them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them there or in a larger Q&A type post.

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen | 1 Minute Reviews

The wonderful Chloe Sackur from Andersen Press sent me over this copy to read after I sent out a general request for neurodiverse characters in YA on Twitter. Unfortunately, between moving house, this copy got buried in the wrong box (cursing past me’s terrible packing) and so this review is a long time coming.

I need to tell you what a joy this book is.


Let’s set the scene – I read this entirely on September the 6th, a day when I was feeling really unwell and was confined to my bed. I needed something to lift me up and picked up We Are All Made of Molecules hoping for a slightly weepy overall warm hearted novel to pull me through the day. Safe to say I found it.

We Are All Made of Molecules follows Stewart and Ashley, two polar opposites who are about to be part of one family. The premise instantly made me think of Popular, a sadly short American teen series that I treasured in my youth by the creator of Glee. But I digress, let’s focus on Ashely and Stewart.

Ashley is a complex and generally rather unlikeable character. She’s popular and cool but has clearly won that privilege through cruelty to those around her. Her grades are terrible but she’s more concerned about the school finding out her parents divorced because her dad is gay. There’s some low key homophobia on Ashley’s part, handled incredibly gracefully by Nielsen might I add. Purposefully unlikeable main characters aren’t common in YA fiction, and Ashley’s character arc is a particularly interesting one because of this.

Stewart I fell in love with immediately because he’s a tiny little geek. I kept seeing criticism on GoodReads that he’s written “too young” when it’s immediately clear to me that Stewart is autistic – he mentions trouble with socialising, understanding intentions, stress incontinence, out of place facts and humour, attended a school for gifted children. Nielsen doesn’t say the a-word but it’s 100% clear to me, with Nielsen providing one of the most delicate, thoughtful examples of an autistic character I’ve ever seen.

Needless to say, combining these two under one roof is not exactly going to be an easy ride. While Stewart tries to reconcile living in a new home that has no shred of his now deceased mother with ensuring his new housemates aren’t too disrupted, Ashley is falling in love… or maybe just lust with the new mysterious and handsome boy in school. Not only that, but Ashley’s dad is living in the house in the garden where his new beau keeps showing up. Will Stewart and Ashley find a common ground as step-siblings? Will she ever learn to pronounce Schrödinger’s name correctly?

The prose is punctuated by graphical representations of Stewart’s thought processes, and the POV is split between Ashley and Stewart in alternating short chapters. There are complex topics and emotions running wild amidst this relatively small fast paced book, but it never feels heavy. Nielsen writes with flair, humour and grace, weaving these delicate storylines together without ever feeling clunky or overwrought. Not only does We Are All Made of Molecules touch on combined families, homophobia and grief, but Nielsen also explores ableism, consent, peer pressure, toxic friendships and various flavours of bullying. I’m really impressed by this book and look forward to expanding my Nielsen collection.

Interested? Get it here.

A small note: there are discussion questions in the back, making this an excellent young adult book group choice!

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Chloe at Andersen Press for sending me this copy.

Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 by Naoki Higashida | 1 Minute Reviews

Back when I was still wandering the waters of am I autistic, I read Naoki Higashida’s first book The Reason I Jump. I was on a train from the bookshop in the Chilterns back to my regular bookshop to meet my colleagues for work drinks, and I whizzed through it. I arrived flapping and buzzing with information, which they kindly took on board even though I was definitely oversharing in that autism specific interest kind of way.

When the publicity bods at Hodder told me last year that another of Naoki’s books had been translated into English, that rush came back to me.


Naoki Higashida, an autistic Japanese man, once again delivers in creating a wonderful book of short essays, poetry and short fiction. This edition was originally published in Japan in 2015, deemed as the most illuminating of Higashida’s books by author David Mitchell. Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 also includes a number of essays that were originally printed in the Japanese edition of The Big Issue, which he quite regularly writes for.

Higashida’s short essays are insightful, illuminating and beautiful; he has a way with words that captivates me. As a mostly non verbal autistic man, he writes about the ways people treat similarly disabled people – talking as though they aren’t there, habitually removing their dignity or choices for the sake of ease, the frustration of being unable to communicate the nuances of your needs. His writing is essential reading for anyone interested in disability rights, as well as for anyone wanting to know more about autistic people.

Living in a way different to everyone else requires a degree of courage.

His poetry is rooted in dreams; simplistic, poignant and beautiful. His writing is lyrical, careful. His observations on human behaviour are astute.


The point

of gratitude

lies in first

feeling gratitude

that one owes


As an autistic person, I can say that autistic and neurotypical people will find a lot to love here.

This is a book that can be both devoured in one go and read a short essay at a time. It is a book that settles in your mind, flickering thoughts that linger.

I’m very hopeful that more of Higashida’s books will be translated by David Mitchell and KA Yoshida over the years, as his writing floors me every time.

Buy it from Book Depository!

What to read next:

Want to read more books about or by autistic people? Check out the Essential Autistic Reading List.

Thank you ever so much to Sceptre Books and the team at Hodder for sharing this important book with me.

Autism Q&A | Sew Many Books

I know literally one of the last posts I published was about how I’m stepping back from doing stuff that’s not writing my novel… but I filmed like three YouTube videos today OOPS.

The first is one I promised to do back in Autism Awareness Week in March and decided now was the time to hurry the hell up and do it. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below or the comments on YouTube or tweet me or whatever!


Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham | 1 Minute Reviews

I wrote the bones of this review back in 2016 when I was sent a pre-publication copy by the lovely people at Ebury Press. This was, importantly, also before I received my diagnosis of autism.


Chris Packham’s memoir Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is a brutal, beautiful book that subverts the memoir genre through inclusion of third person accounts of events involving him. The timeline flicks around, with the Summer of 1975, the Summer of his kestrel, playing a centralised role. Alongside that are his end-of-chapter discussions with his therapist in September 2003, shortly after considering suicide, where he discusses his issues with people – and why he loves animals more than other humans – and his own struggles to navigate a world not built for him.

It’s utterly stunning and I am in awe.

While many nature memoirs tiptoe into the brutalism of nature, Packham strides forward into it – nibbling tadpoles, trying to rescue a drowning fox, stripping meat from bones. It is harsh, just as nature is.

While reading I saw so much of my childhood in his own; a lonely-alone child who dives headfirst into the natural world, where he understands animals while being baffled by humans? Yep, pretty close to the bone here. Mid-reading, I discovered that Packham is autistic, receiving his diagnosis as an adult 2005 which he is only opening up about now, in part due to the release of Fingers in the Sparkle Jar.

So much of what happened to him mirrors my own life, making this a book very close to my heart. I feel that the other lonely nature loving autistic children will find much to love here, especially if, like me, they grew up watching Chris on The Really Wild Show.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thanks to Ebury Books for sending me a review copy.

Want to read more books about autistic people? Check out my recommendations on The Essential Autie Book List.