A close shave for disability

There aren’t enough disabled narrators in teen fiction. There aren’t enough disabled writers. Being cautious means I’ve yet to change the former and (currently) being able-bodied and neurotypical, I do not affect the latter.

That said, if I populated my stories with characters exactly like me, then reading my books would be like John Malkovich stepping inside his own head in “Being John Malkovich”, with everyone wearing my face, parroting “Pratt Pratt Pratt...” at each other. No one wants that.

To be good at my job means writing about people whose experience differs from my own and although Truth or Dare focuses on two able-bodied teenagers, Kam, the person for whom my protagonists are raising money, is disabled. Having fallen from a bridge into a river, Kam lives with the consequences of a severe TBI (traumatic brain injury). In the planning stage this looks like a plot point, but in real life people with a TBI are more than a plot point: they are breathing, feeling human beings. To write about this required research.

There’s a lot to learn about how the brain can be injured and recover (or not). There’s even more to learn about how care is provided and paid for (or not). Even with the NHS, free healthcare is not infinite. Rehabilitation after a brain injury can be surprisingly quick, or frustratingly slow, and such care is very expensive. The Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability (RHN) is one such place where this care is provided. Having investigated the website, I was also permitted to visit. There I met with both patients and staff, discovered more about the costs and limitations of care—and I found out that the RHN requires charitable donations of three million pounds a year.

In the beginning, I believed that my job as a writer was to depict Kam’s character without veering into mawkishness or the troublesome trope of inspiration porn [a tendency to reduce people with disabilities to objects of inspiration] that is dangerous at worst and patronising at best. By the end, I realised this was not enough.

Eighteen months of writing about teenagers who feel responsible for changing as much of the world as they can has made me realise that I have a responsibility to do the same. Writing about raising money isn’t the same as actually raising money. So, like my characters, if I raise £2,000 in donations for the RHN then I have dared myself to shave my head on Saturday 29th July at the Young Adult Literature Convention. It would be wonderful if I raised more—after all, £2,000 is a lot less than the £3m the RHN needs.

Non Pratt is an author. Her most recent novel is Truth or Dare (Walker Books, £7.99).

You can donate to Non's fundraising page here.