Chloe Timms: The disabled novelist proving people wrong one word at a time 👩💻👩🦼🙌
Chloe Timms is just a delightful person and author. Her debut novel The Seawomen is out today!
Living with her disability has pushed Chloe to succeed, proving to everyone that she is a force to be reckoned with.
How does one become an author and what does it take to write a novel? Find out on this week's episode.
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The website: www.icantstandpodcast.com
Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast. The podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peter. I'm your host and I have cerebral palsy. This week I'm speaking to author Chloe Timms, all about her book that comes out today, the 14th of June called The Sea Women. This is such an interesting chat. Spoiler alert. So without any further ado, let's get into it.
Chloe [00:00:48] Hello. I'm Chloe Timms. I'm an author and former teacher from the UK. I live on the Kent coast. I'm 34 and I have a condition called spinal muscular atrophy, and I have the kind of intermediate type. So it's a genetic condition, progressive muscle wasting condition. I used to be a primary school teacher for several years, and after I did my teaching, I decided to revisit a lifelong love of mine, which is writing. So I went back to university, studied for a master's, and from that I won a scholarship to a really prestigious writing course in London. I got a book deal at the end of 2020, just as the UK had come out of our first lockdown, which is obviously incredibly difficult time and a difficult time in the publishing industry as well. And so I'm very thrilled to say that my debut novel, The Sea Women, comes out on June the 14th.
Peta [00:01:52] So I have many questions because you've sort of encapsulated a whole life there in about a minute. I'm going to go back a little bit and say, what gave you the confidence to be like? I've got to follow my passion for writing. Many of us have that little voice in the back of our heads and we've got I'd really like to try this. But a lot of us don't take that leap. What made you take that leap?
Chloe [00:02:19] I think partly maybe I don't know whether this maybe sounds overconfident, but I always knew that I was good at writing, mainly because, you know, I'd get the grade A's and I'd get the top marks by writing and stuff. When I was a kid, I used to kind of make my own books by folding pieces of paper in half and drawing my own front covers. And I'd write about my friends and I'd write about boys I fancied. And I'd we absolutely loved writing. I kind of I never really thought I could make a career out of it because I knew it was such a hard thing to get into. But I suppose when I decided to leave teaching and take my writing more seriously, I thought, okay, I'm going to need to know how to get into this industry and put my work out there. And I've done a couple of social courses just to check, you know, just to check. I could still write having not done any sense properly since I was in school. And so I started entering kind of competitions and online opportunities, I guess. It was having that kind of validation, I suppose, to know that, okay, I had an idea and I could write. So maybe it was time to to take myself seriously and to, to put myself out there and say, but I'm going to I'm going to try and make something of my writing and my career.
Peta [00:03:45] There's so much narrative out there, people not feeling self-confident in them, in themselves, and particularly people with disabilities. I think a lot of people just assume that we're not confident and we don't want to fulfil our lives in different areas. Does that resonate with you?
Chloe [00:04:04] 100%, but I've always felt that something like writing is such a great leveller. It's something that it doesn't matter that you're disabled at all because it's something you're able to do and you can do it as well as anyone that's not disabled. And I certainly felt that with my writing. And I think. My characters can do anything. I can put myself in their shoes. Right. Fantastical worlds. Or, you know, I can write about someone who's going skydiving and it's something I'll never do and I'll never be able to do. But it doesn't matter. When I was growing up, there wasn't any kind of disabled role models that I had in my life, but there certainly wasn't any disabled writers that I knew of. And I would love to be that person for maybe a younger person that's out there that thinks, you know, I'd really like to do this job, but I don't think it's a job for me because of the way society is and this kind of discrimination. And it's that thing of showing that you are capable and that is an ongoing battle for disabled people with forever being like, I can do this and I just want to show you that I can. And it's an amazing achievement for anyone to have a book published. But I feel particularly for me, it does show people how capable I am and that makes me even more proud because it's a very visible way for me to kind of put two fingers off everyone.
Peta [00:05:29] What's that been like with your friends and family reading the book?
Chloe [00:05:33] It's funny. Like, obviously, I think my my friends and family know how ambitious I am and that I'm very capable and and independent. But I still think it does surprise people. I guess I'm like like, you know, I've got two degrees and went off to university, lived independently with with carers and lived quite far from home. And I think every step of my life I feel like I'm showing more and more people that, you know, I am, I am my own person. And I'm not just, you know, that disabled girl, which for a long time in my my youth I was and and that's all people see of you and that's all. They have a certain perception of you. That's not to say that I think every disabled person can or should be defined by their career, because obviously there's a lot of disabled people that are fantastic without having to prove themselves in that way. But I certainly find it makes things easier to say to people, Look, I am capable, I am intelligent. I have done all this stuff. And particularly since, like the pandemic, it's been very hard as a disabled person to almost prove your worth in the world. And there's been you know, I don't know how how you have found it, but there's been some horrendous ableism and awful comments that I've read that particularly in the last two years that were incredibly hard to read. And there were times that I had to stop myself going on social media because it was incredibly depressing to see how people felt about disabled people and how open they were about their I don't know, just disregard for us, I guess. And so in some ways, it shouldn't have to be like this. But I feel like because of my achievements, it is a way of saying I have value, I am worth something, and I wish it wasn't like that, but I am proud of my achievements. And I will be, you know, shouting from the rooftops about being disabled and having achieved this, because I think we definitely should be celebrating disabled people's achievements and existence in the world.
Peta [00:07:47] That's the other thing that really sparked my interest with Chloe. So many people in the public eye and people with disabilities are asked to write a book. At a certain point, if they have an audience behind them, but they often write about their disability or their life story. And that isn't the case with your book. So let's talk a little bit about more about your book. Can you tell me a little bit about your book?
Chloe [00:08:13] Yes, my book is called The Sea Women, and it's a dystopian novel with a kind of fantastical twist that's been described as The Handmaid's Tale Meets The Shape of Water, the movie. And it's about a young woman called Esther, who lives on a very remote cold island. And she's an orphan, and she's raised by her grandmother. And all the islanders are governed by a very strict religious cult who control by the use of fear. So their fear of damnation and fear of the outside world and outsiders, and also fear of the water, because they believe that in the water lurks these creatures called the sea women who are going to corrupt their women of the island. And Esther's a bit of an outsider. So she is not she is part of the cult, but she can see kind of cracks appearing. She kind of wants more from life. And one day she does something and then her her whole world begins to unravel. Yeah. It's not a story about disability there. There's a character with limb difference, but it's not a story about being disabled. And I don't know whether that would surprise people or not. And maybe it sounds hypocritical for me to say I really want to see more representation in fiction, but I think it takes a certain introspection to write about disability when you are disabled. And I'd I'd want to do a good job if I was going to do it. And I feel like I'm not there. I'm not ready to write about disability or my disability or the issues around it because it's incredibly personal and difficult. So I would love to see more disability representation, but I just don't feel that I'm ready to be the person to write about it. And I also feel that disabled writers shouldn't have to write about it either. Like we should be able to write crime novels or thrillers or anything we want. Sometimes, you know, it's nice not to think about being disabled and to escape into writing as well and not not have to think about my life in such a personal way. I get it.
Peta [00:10:25] I feel like having a disability and putting your disability out there can be a bit political. And I feel like when I put myself out there, I sometimes feel like I'm going to have to constantly defend myself, defend what I say, so I can relate to why you might be hesitant to develop a disabled story. Because despite what people think, if you're disabled, you only know what it's like for you. Really. I mean, you can talk to other people and get an insight, but you can only really write from your perspective. And even when you talk about cerebral palsy, which is what I have, it represents it so differently in each person. So to even have an illustration of cerebral palsy on the page to me would be challenging because it's not a true representation of what cerebral palsy is for everyone.
Chloe [00:11:23] Because there is such little representation. It's a big it's a big burden to carry on your shoulders, to be the only one writing about it or one of you to write about it. And I feel like it would be difficult because I would depict it, like you say, and the way I the way I see it. And I'm sure there will be disabled people out there that would read it and not be happy with the way it's depicted. And, you know, even even if you had a varied cast of disabled characters, there would still be issues that, you know, you'd need a villain. And if you made a character a villain and they were disabled, would that cause issues or. Yeah. And I think as well and I don't know how you feel about this, but I certainly feel that I am on a journey to shed myself of kind of internalised ableism. And I don't and I and I do reject this idea of being the kind of the good disabled person and that kind of toxic positivity of thinking or projecting this idea that everything is great about being disabled. And that's amazing. You know, there's no downsides. And I think it's a difficult balance when you're writing about it because you don't want people to think, oh, my goodness, their life so terrible. How awful. But at the same time, you don't want people to not see the bad sides as well. So I think that's a really hard balance. But yeah, I came up with this idea and it was very much a kind of an image that I had about a woman on an island or kind of on a coastline that fell in love with a man that kind of emerged from the water and this idea that they couldn't get to each other. And I've always been a fan of kind of doomed or tragic love stories. And so that was almost the starting point for the story. And I do think in a way, my disability obviously affects what I write and and the themes that I experience kind of like to the story. So I kind of feel like as a disabled person, all barriers and all borders around our life are very well drawn. And I and I think that probably that that fed into the story somehow.
Peta [00:13:35] Yeah. We only need a step. They've got water. We've got.
Chloe [00:13:38] Steps. Yeah, exactly.
Peta [00:13:42] So do you have any advice for people listening that think, gosh, I'd love to do that. I'd love to do what Chloe's done and write something.
Chloe [00:13:50] Yeah, I'd say definitely try and get your work out there. And competitions, join writing groups. I know a lot of writers when they start out are really afraid of sharing their work, whether they're not confident or whether they think people are going to steal their ideas. I promise you, people don't steal ideas. I mean, I don't think it's very common. And so I'd say listen to feedback. Try and be open and honest with people about their work because you learn a lot from reading other people's work as well. And also, I know it's a bit of a cliché to say because people always say, Oh, if you want to be a writer, you've got to read. But I would be a bit more specific and I would say, make sure you're reading books. They've come out within the last two years or 18 months because when you are trying to approach agents or publishers trying to work out there, they'll want to know that your current and you're up to date. You don't want to say, my book is like this book that came out a hundred years ago. You need to be serious about being up to date with the industry, the kind of competition and know how to know how to picture book. And I hope to sell your book. And that's what I'd say. You've got to be you've got to be current.
Peta [00:14:58] I want to talk a little bit about your process as far as and you know, this might be very simple question of saying, no, I don't need anything, but do you use any adaptive equipment that helps you in the writing process?
Chloe [00:15:12] Yeah. So I haven't I haven't sort of stepped into using assistive technology yet. I just use a stand cable, a standard mouse. I do get tired. My arms get tired from typing. And I found, though that. I. I quite like using my phone to type on and because it doesn't involve as much movement because I just hold my phone in one hand and type with the other hand, it's, it's quick and it's is not as doesn't use as much energy. So that's quite a nice way of doing it. If particularly if I'm feeling quite tired on my arm, as if I always describe it as having my arm so very heavy. And if I have like a bad day, then using my phone is a good way to do it.
Peta [00:15:55] What do you love about having your disability?
Chloe [00:15:58] You know, when you sent me this question, I really thought about it and. It's the hardest question they've asked me. And I thought, Do I lie or do I answer truthfully? And I thought, well, there might be people listening to your podcast that would benefit from the truth. And I would honestly say that there is very little I love about being disabled. I'm really happy in my life, and I'm really I'm I'm a very positive person. I'm, you know, I couldn't be happier. I've got and I've got a great life, but I don't love my situation. I don't love being disabled. I think obviously it has an impact on my personality. And I think that's been is maybe a very resilient person and determined and also very empathetic person. It's made me cope with a lot of things and also just, I guess so much mental admin. If you're a disabled person, then I guess I'm quite good at coping with that, but it's not something that I would obviously choose to have to cope with. I don't like this idea that you have to fully be thrilled about being disabled. And I think particularly because my condition gets worse over time, it's hard because I'm forever adjusting to my kind of reduction in ability. So that makes it harder because it's not a kind of constant stability in terms of my health.
Peta [00:17:35] Thank you for that honest answer. So many people jump in here and they say, yeah, I love having a disability. I wouldn't change it. And it's like, Well. It depends on the day. Yeah, some days I think. No, I love having a disability. It makes me. Me. But then other days I think, Oh my God, this is so hard. I'd like to just give it to my next door neighbour for the day and I can have it for the day. Let me have their legs and go off and do all the things that I need to do quickly and then we'll swap back. So I really appreciate your honesty. Thank you. What don't you like about having a disability? I feel like this would be a lovely school.
Chloe [00:18:16] Well, I won't bore you with all the details of my life. And I'm, as I said, I am probably similar to you in that if you woke up every day and thought, this is what I don't like about being disabled, you would be so miserable. And I think part of life as a disabled person is pushing that to one side. I think it's hard because I know that there were things five years ago, ten years ago, that I could do that and now can. But it is finding ways to adapt to that. And you just do it. You don't you don't tend to dwell on that. And I certainly don't sit there and cry about my situation. But I'm frustrated by the fact that I need cameras. And that really affects what time I get up in the morning and when I get ready and how my day pans out. Because everything is set around those times and. I resent the lack of control that I have in that respect. But I mean, really, one of the big problems, apart from the effects that my condition has in my body, is society and attitudes and lack of accessibility and I think is the way that we're viewed. Unfortunately, that is such a drag mentally. And as I said, I found it very hard. And in the early days of the first lockdown here to to read people saying, hey, now, we should just all get on with it, and anyone who's vulnerable should just stay indoors. And I was thinking for how long? And also, why don't I deserve to go outside and have a nice time? I've got friends, I've got a great social life. I want to see the people that I love and do things and have a life and people not understanding that. It doesn't matter that that I'm I can isolate, sure. But I can't care for myself. So I'm going to still need people from the outside coming to help me. So if they're going out about their day and they catch the virus, they could potentially come and bring it to me. And I think it was just seeing how people I've always known, you know, people have not know everyone, obviously, but there's a lot of people that have very poor understanding of disability and disabled people and a very low opinion of us. But it was a real wake up call to me to see how people people felt like they were allowed to say this stuff out loud and validated. And and it's very hard to feel that you've constantly got to prove yourself. I think there's a a horrible stigma for people who can't work or struggle to work, and that's for everyone, disabled or not. And I just think it's horrible that we treat people as lesser just because they are not able to be productive. And I feel like it's a it's a heartbreaking thing that productivity is seen as the sole reason we should have any work in our society. But that's capitalism, unfortunately. And until we change our view about that, I don't think that's going to get much better. But I just would hope that we would move to a place where people are treated well, disabled people are treated as as everyone else. But I know that's a it's a long journey to get to. And but I would like to see things change there.
Peta [00:21:44] So going on from that, I feel like we've already touched on this quite a bit. Chloe But if there was something that you could determine for the future, how would you like the future to be for people with disabilities?
Chloe [00:21:59] Well, accessibility would be one of the number one things. And I just think, okay, disability isn't just about stepping into spot wheelchairs, but there are so many different things that can be done that are simple changes. Put one sentence on a website to say You've got a wheelchair accessible restaurant or you don't have a gym and that.
Peta [00:22:18] Doesn't cost anything.
Chloe [00:22:19] Yeah, exactly. It doesn't cost a penny. So I think accessibility but also attitude changes. But that is a as we've said, is a long process. Unfortunately, it does involve us as the community speaking up, which is a lot of energy for us and sometimes feels like all we're doing is complaining. But I do think we need to be out there. We need to be visible. It does mean the allies need to be putting us on TV, putting us on the radio, making us a visible part of society. And I think the more we can speak about these issues in public and be honest and also fight for what we need and what is fair, then that is the way forward for change. It does mean, unfortunately, we end up doing all of the work, but I hope there are good people, people out there who are not disabled that will support us and give us the opportunity to air our views and take us seriously and give us the value that we deserve.
Peta [00:23:24] Just to finish off to remind everyone, your book is called The Same Women.
Chloe [00:23:29] Is Out and it's out June 14th.
Peta [00:23:31] It's been so lovely to talk to you. Thank you so much for your time. And I've thoroughly enjoyed hearing and clearly having a lot in common despite our distance.
Chloe [00:23:41] Thanks so much. It's been absolute joy to talk to you.
Peta [00:23:46] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I really hope you enjoyed it. I feel like Chloe really offered a different perspective that lots of times we don't hear from disabled people and I really appreciated it. If you'd like to ask a question or get in contact with me, there are three ways you can do so via my Instagram. My handle is at @petahooke. You can send me an email by email. Address is email@example.com or you can message me through my website icantstandpodcast.com. Until next week, guys. Have a good one. Bye.