Writing Place 2020

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Jumping Puddles

By Simone Busch

Magic happens for me when a set of double doors swings ‘Open Sesame’, revealing an Aladdin’s treasure trove of books. I’m now officially in reading heaven. Every child seeks a place where they can dream and be themselves. I have just found mine – it’s the school library. I’m goose-bumpy with joy to be allowed inside as reading is my ultimate pleasure. When we read, we travel the world by imagination alone and our disabilities are non-existent.

The stories we hear or read in our formative years leave lifelong impressions. Young readers want to identify with their literary heroes. Yet children with disabilities have very few positive characters within literature or the arts in general, to represent them. Feeling kinship with characters can transcend the page and help give disabled children the courage and strength to tackle the challenges of their daily life.

From an early age it is my dream to become a children’s author and create space within my writing to feature characters with disabilities. Because in my own childhood literary role models, who were disabled like me, were almost non-existent.

In Australia, every 14 hours a child is born with Cerebral Palsy. I was one of those children. We deserve literary representation too.

A life with Cerebral Palsy diplegia is not an easy ride, yet with a positive attitude and wonderful family support, life can be vibrant, fun, and enriching. I feel that it’s crucial not to let disability define you. CP is part of who I am. My disability is for always, there is no cure and no logical explanation for it.

But I am about so much more than my disabled body. Initially it’s my love of books which fuels my desire to become an author that, and the guidance of a dedicated teacher. The mentor who changes my life by introducing me to the world of writing, is my fifth-grade teacher Mr Robinson. The class affectionately calls him Sir, and Sir is a published author.

He has a light brown beard and a love of literature. Every Friday before home time the class hushes as our teacher’s deep voice fills the room when he reads to us. He alone transports thirty eager young minds to exciting new worlds. We are only nine years old, but Sir doesn’t indulge us with children’s books. Together we tackle Animal Farm and other modern classics, but none of these novels feature characters with disabilities. Although I cannot physically identify with these literary heroes, I cherish every story session and it is Mr Robinson himself who becomes a special role model to me.

Because of my Cerebral Palsy, I can choose to participate in physical education lessons on the oval or stay back in class. I stay, and for two hours each week my classroom becomes my own private literary space. Between his marking, Sir teaches me about creative writing techniques. After he explains how to use a thesaurus my vocabulary grows immeasurably. In fact, I wish for a thesaurus and a typewriter that Christmas. Yes, it was a Brother typewriter; I know I am a fossil!

Most kids conquer challenges like bike riding or roller blading, remember those moments? My test is learning to type. This proves difficult as I have poor co-ordination, but my writing dreams depend on me mastering the keys. After months of practice I do manage to type, in my own unique Simone style.

Mum takes me to see a local theatre production of Winnie the Pooh and I’m so starry eyed that I join the junior theatre group. Being part of this ensemble gives me much confidence and lovely friends too.

There aren’t any roles tailored to my needs, but when I’m cast as an old woman. I use my walking sticks as props and totter, wobble, totter across the stage. This is actually my normal gait, but hey the audience doesn’t know that. Sitting in the front row Mum and Dad hold their breath, until I successfully navigate the journey without falling over.

With a few minor adjustments I’ve made the part fit my abilities and more importantly I have a go and love the experience.

Growing up my special parents offer their loving support and give me the opportunity to try many things. I believe that wherever possible it’s crucial for disabled people to be involved within their local communities, pursuing interests like the arts.

Alas my own onstage career is brief, Nicole Kidman I will never be, but I do find my niche when the co-ordinator says,‘ I hear you like making up stories Simone can you write us a play for the six to nine-year old’s?’

I’ve never written a script before, but I head off to my happy place, the school library, and borrow every book I can on writing drama. I’d like to pay homage to the terrific librarians who always offer friendship, advice, and great reading material.

At home I type till my fingers ache. My plays stars wacky witches, Christmas puddings and blue bunyips, each one is performed in our local theatre, but none of these scripts feature characters with disabilities. Sadly, to this point I have no literary role models with disabilities.

I am twelve years old, almost thirteen when I read the book that represents so much more to me than the sum of its words. This novel gives me hope and changes everything. It is Alan Marshall’s iconic autobiography I Can Jump Puddles. Reading this story is the first time I encounter a main character with a disability.

Alan Marshall has polio. He also uses walking sticks as I do, and he is a success. Alan Marshall becomes a prize-winning journalist and author. Fanfare, this proves to me that my dream of being a published author is achievable.

The title of his novel becomes my affirmation. When my legs are in pain and my physio session is not going well, Mum squeezes my hand and whispers ‘but we can jump puddles’ and usually we do.

Marshall’s story makes me think and the next Halloween play I pen includes a flower seller who walks with sticks. Guess who scores that role it’s little me.

Throughout my teens and into adulthood I enter short story competitions in earnest. I strive to create the space within my literary world to highlight ability within disability, that is an important distinction.

Please don’t think I am being a cynic, but in recent times some television programs and books have included a token character in a wheelchair. Disabled people deserve better, deeper representation within the arts, than being the token to fill a diversity quota.

Worse still are the serials in which the once wheelchair bound character, jumps out of the wheelchair to make a miraculous recovery. Good luck to them, but real life for people with disabilities and their families isn’t like that.

I endeavour to create realistic characters, people who have a disability, but whose lives are colourful and varied. Those of us with disabilities have, jobs, interests, relationships, and emotional needs just like any other able-bodied person and this is often glossed over in literature and the arts in general.

For my own stories I have written about a hearing-impaired teenager who performs a mime act with his hearing friend. Another character is a wheelchair bound young library student and she befriends a homeless man. These characters are disabled, but by exploring other aspects of their lives, readers can see them as real people, rather than just focusing on the fact that they are disabled.

When writing I make sure to end on a positive note, because living with a disability can be hard. Growing old with Cerebral Palsy is a struggle. I have severe nerve pain now and I can no longer leave the house without my wheelchair or assistance from others, but I think if we don’t have bad days, then we can’t appreciate the good ones. Happiness is a choice we make.

My writing is the place where I create the space to depict the lives of people with disabilities. I want to ensure that disabled people, especially children, feel included within the world of literature and the arts. I hope they find meaningful stories to read that fill them with the courage to live their dreams. Because in my dreams I can still jump puddles.


About Simone Busch

Simone Busch is a keen writer of short stories for children and adults. Her work was most recently featured in the anthology Allsorts by Hawkeye Publishing.

Simone has Cerebral Palsy, but she does not let her disability define her. Through her writing she strives to be a voice for the better representation of disabled people within literature and the arts. Simone believes that happiness is a choice we make.


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