To prepare for the launch of my book, The Forever Cruise, I wrote a new short story as a giveaway. I say, ‘new’ but the truth, is I wrote a version of this story ten years ago. I had recently joined a small creative writing class in my village. Our facilitator suggested we try entering a short story competition. The brief was to write about the senses. I wrote A World of Difference, a story about a sighted boy in a world of blind people, where his sight was considered a disability. I won this competition and as a result had my story published in an anthology by Chuffed Buff Books. So, I have been a published author since 2013!
It was my first flag of encouragement. We need these affirmations along the way when we follow our heart, unsure where we are headed.
Chuffed Buff Books sadly folded a few years ago. So, when I was searching for a short story to write as a giveaway, I pulled it out to see if it still had some merit. I love the premise. The idea came to me because as a young occupational therapist I was angry and frustrated that people were made to feel disabled as a result of their environment. That the environment disabled people. I was idealistic at twenty and believed that one day things would be different. Huh!
The premise still rang true but my writing needed much improvement, as did the plot. I have of course become a better writer over the past ten years. So, I set about rewriting the story.
What is really interesting is the feedback from two beta-readers. The first, a writer friend who is regularly published in women’s magazines. This writer friend was very encouraging and gave me a couple of pointers on the romance side of things. The second beta-reader was Anneliese Knop, a blind author. I asked Anneliese for a sensitivity review. Boy, was that interesting!
In the draft I shared with Anneliese, I wrote:
‘It is rare for a person to be sighted. A sighted person may not have a well-developed sense of smell. They may have difficulty hearing some pitches that are easily heard by non-sighted people. Their responses can at times be slow as they tend to lose concentration easily, this may be because they are distracted by sight.’
This is what she said: ‘My first impression was that it was clearly written by a sighted person, in that you used the words “sighted” and “non-sighted” in the opening paragraph, and throughout the story. A sighted person only thinks of themselves as “sighted” when they encounter a blind person. A blind society wouldn’t think of themselves as blind until they come into context of sight, and in that case, they wouldn’t use the negative “non” to refer to themselves. After all, they’re not lacking anything, from their perspective. The “sighted” person has something extra, like a growth or excess of something. They might more accurately think of themselves as normal, and the random sampling of sighted people as “photo-sensitive,” or something else denoting their excessive awareness of light. I imagine some additional health concerns like headaches might be listed in the disadvantages of having sight. Sure, blind people can and do get headaches, but a lot of headaches come from eye strain and excessive brightness. On a sunny day in a world without sunglasses, the poor photo-sensitive people would be considered infirm.’
Who would have thought that we are at a disadvantage being exposed to bright light? As a migraine sufferer I could identify with this. Thank goodness for sunglasses which would not have been invented in a world of blind people.
My story now opens with this paragraph:
Headaches and photosensitivity can be particularly disabling for a sighted person. Their sense of smell will be underdeveloped, and they may have difficulty hearing some pitches. Their responses can be slow as they lose concentration easily, this may be because they are distracted by sight. Only a small proportion of the population experience the disabling condition of having sight. Awareness of the sighted person’s experience and careful adaptation of the environment can greatly enhance the sighted person’s feeling of independence and wellbeing.
The comment that I loved most from Anneliese was this:
‘As I understand it, infatuation and sexual attraction doesn’t generally lead to people wanting to grope each other’s faces. Now, in a biology geared more toward touch than sight, this might be different. The modes of determining genetic compatibility would have to be different. But then, the face would probably be slightly less important than the arms, chest, shoulders, torso. The face’s ability to project strength and intelligence is only useful to prospective mates with sight. A blind society would have evolved seeking signs of these things in other body parts.’
I found Anneliese’s perspective fascinating. My protagonist no longer wants to ‘grope’ the face of a handsome stranger.
A World of Difference is an uplifting story about a single mother and her teenage son as they negotiate the difference in their worlds, and prepare for more change: he is on the brink of adulthood and she is preparing for an empty nest.
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You can find out more about the lovely Anneliese Knop, here: https://linktr.ee/anneliese_knop