The Fantastic Autistic
A PhD Project
In 2021, I completed a PhD in Creative Writing at The University of Manchester. I did two things: I wrote a novel (as yet unpublished) and produced a critical thesis. Both of those things examined the connections between autism, aesthetics, and the fantastical.
It was a complex and meandering beast of a project, and a challenging three and a half years, but I had an incredible time. I went in to it naively assuming I knew most of what I needed to know about autism and neurodiversity. I quickly discovered I barely knew a damn thing.
I soon encountered the writings and creative expressions of autistic activists, poets, bloggers, and scholars, and my encumbered neurotypical brain was opened up to the possibilities of neurodiversity and neuroqueerness. It literally changed my mind.
I put science-fiction and fantasy to the neuroqueer test and was pleased to see them pass with flying colours. I now believe that the fantastic and the autistic are natural bedfellows and fierce friends, and that their fusion can lead to radical and thrilling possibilities. This is what I ended up arguing in my critical thesis which you can read, for free, by clicking the snazzy image of the front cover above (or if that doesn't work, click here).
The novel, provisionally called The Wing, also attempts to dance through fantastical worlds to the beat of autistic voices. It's an experimental, fidgety thing that is anchored by its devotion to depicting my fabulous and fantastical sister Jenny as closely as possible. It proved good enough to excite my examiners, but is seemingly too weird for literary agents and publishers... at least so far. I'll keep trying. One day it will appear, I am sure of it.
And if you're reading this and you're an agent or publisher who likes experimental speculative fiction with unusual narrators and a thrilling sci-fi concept, do get in touch! I promise you, its pretty good. For a little insight into the process of writing, have a read of the following article:
Since finishing the project, I've started a podcast looking at autism on film, I've co-founded the Narratives of Neurodiversity Network (web link coming soon!), I've run a few creative writing workshops for autistic adults, and I'm working on a number of journal articles. I'm not 100% what the next big project will be, but wherever I turn, the neuroqueer will always be there, striding ahead. Here's to a neurodivergent future.