Nothing about us, without us

Thursday, November 19, 2015
By: 
Sarah Widdup interviewed by Michelle McLaren

A portrait of Sarah Widdup
Sarah Widdup

Every fortnight, our Write-ability Writers’ Group sessions give writers with disability the opportunity to meet and discuss their work.

At December’s Write-ability Salon, these talented emerging writers will share some of their stories. 'Nothing about us, without us' is the theme for this year’s Salon, which coincides with 2015’s International Day of People with Disability.

The evening’s host will be Sarah Widdup - Writers Victoria Access intern and former Write-ability Fellow. Program intern, Michelle McLaren caught up with Sarah to chat about her writing, her work with Write-ability and more.

Can you tell me a little about your writing style, and where your point of view springs from?

I suppose I write in a “bleak fable” sort of way, ha! I have a proper sensory experience when I read or write something that has the rise and fall of language - it almost becomes musical. A lot of my work, while it may come across as rather surreal fiction, is actually creative non-fiction, in that the way I experience things has a certain language to it that develops over time, and with reflection. It helps me make sense of the things that happen to me, which can be very helpful, especially when those things involve the enigma that is people. It feels good to express what goes on in my head. As a writer and reader, words are my lifeblood, but they’re much more than that too, they’re the circuits with which I understand life. I can’t picture things in my imagination, so the words become the pictures for me. I can recall where I last saw my keys with photographic clarity, but ask me what Holden Caulfield looks like and I’ll draw a blank.

You were a Writers Victoria Write-ability Fellow last year. What did that involve?

Being a Write-ability Fellow sort of helped me cross the line from being an emerging writer who dabbled, to a writer, at least in my mind. I was mentored by Matthew Hooper - he really helped me tap into the world I was trying to build in my novella, ‘Skeletons of Character’. My writing style is very lyrical and a little bit surreal in places, so being able to show those things in an authentic, solid way is really important, especially in the absence of being able to see my work in my mind’s eye. While I’m still working on that piece, I have so much more in the way of scribe-y tools to fall back on now, and a belief that my work is valid. Write-ability is such a great program, and I’m really excited to be involved, especially with the upcoming Salon. I’ve been part of the Write-ability team since late August, working as an intern, and that has been a wonderful learning experience too.

Congratulations on hosting this December’s Write-ability Salon! For anyone who’s new to the Salon, what can they expect?

The Salon is the culmination of this year’s wonderful Write-ability writers’ groups, and will be an honest and thoughtful showcase of disabled people telling their own stories; writers sharing their words. The Write-ability program is about breaking down the barriers that often prevent disabled people from telling their stories, and finding pathways that lead to disabled writers having a voice, and publishing and performance opportunities, as a matter of course.

The theme for your Salon is 'Nothing about us without us'. What are your thoughts on this topic?

I’ve had a lot of people tell me what they think it’s like for me to be autistic, and what I should “do” about it - they almost never want to hear my thoughts on the subject because they think they already know. 'Nothing about us without us' - well, that to me is the inclusion of disabled people, of writing our own narrative. It’s the recognition that when disability is discussed, unless you’re disabled you’re speaking from a vastly different view. We live it - we’re remarkably well qualified in the field. It’s right that we tell our stories, no matter how we communicate - writing, typing, speaking, signing and so on.

What are you writing right now?

Yikes, well I’m sort of procrastinating at the moment. My novella is in a bit of a writer’s block hiatus thingy, so I’m working on a collection of short fable-ish things, combined with lyrically written bits and pieces that kind of explain what goes on in my autistic head. It’s a big wordy frame to my world.

About Sarah Widdup

Sarah Widdup is Writers Victoria’s Access Intern. She is an expat New Zealander now basking in the joys of Melbourne, via a stint in the UAE. She was a 2014 Write-ability Fellow, and is writing a collection of short pieces, as well as a novella.

About Michelle McLaren

Michelle McLaren is a Program Intern at Writers Victoria. She works as a freelance copywriter and blogs about all things literary at Book to the Future.