Shocking Pink Socks

Interesting (if cozily jocular) profile of Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time:

I point out that his Radio 4 play, Coming Down the Mountain, broadcast last year, gave a voice to a Down’s syndrome teenager called Ben. Was Haddon trying to corner the market in mentally skewed ways of seeing the world? “Am I going for the Disability Boxed Set?” he asks, laughing. “The answer is, you always want to get people in extreme situations because it shows who they are. You can’t get through a novel on tea parties. You’ve got to have people in the burning building or the lifeboat. I wanted to be contemporary and ordinary, but have an edge. And this book – Christopher’s adventure – does that.” His experience of physical and mental handicap came in the early 1980s, when, just out of Merton College, Oxford, with an English degree, he worked for Community Service Volunteers in Scotland, looking after a patient with multiple sclerosis. “I worked in 24-hour shifts, doing everything for him – washing, toileting, smoking – and it was very black and very funny. It displayed the truth that, if you’re sharing a house with someone who’s paralysed from the neck down, it’s often the person they’re living with, the one with all his faculties, who really needs looking after. The guy we were supposed to be looking after, 99 per cent of his problems were about religion, sex and having rows with neighbours – the usual things. He had a serious disability, but it didn’t define his whole life.”

Moving to London, he continued his saintly progress working for Mencap and a Children’s Action Workshop in Muswell Hill (“Everyone says, ‘What’s with all the caring?’, but at the time it seemed very normal. We were quite a political generation”). “It was full of kids of all ages, with various physical handicaps and learning difficulties, some with mental handicaps. But there were no labels. When you went in there, you had to work out, ‘Am I talking to a very articulate seven-year- old, or to a 12-year-old with growth and developmental delay?’ That was a real eye-opener.”

When did he first find evidence of the alien landscape that’s inside his narrator Christopher’s head? “Oh, I think that if you’re a writer you have that in your own head from quite an early age. I think it’s true there are two types of kids as school. One type probably breezes through school like gazelles across the veldt. For the more troubled types on the edge of the playground, how you get from one day to the next is a mystery. All writers come from the latter, because only if you’re in that group does the working of the human mind become an object of interest.”

Via The Elegant Variation.

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