In this special Q&A blog about their upcoming book The Autistic Guide to Adventure: Active Pursuits From Archery to Wild Swimming for Tweens and Teens author, Allie Mason, and illustrator, Ella Willis, discuss their favourite activities and illustrations from the guide, what they enjoyed most about working on it, and advice for their teenage selves.
How did you feel when you first started working on The Autistic Guide to Adventure?
A: Very excited! I am the ultimate cliché in that I’ve dreamt of being an author since childhood, so having Jessica Kingsley Publishers commission this book was such a surreal moment for me. As I began to write, the rose-tinted glasses came off and I fully realised what a mammoth task I had committed myself to. It’s not been a smooth journey but I am grateful for how much I have learnt along the way.
E: So incredibly honoured. I had always doubted myself and wondered whether my work would ever be seen. It really came at the right time and I feel so grateful that the first big opportunity I have been given is for a subject that’s so important to me and represents me. I was really nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to do it justice but seeing it come to life felt so special.
What is your favourite activity and/or illustration from the book?
A: My favourite illustration has to be the rollerskater. She exudes joy and was the first glimpse I had into Ella’s vision for how the book would look. As for activity, I’m going to have to choose stargazing. I find it such a grounding experience and would really recommend it to anyone who has felt anxious or overwhelmed at times.
E: Foraging. It’s not something that I do myself but I really, really love the illustration, I think he’s really cute! The roller-skating images will always have a special place in my heart as they were the first ones I created, they were the blueprint for the style I wanted to use and what got me excited to complete the rest!
What did you enjoy most about working on the book?
A: All of the fabulous people that it has allowed me to meet! First Ella, then all the interviewees, then the future readers who would reach out to me on social media to share how excited they were for the book…this project has opened so many doors for me and given me a connection with so many other people that I wouldn’t have had without it.
E: That I basically had full creative control over what they looked like, the style and energy. This allowed me to be really creative and focus on how representative the illustrations are, incorporate some of my own clothing into the people (sneaky!) and explore a style that I hadn’t worked in before. When I had completed them all, and took a step back to look, seeing all of the “characters” together made me think about all the young people that are going to feel so seen which was so important for me to think about during the process.
This is a difficult one, we know, but what would you say to your teenage self if you could go back in time and talk with them?
A: It gets better, I promise. That’s actually the dedication of The Autistic Guide to Adventure, because I wrote it for my younger self, the one who was always facing barriers that she didn’t understand and couldn’t overcome on her own. I look back now and wish I had been diagnosed earlier, but then, would I still be who I am today if that had happened? I’m not sure. I’d want her to know that her dreams do come true and that this happens because of the work that she puts in. I’d want her to be proud of herself.
E: Stop worrying about what other people are doing and stop dreaming of another life because it will not stay like this forever – one day, you are going to love your life and you are going to be appreciated for the work you do and the person you are. I spent so much of my teen years being anxious, depressed and being so caught up in what I wasn’t doing compared to what other people were doing. I grew up in a small town that makes you feel like you will never get out and that dreams are crushed the second you think of them. I would tell little me to keep doing what they are doing, stop placing their worth on the trauma they have been through and keep being creative!
Fun and freeing, The Autistic Guide to Adventure: Active Pursuits From Archery to Wild Swimming for Tweens and Teens is available to pre-order.
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