Read for RNIB

Less than 1% of books are published in Braille. No more than 7% of books are published in some format which makes them accessible to blind or visually impaired readers; formats such as audiobooks, Daisy readers, large or giant print, and even if a book appears in one of these formats; it may be months after the publication of the traditional format or e-book version.

Yes, it is possible for e-readers to ‘speak’ a digital copy of a book to the blind, but text-to-speech systems typically offer an unrealistic electronic voice. If you think you’d wouldn’t mind having a full-length book read to you by something like that, you should try five minutes of it to see…

I am therefore extremely proud that my newly published book, She Is Not Invisible, is available in a wide range of accessible formats, and from day one of its life.

The book is about a 16-year-old girl whose father is a writer. He’s a writer obsessed with the question of coincidences, and when he goes missing, Laureth decides to follow clues left behind in his notebook to try to find him. This is somewhat harder than it would be for most 16-year-olds, because Laureth has been blind from birth. That’s what made me convinced the book should be published in accessible formats from the start, and I’m delighted that my publisher, Orion, agreed.

The book is part of RNIB’s Read for RNIB Day, and is one of six titles that have blind protagonists which have been chosen as suggested books for reading groups to read, in the Reading Group Challenge. This is a wonderful scheme aimed at raising money for the RNIB so they can continue their work of enabling the blind to have a better reading experience. The mere existence of certain charities in our society has always appalled me. The RNLI, the RNIB: aren’t these services which any wealthy, civilised country ought to provide from central government? But they don’t, so in the meantime, it’s up to the rest of us to fund them, and help blind and VI people have an equal share in our country’s culture.

It was, of course, an enormous challenge to write a book with a blind protagonist, not least because I chose to write from her point of view, in the first person. I had no idea just how great the challenge was until I started my research. Over the last two years I’ve made a series of trips to New College, Worcester, where I spoke at length with blind and VI students. Every single one of them was open, honest, generous and patient with me, and slowly, I began to get a little understanding of what life is like for them. How it is different, of course, but just as importantly, how it is the same. I cannot begin to pretend I know what it’s like to be blind from birth, as Laureth is in the book. How could you ever forget what colour is, to give just one example? If I have achieved anything at all in this book, however, it’s thanks to the help I received from the students there. I literally could not have written this book without them. It is their book, and I am grateful beyond words for the kindness they showed me.

Here’s a short film made the RNIB about the day I went back to New College, with a finished copy of the book in my hands. And yes, I was really nervous.

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