The Adventure of Maisie Voyager is a story about a unique young girl who sets out on an adventure with a desire to do the right thing, without always knowing what the right thing is!
In this interview, author Lucy Skye discusses not only the inspiration behind some of Maisie’s fascinating character traits, but also her own personal and professional connection to autism and Asperger Syndrome, and how it affected her growing up.
Can you tell us a bit about you, and your personal and professional connection to autism and AS?
Autism has always been a part of my life, in the sense that I’ve grown up with it in the family. Although when I was younger, I didn’t really understand what autism was, I was still aware of the condition, and how it could affect someone. When I was at university, I began working with children with additional needs and I started to gain more insight. I’ve always loved working with children, but spending time with children with autism gave me a completely different perspective on the world.
I’ve got friends and family members with autism now, and I also work for the National Autistic Society, which gives me the fantastic opportunity to meet many wonderful people with autism, as well as those who care for and support them. Everyone has a different story to tell – their stories just need to be heard by more people.
I started writing stories when I was pretty small, but when I was about ten I had a teacher who encouraged me to write more, and I did so, on and off, before really getting into it again when I was a young adult. I enjoy anything creative (I studied music at university, and enjoy experimenting with weird art… but I’m not as good as the artist in the book!), but I think writing specifically allows me to explore the world from another point of view; it allows me to put my thoughts and feelings outside of myself. I try to make some time to write every day, even if it’s just a line or two.
What is the book about, and what inspired you to write it?
Maisie literally popped up on me one day. One of my favourite places is on the coastal path in North Cornwall, and as I was walking here, she just began to form in my mind. I’d been wanting to write a book for children for a while, but the ideas weren’t really connecting. Maisie was the lynchpin, and the story built itself around her. I read a lot, novels and non-fiction, and books aimed at children or adults. I also used to read (and still do!) a lot of Jacqueline Wilson. I love the fact that her books are so relatable, and that they can connect with children on many different levels. I think it’s fantastic that one of my favourite authors is now also loved by my young niece – it shows me how good writing can connect with any generation! I can’t hope to be as good as that, but in Maisie, I’ve always hoped that I can create someone who people can believe in: you want to be on her side, you want her to succeed. I’ve always been attracted to books with strong characters. When I was younger, I loved Laura from the Little House on the Prairie books, and Jo in Little Women, as well as more modern-day mischievous types such as Ramona Quimby or Tracey Beaker. Maisie definitely has a strong personality and she does what she thinks is the right thing to do, with the best of intentions…
The book is an adventure, borderline fantasy-reality. It’s a story you believe is nearly possible, but perhaps isn’t quite. I also used to read (and re-read) masses of Enid Blyton, so I probably owe the adventure element to her influence. But it’s very much a ‘now’ book. Maisie is very independent, has grown up exploring the world with her parents, and doesn’t like having to settle in one place living with her Aunt. Then the mystery starts, and people appear and disappear, and Maisie (with the help of a few others) has to try and make everything alright again.
Adventures offer possibilities – they offer you the chance to experience more of the world, and to do more than you thought you were capable of. I think I always liked adventure stories because the ending was always positive; the children always succeeded. I know that real life isn’t always like that, but we all need to believe in heroes at times.
The book’s heroine, Maisie, is a really positive and engaging character. Is she based on anyone in real life? Why and how do you think readers will relate to her character and the story?
Maisie has elements of lots of different people in her, including some of my friends, and me. I ‘stole’ quite a few of her sensory sensitivities from one of my friends, mainly because she was able to explain them to me so eloquently, and in such a positive way. Often, any differences or difficulties people have are seen to be, or assumed to be, really negative. Because Maisie grew up in an environment where she couldn’t compare herself to anyone else, she doesn’t see any of her differences as being negative. She has grown up being very self-sufficient and trying to solve problems by herself. I know that her stubbonness is a feature I can display; a desire to do the ‘right’ thing without always knowing what the ‘right’ thing is! Her differences cause her difficulties at times, but she has developed, or develops, strategies to help herself with these.
What I like about Maisie is that she’s not perfect, and she knows that. She doesn’t always have the answers. But she does her best, and takes the most out of life that she can. She has a real buzz for life! I hope that readers will be able to connect with that element of her.
Maisie has many AS traits, but you don’t make reference to a diagnosis in the book. Why did you choose to avoid this?
It certainly wasn’t conscious at first. I began writing the book without thinking any of the characters would have autism, but as I was writing, I began to realise that much of Maisie’s personality could be seen as being quite autistic. I was very keen however, that Maisie didn’t become an ‘autistic’ character. I just want her to be Maisie, and explore the world in her own way. The fact she might have autism is just one element of her personality. Perhaps part of me also hopes that we can start to see people for being more than just their autism, we need to be open to all that they are and can be.
Maisie also has a lot of sensory sensitivities. These can be really positive, but they can also cause her some difficulties as well. I find it fascinating, the impact a sensory sensitivity can have on an individual; it can make their experience of the world completely different. It’s something that isn’t often covered in fiction, although there’s a lot of non-fiction and research available. As my writing developed, I recognised that sensory perception was a big part of Maisie’s world, and consequently tried to develop that side of her character further.
I don’t know whether Maisie is, or isn’t autistic. But I hope that she is someone that many readers will be able to relate to through her lively and inquisitive personality. I think when we connect to people through our similarities, we can begin to understand and accept our differences better as well.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Lots of different things! Mainly, a sense of enjoyment. Also possibly a sense that ‘could an adventure happen to me?’ – a desire for the reader to be a hero in their own story. Even if we can’t find our own adventures, if we have greater belief in ourselves we can be stronger. I know many children, young people and adults with (and without) autism who have really low self-esteem. Reading helped me to discover more about the world and myself, and I hope, in a tiny way, that if people read Maisie then they will start to do this too. Also I’d like readers to develop their understanding of other people. Some of Maisie’s thinking and her behaviours might be very similar to the readers’, and others might be very different. I hope that by relating to Maisie at some level, people will be able to build on their understanding of the other parts of her personality.
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.