Everything That Rises: A Climate Change Memoir (2023) by Brianna Craft

Did you ever wonder what happened at the climate negotiations that culminated in the 2015 Paris Agreement? This is an insider’s view written by a woman who was an intern who played an essential supporting role for the Least Developed Countries, the ones that stand to lose the most.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an incredibly engaging and well-written memoir of something that affects everyone on this planet by somebody who was there in the thick of climate change negotiations for years until the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 and beyond. Brianna Craft gives a no-holds-barred account of the frustrations and triumphs involved and the intense depression and euphoria it invoked, alongside family issues and an unexpectedly close relationship to her God. If you want to understand why it all took so long to agree on, you can’t do much better than read this book.

The insight into what goes on in the background of international negotiations was absolutely fascinating in this memoir. It’s incredible that so much of the support work is done by unpaid interns, whereas I was paid a salary to do essentially the same job for an international European project. Ranging from the COP17 in Durban in 2011 right up until the Paris Agreement signed in November 2015 and beyond, Brianna Craft attended and assisted at all the negotiations, preparations and discussions related to the Least Developed Countries.

Climate change and the Least Developed Countries

Reading Brianna Craft’s memoir of the climate change negotiations, it is fascinating to see the human side of the government officials and their support staff. But, working as she still is for the Least Developed Countries, Craft is well-positioned to give us an overview of the desperate situation many countries face. In fact, working to support Pa Ousman, one of the most prominent African negotiators, she may well have a better overview than anybody else of what happened.

As the world spirals towards climate disaster, negotiations are painstakingly slow. It is the Least Developed Countries that are facing the worst consequences and are affected most, yet it is the developed world that caused the climate crisis and is dragging its heels about solving it. Many small island nations and low-lying coastal areas may be swamped by rising sea levels and salination, making their farmland unproductive. In the entire continent downriver from the Himalayas, the vast quantities of water released by melting glaciers could spell disaster. Weather systems are destabilising and extreme weather causes disasters around the globe.


“After an AmeriCorps year spent teaching kids in after‐school environmental clubs, removing invasive species, and organizing local climate co‐ops in Seattle’s south side, I knew there was no going back, no more ignoring what I wanted. Doing something about the global threat affecting everything and everyone was more important than the regimented future continuing my architectural aspirations afforded. At twenty‐four, I would go back to school. I decided to gamble two years and all the borrowed money I could muster on a master’s in environ mental studies in the fabled Ivy League, where I hoped to turn passion into a bankable career, one that would make a genuine difference.” The subject she studied was Technology Transfer for the energy transition.

When she attended a weekly discussion group on climate change, mostly for the free lunch included, she was given the chance of a lifetime. A London‐based researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development needed an assistant when she advised the chair of the Least Developed Countries Group at the upcoming UN climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, representing The Gambia.

Once she arrived in Durban, one of things that she noticed is that some of the delegates very openly sexually harassed and propositioned the young women like herself. It was a cultural difference she hadn’t expected and later on, she joined with other women to try to combat it, or rather, avoid it; there seem to have been no policy guidelines. However, most of the relationships she built up during the ongoing and repeating negotiations and their preparation were positive. One of the things I enjoyed most were her stories about informal moments and in particular with certain of her colleagues who obviously have a great sense of humour.

Another thing that she soon realised about the climate negotiations was that, unlike in her own country, i.e. the USA, there was no question about whether climate change was happening or if it was an issue. For many of the countries it was a deadly serious reality threatening their very existence. That gave the opinions of the Least Developed Countries added weight in the discussions.

“Power was the ability to inspire wide‐ranging agreement rather than bend others to your will. Moral authority could rally strength of numbers, so the vulnerable spoke with influence the wealthy could rarely command.”

A personal story

Interspersed with the main story of the climate talks is Brianna Craft’s own life story. She had always had an extremely difficult relationship with her tyrannical father and couldn’t wait to move away from the family home. Only when he had gone through major surgery (which she only heards about later) did she make a concerted effort to reconnect, but old habits are hard to break. Struggling with her guilt about this failure, she reveals that she has a very personal relationship with a loving God who values her. She does not pray in a conventional sense, but has imaginary conversations with an amusing God who teases her and advises her.
“I didn’t know anything like this Love. Patience on an unhuman timescale. Kindness. Undemanding, eternally hopeful. His faithful love endures forever. It was not inconsistent or determined by my performance.” The contrast with her father is obvious.

I found this an immensely absorbing and interesting glimpse into something that is a closed book to most of us. Yet anyone who has worked in an office will recognise the office politics and the day-to-day reality of back-to-back meetings, though I was surprised just how much of the final decision-making was done in extremely late-night meetings. I was also expecting Greta Thunberg to turn up at any moment, but she generally moves in completely different circles. This is the real inside story of how negotiations progress, rather than the activist side of things that possibly have more effect at persuading the public than truly changing the minds of politicians. There is also some succinct information about climate change and how it affects the Least Developed Countries that is extremely valuable. This book is just full of mind-blowing information. Personally I enjoyed the more personal aspects of Brianna Craft’s home life and her quirky, talkative God, but I can imagine that some people would find it unnecessary or even off-putting. You could always skip those parts; there’s more than enough to make this a fascinating and absorbing non-fiction read for anyone interested in travel and politics.

Disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion of a digital ARC I received for free from NetGalley.

Wiijiwaaganag: More Than Brothers by Peter Razor, a tale of historical US indigenous boarding schools and friendship

When I saw this was a story about the friendship between an Ojibwe boy and an immigrant European boy in the Native American boarding school system, I immediately wanted to read it. It’s a theme that keeps coming up in my reading and it’s something that I was certainly never taught about in my British school. Yet in every case I’ve read of so far, the countries that enforced these shameful laws forcibly removing indigenous children from their parents, their language and their culture were at one time British colonies: Canada, Australia, New Zealand and (at one remove), now the USA. However, this book wasn’t the residential school novel I had expected as much of it is set outside the school.

“One day, maybe, we are friends, wiijiwaaganag.” Says Niizh Eshkanag to Roger. This explains the title of the novel. Wiijiwaagan means a friend, someone who are will stay together throughout life.

This novel is not an easy read. Not so much because of the subject matter, though cruelty, corporal punishment and an incident resulting in severe injury and death of pupils all occur. It has more to do with the way the story is told. The introductory section lasts too long, with too much Ojibwe included for the casual reader. The friendship between the two main characters did develop, but was struck up in a peculiar manner, as rivals on the sports field. They then bonded when trusted to go out in the wilds to look for a younger boy who ran away after punishment. This is when the pace picked up and I became more engaged with finding out what would happen next. Later Roger disobeyed his aunt and uncle to visit Niizh Eshkanag during the summer holiday, when most students returned to their parents’ villages. With nowhere to go, it turned into an adventure as the two boys had to make contact with various family members and avoid being captured by various people trying to recapture Roger, spurred on by a reward offered by his uncle. This lead to some thrilling tales of derring-do, outwitting the people on their trail. So eventually it does turn into an adventure story, but it takes too long to do so. Much of the feel-good conclusion to the story also relies on nasty Aunt Helen mending her ways when Roger was missing.

It also unexpectedly turns into a tale of a white boy ‘passing’ as Anishinaabe, or at least, as half-Anishinaabe, with the pseudonym John Bemibatood. Having only read Nella Larsen’s Passing in the past year, the concept is fresh in my mind and I had never thought about white people wishing to pass as a different race except for the bizarre case I read about on the internet a couple of years ago.

Overall impression: In spite of its many faults, this is a book worth having for insights into the contrasts between Anishinaabe teaching and encouragement and white discipline, coercion and physical punishment. I enjoyed it and learnt lots of random facts about the Anishinaabe culture, for instance, how they used tobacco as a quick offering of thanks to a higher being and likewise paused at dawn and dusk in greeting. It actually fits in rather well with the Judeo Christian admonition to constantly praise God, difficult if you expect full-blown prayers, as well as being less cumbersome than the Islamic tradition of prayer five times a day. Just sprinkle a little powdered tobacco! For someone who is interested in languages, or who is learning Ojibwe, the way the book places the two languages together is worthwhile. For others, it is a distraction. I can only see it being read in a classroom situation. And it would make a great film, but with the amount of violence, it would have to be pitched at adult audiences, though none of the violence is prolonged or gory.

I’m glad I read it, but it’s certainly not for everyone. As a reminder of a legacy it has definitely earned its place.

Native American author

One of the attractions of this novel is that it was written by an Anishinaabe author who based his novel on treatment he himself received in a state orphanage and was later forced to work on a farm. This led me to believe that the novel would focus on the school itself, but this was only a small part of the story. It is also a historical novel, set in the 1890s. Though some may criticise how much the novel relies on a white boy to act as a white saviour, I would say the emphasis is really on the relationship between the two boys and the genuine friendship they formed after their initial suspicion of each other.

Niizh Eshkanag was one of the first generation of Anishinaabe children who was forced to leave their families and go to government-run boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their own language and celebrating their own culture. The intention was to force Indigenous Peoples to speak English to make them integrate into mainstream society. Having just finished a book partially written by an Indigenous autistic writer, I Will Die On This Hill, I suddenly realise why she kept using the phrase colonial-capitalistic to describe efforts to make neurodivergent children fit in so they too can become ‘productive members of society’. This was the same reasoning behind the residential schools: like the Jesuits, to gain control of children’s minds at a young age, making them more employable in a capitalist society.

The fictional Niizh Eshkanag (Two Horns) was born in 1878 (?), spoke Ojibwe/Ojibwemowin and would have expected to spend his life living with his family in Gichi-zaaga’igan on the US-designated Big Lake reservation in northern Minnesota. However, in 1891, Congress decided that Native American children should attend government boarding schools, so-called Indian Schools, whether their parents agreed or not, to receive a western-style education. Niizh Eskanag was sent to the Yardley Indian Boarding School, 120 miles away. After three years at the school, after his parents Mizigi and Bizaan heard his tales of verbal and physical punishment, they decided to move him to a closer day school, which they considered would allow him to retain more of his culture.

This is where he met the other main character, Roger Poznanski, the son of a fisherman father originally from the Baltic. When his father died and his mother took ill, he was sent west from Milwaukee to stay with his Uncle Elias, a school superintendent at the American Indian school and his wife Helen. She resented Roger, still grieving for their son who died two years previously during a smallpox epidemic. She blamed local Indigenous People for this, but as Roger’s Uncle Steve pointed out, the epidemic that killed them was introduced by white colonists. In fact, we later find, Native Indians were left more susceptible because the government refused to vaccinate them. Helen’s hostility to the Native Indian children and resistance to Roger’s growing friendships with them was what caused a lot of tension in the book. The majority of the story is told from Roger’s point of view, though we occasionally switch to Niizh Eshkanag’s point of view, and his beliefs and that of his people are given more value than those of Roger, who has no active faith.

Roger was apprehensive about leaving Milwaukee to go to his Uncle Elias’s boarding school because the other students were Indians, or Injuns or redskins as he knows them from stories. All he knows of them in real life are newspaper reports of uprisings, still ongoing in California. The adults have a more nuanced idea of the situation. As Bill says, newspapers have to sensationalise stories to sell papers and “‘Might be you read too many stories written for the wrong reasons. […] Look at it this way; you’d be part of real change—historic change, and northern Minnesota might just be the first chapter of your book. Not many boys have such an opportunity.’” He advises him to see it as an adventure.

A slow start

The sections about the European settlers are much easier to read because there is no need to include translations of Ojibwe/Ojibwemowin, which constantly interrupts the flow in the Ojibwe-speaking sections. Hence the opening to the book, with Niizh Eshkanag at the Yardley school, with a great deal of fully written-out Ojibwe, is a real struggle. Perhaps it would have worked better if the original language was included in footnotes. Handling it like this is just too disruptive. It is really only useful for people learning Ojibwe. Having said that, later on in the novel, I did start reading shorter passages in my head and looked some recurring words up in the excellent Ojibwe-English glossary at the end of the book, which I only discovered when I sneak-peeked a look at a Goodreads review which mentioned it. There is also an excellent list of characters, but I didn’t find this necessary while reading. It did make it fun looking up the meaning of some of the characters’ names. Niizh Eshkanag, for example, means Two Horns, whose naming is referred to in the very first paragraph of the book, yet the significance of the name remains obscure, unless you consult the glossary.

Yet even in the straight English sections, the language seems slightly peculiar. For instance, this paragraph:

“Where the logs were mired deeper, the horses slowed to a grind*. The stage stopped at a waystation with no café, and the stage company included room and board with the caretaker. Anticipation, wonderment, and worry had depleted** Roger and he fell asleep, fitfully, fending*** concerns about his new home.”

  • * ground to a standstill
  • ** tired (or maybe ‘depleted his energy’)
  • *** fending off concerns

Renaming Native American pupils

As one of the main reasons to force Native Americans to attend boarding schools was to teach them English, it seems ironic that Niizh Eshkanag’s parents were able to speak English themselves, without any such education. Of course, they were both high status members of the community. There may have been many others who never came into contact with settlers, so felt no need to speak English.

At first the staff at the second school called the Native Indian children by their own names. But after the Yardley school sent on the transferrees’ English names, all the children were renamed, with an English first name and a second name based on their native name. This is a totally pointless exercise of power, especially as before this point, the teachers were able to remember the pupils’ Ojibwe names. Ironically, Roger also has a difficult surname, but no attempt is made to change it to something easier to remember (though it’s also his uncle’s name, so will have been familiar, Polish though it was). Later on, he does adopt a half-Indian name, John Bemibatood. Changing of names reminds me that this is a slightly sinister technique used in cults and cult-like groups (but also in convents and as screen names in less dubious settings). However, it seems improbable that Roger could pick up Ojibwe so quickly, even if that was what was expected of the Native American children with English.

The fact that the names are based on the children’s own names is not adequately explained in the background ok. Only if you look up the meanings in the glossary do you discover the connection between the two. Hence Niizh Eshkanag’s own name means Two Horns and he is renamed Tom Horn. Aandeg became Allen Crow because aandeg means crow. Esiban became Billy Coon because esiban means racoon, and so on.

The glossary

For anyone who is studying the language or wants to look the odd word up, there is an extensive glossary of words at the end of the book. I only knew this while reading because I read a couple of Goodreads interviews while deciding whether to continue reading or not. It isn’t essential because most translations immediately follow in the text, but this makes it very unwieldy. On the other hand, when used in moderation, it does give you a slight feeling for the language. A note at the start of the book referring to the glossary would be helpful. Another interesting point about the glossary is that there are no words beginning with C, F, K, L, P, Q, R, T, U, V, X, Y, and only one each beginning with H and S. When I first noticed the jump from O to S, I wondered if a couple of pages had been left out.

As the book was set in a different country at a different time, I also had to look up a couple of references in English. For instance, I had never heard of a corduroy road: “The road surface varied from hard gravel or short wet stretches underlaid with logs, called a corduroy road.” A buckboard as a simple form of cart was also a new term for me. One of the things that surprised me most, though, was how a breechcloth works. It’s another word for a loincloth – which doesn’t work how I’d always thought! http://www.native-languages.org/breechcloth.htm Its amazing what you can learn from books.

Coincidentally, this is the third book I have read in a row which refers to Native American experience and colonialism. I Will Die On This Hill is co-written by Jules Edwards, an autistic mother and activist who is also of Native American heritage, though she expresses it in terms of hailing from Turtle Island, presumably meaning America. Where Land Becomes Sky goes into some detail about the shameful treatment of Utes in Colorado. I’m not sure I have any more to continue the trend, but I’ve got plenty more to read about the shameful colonial past.

Disclaimer: I received an e-book for free from NetGalley. This review expresses my honest opinions of the book after reading.

Where Land Becomes Sky: Life and Death on the Colorado Trail by Quentin Septer

Bikepacking the length of the Colorado Trail inspired Quentin Septer to deep thoughts about life, loss, the environment and the unruly history and geology of Colorado.

Combining poetic descriptions of mountainscapes, flora and fauna, brief personal encounters en route and the history and geology of the region, Quentin Septer’s account of a trip on the high level Colorado Trail will either inspire you to visit yourself or perhaps heave a sigh of relief that it’s totally unrealistic and you can enjoy simply armchair travelling from the luxury of your living room. If you enjoy some historical background to your trips into the mountains, real or imagined, this is a perfect fit.

“Pain and sorrow, death and suffering. They’re no less natural phenomena than gusting winds or white clouds adrift in the sky, or rain falling upon the earth; no less natural than a chill in the air, than a flash of lightning, than clashes of thunder and flurries of snow descending from an overcast airway, and wildfires ablaze upon the land; no less natural than the Big Bang, the formation of the Earth, and the evolution of life itself.”

This is not just a guidebook, because there’s a perfectly good one of those available. And it’s not a populist misery memoir like Cheryl Stray’s Wild, which I loved, while despairing of her unpreparedness and at times sheer stupidity. Septer also makes some less than stellar decisions; for starters, he wasn’t hiking, which is obviously the ideal way to visit the mountains! On the other hand, it would have taken considerably longer on foot. Apparently the term for what he was doing was bikepacking, what my parents would probably have called touring. In retrospect, investing in that frame bag instead of carrying so much in a backpack would have saved back pain and irritation, but at least it sounds like he had a good understanding of lightweight travel before his trip (unlike Cheryl Strayed and her Monster Backpack). He also spent considerably fewer pages complaining about it. He did it all fuelled by protein bars and trail mix, with the very rare binge on well-deserved fast food and cola; virtually starvation rations, in fact. And the odd donation of salami. Just as well he wasn’t vegetarian!

Along the way, day by day, he wrote descriptions of what he saw around him and what and who he came across. Contacts on the trail were rather brief and tended to be repetitive ’trail talk’. I am rather envious of his repeated sightings of moose, which have always proved elusive on my trips to Canada; I never imagined them in Colorado. You’ll have to read the book to find out which other wildlife he met and if any of them were bears or mountain lions.

Grief and growth

Septer also shares his inner thoughts. Part of the reason he decided to take time away from his job to take this trip was to reassess his life. As he travelled, he processed his thoughts on the death of his much-loved father, three years previously, often quoting books he and his father had shared and various philosophers. He paints a wonderful picture of his father and conversations he had with him in the months before his death. I found this very moving and his father’s thoughts were insightful on how to cope mentally with a failing body.

History, geology, ecology

As a walker myself, I appreciated the detailed descriptions of landscapes. I always say I want to learn more about the geology, but this was the least interesting part for me. What I did lap up were the tall tales. Not only the reckless youthful trip with brother and friend on a snow-covered mountain with almost disastrous results; we’ve all been there (haven’t we?). But also the totally bonkers tales of the Frémont fourth expedition to find a rail route from St. Louis to San Francisco. Obviously if you’re trying to find a route which will be passable by rail in the winter, you set off in November, ignoring all warnings, instead of scouting in the summer and checking snow conditions in the winter. Then abandon half your party to their fate and disappear into the wide blue yonder to become the first Republican senator, taking rescue provisions with you instead of rescuing your party. What a hero! There’s also the dubious tale of the man who inspired the name Cannibal Plateau.

The book includes more stories about the plight of the Indiginous Peoples of the region, the Utes, and the man who tried to advocate for them, Chief Ouray. They were repeatedly pushed further towards the outskirts of their range, had more land taken once the encroaching miners and settlers realised the mineral riches to be had, and repeatedly cheated of things they had been promised.

Septer also goes into the changing face of the region as a result of climate change, now and in the future, including probable effects on wildfires, reforestation troubles, reduction of sagebrush areas and related species, lack of habitat for high mountain species such as the marmot. He covers a lot of ground in this book, and not simply on his mountain bike. The Colorado Trail turns out to be a good springboard to think about and subsequently discuss a whole raft of issues. It was fascinating. And contained remarkably little mountain bike talk in retrospect. The one passage where Scepter went into the details of his gear meant little to me, but reminds me of when I used to read my father’s Cycling magazine and the serious discussions of which tube shape was best. I suspect this book will evoke happy memories for anyone who’s ever hiked in the mountains or shared a hobby with their father. A thoroughly satisfying read.

The only thing I missed from this book were photos and a map. They may be added to the published version. As such an important character, a photo of Scepter’s father would be a nice touch.

Disclaimer: The copy I read was an ebook provided for free via Book Sirens. These are my personal opinions after reading the book.

I Will Die On This Hill: Autistic Adults, Autistic Parents, and the Children Who Deserve a Better World by Meghan Ashburn, Jules Edwards

One of the main points of this book is that non-autistic people need to listen to autistic people’s opinions, not only of treatments, but of their inclusion in society. A great place to start is by reading this book. Even if you think you know something about autism, you’ll probably learn something new. If you know it all already, then perhaps you should be an active advocate and/or ally, and this book has some great suggestions about how and where. If you are a parent or teacher looking for answers, this is a great primer on how to do that and how to connect with the real experts: autistic adults. So-called experts are often wrong about the best way to help because there is a legacy of misinformation and well-meaning treatment of autistic people to try to make them fit, or to exclude them, some of which is considered abusive by autistic adults who have been subjected to it. They deserve better lives and the rest of us should be more open to learning from them rather than trying to change them.

There’s such a lot of information in this book that it is rather overwhelming. I was particularly impressed with the introduction by Morénike Giwa Onaiwu and the afterword by Jennifer Nelson. While I was reading the afterword, it occurred to me that it would have been helpful earlier in the book. Another fantastic aspect are the own voices who write short pieces throughout the book, putting into practice the authors’ recommendation that autistic people themselves should guide the way because they know exactly what it is like to be autistic, in all their individual and varied ways. The main authors, Meghan Ashburn and Jules Edwards were originally on opposite sides of the debate, both as mothers of autistic children, one of whom discovered she was autistic as an adult. They managed to bridge their differences and work together to produce a great resource that they hope will lead to improved outcomes for autism support.

This is a relatively short book with a lot of information and opinions packed into it. Even though I have read a lot about autism, as the mother of an autistic son, many of the ideas in this book were new to me. To be honest, I stopped reading about it years ago because a lot of the information doesn’t fit the way my son is, so seemed irrelevant. Worse, when I read parents’ accounts in the magazine about neurodiverse parenting, I would be upset because we didn’t seem able to find the same wonderful support that other parents were getting. On the other hand, when we met other parents of autistic teens and heard their stories, I was relieved that our son was able to live such a ‘normal’ life, without us having to rebuild our house, without meltdowns. Later, we had to accept that he really was going to follow his own path, and that’s where we should have been in the first place.

Personal experience

In I Will Die On This Hill, the two authors make the case for more interaction between what they term autism moms and autistic people themselves. In shared spaces (online and in real life support groups) the two sides can be antagonistic. Often it’s the non-autistic parents who disrespect the opinions and advice of autistic people, but it can happen the other way round, too: autistic people can be blunt and unaccepting of parents who come to these shared spaces looking for answers, but don’t know what the current accepted language is or who are looking for a ‘cure’ for their child. This often results in the two groups either arguing or splitting into separate forums. The authors explain why this happens, but suggest that both sides are seeking to help autistic children, so need to build bridges between the two communities. As they themselves have done: they met through Jules’ somewhat aggressive comments on Meghan’s autistic mom blog. Both are mothers of autistic children, but Jules was diagnosed as autistic as an adult. For her, this explained many of the difficulties she had experienced in her life. The thing that changed was that Meghan started to listen to what Jules and had to say and to respect her opinions as an autistic person.

The importance of own voices

This is one of the major threads in the book: parents of autistic children need to listen to lived experience. But it goes further than that: teachers, doctors and policy makers also need to take autistic needs into account. In the past, autismi was almost always treated as a problem to be solved or ‘cured’, to make autistic people fit into neurotypical moulds, creating severe mental and self-esteem issues. They were also segregated into special needs schools. With the advent of the internet, autistic people were able to meet up in online communities and develop their own preferred language and culture. And, as Jules points out, people with different backgrounds may have different needs from the mainstream white narrative. In her case, coming from a Native American background (or Indigenous to Turtle Island, as she puts it), she points out that her culture has always accepted otherness as a way to learn about a different point of view; an autistic child has something to teach the people around them. It also allows people to develop at their own pace, and this is a problem with mainstream ideas of therapy and education, which try to make everyone learn at the same speed or be sidelined. Autistic people tend to learn in stages, wait until they are sure before demonstrating a new skill. If they are stressed, they may shrink back into themselves, which from the outside looks like lack of progression or even regression. This makes it more difficult for autistic children to keep up, but this book emphasises that giving them the support and time they need is the best way for autistic children and adults to reach their full potential. Communicating in a way that suits autistic minds is far more effective.


I Will Die On This Hill is not just a book highlighting the issues, it offers solutions. There is practical advice about how both neurotypical (NT)) parents and autistic advocates can communicate with each other more effectively. But also how NT people can help highlight issues less vocal autistic people have, not only online, but wherever they have any influence. NT people don’t tend to consider the autistic point of view, so they need frequent reminders. Meghan gives some great points to keep in mind to keep discussions effective and respectful and also about different levels at which people may wish to advocate for autism.

A few things I learnt

  • Neurotypical people are known as allistic; new word to me.
  • Autism Speaks and other autism charities are focussed not just on spreading autism awareness, but on raising money for a ‘cure’ for autism, rather than acceptance, support and community. The autistic community goes so far as to consider this ‘hate speech’ because, if it was up to the charity, autistic people would not exist!
  • The jigsaw piece logo that Autism Speaks has made a symbol of autism brings up images of either having a piece missing or not fitting in, whether or not that was the original intention. I remember watching a (Dutch) introductory film with autistic teens explaining how they were overwhelmed by all the input (sounds, words, images, movement, etc.) and had to piece it together like a jigsaw puzzle. To be honest, the image didn’t really help me understand autism and the puzzle symbol is rejected in favour of…
  • An infinity symbol, often in rainbow colours to suggest the huge variety of autistic experience and abilities. Also the colour gold. Both positive symbols accepted by the autistic community.
  • ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis) is a way to suppress a non-speaking autistic child’s natural means of communication, i.e. behaviour. The therapy is time-consuming and leaves no time for parents to spend time doing fun activities with their children. The autistic community considers it abusive. I have to say, I’d never even heard of this.
  • Many autistic people benefit from AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) apps and equipment. Another possibility that had passed me by, though I have to admit, my son has always talked, so it wouldn’t have been relevant in our case.
  • There’s a hashtag on Twitter and other social media that can be used to find autistic advocates, #ActuallyAutistic (not to be used by the rest of us, of course).
  • Person-first terms are not preferred in the autistic community, so autistic person is preferred over person with autism (because it is an intrinsic part of the person and how they think and behave), not a health problem that can be removed by some treatment or therapy.

This book took me much longer to read than I had expected because there was so much to think about and, of course, I looked up extra material. Coincidentally I’ve been watching a few episodes of The Good Doctor with my son, which features a non-autistic actor playing an autistic doctor. In my opinion, he does an amazing job, but as mentioned in this book, any depiction of autism in popular culture tends to emphasise a specific type of autistic behaviour (he’s playing an autistic savant, and I suspect there aren’t many of them about). Inspired by I Will Die On This Hill, I decided to look up autistic opinions of the series and – no surprise here – reactions vary. Unsurprisingly, some people object to a neurotypical actor portraying an autistic person.

Further reading

Disclaimer: Thanks to NetGalley for providing a free e-book for review. This review reflects my honest opinions after reading.

Can You Make the Title Bigga? The Chemistry of Book Cover Design (2022), Jessica Bell

If you’re a writer, you’re going to need a cover for your masterpiece. Jessica Bell has written the perfect guide for the layperson to stop you wasting money on the wrong design. Full of examples, good and bad, it will give you some of the tricks of the trade and help you avoid beginners’ mistakes.

If you thought all you had to do to self-publish was write a book, think again! Written from the perspective of a graphic designer who is experienced at producing cover art, layouts and typography for books, it makes you realise just how much hard work goes into producing a physical book or designing it for digital publication. All this means there are very many decisions to be made about things a reader rarely thinks about… until it’s wrong. Reading a book that is uncomfortably heavy or whose cover gives you a migraine every time you look at it could put you off a book entirely.

Pile of books, Can You Make the Title Bigga? by Jessica Bell
Photo seen on Jessica Bell’s Twitter account, @IamJessicaBell

Jessica Bell gives a very clear indication of the things you will have to decide and comes up with hints of aspects you may not have thought of. For instance, did you ever think about how the type of paper you choose could affect the book’s ultimate weight and hence the shipping cost. Being an author herself, she also has handy money saving tips such as how to avoid paying for proof copies.

The style of writing is very informal and occasionally uses the expletives that Australians are famed for. As she says, “Don’t judge a book by its cover? Bollocks!”

Examples galore!

To illustrate her point, she uses examples galore, with lots of tips and cautionary tales thrown in. Of course, she had to design a cover for her own book and chose to make it humorous, using a childish font. And there’s another sneaky joke in there as the space for the ‘puff quote’ has been left with instructions filled in, as if it was mistakenly left unedited.

It’s certainly a book cover that would strike you from a distance, with the strong contrasting bands of red, black and white. That extends to the spine, which looks fantastic stacked, as I saw on a photo on Jessica Bell’s Twitter account.

The book’s cover is the first thing a potential reader will typically see, even before reading the description. It’s important because it’s a reader’s very first (and uninfluenced) impression of your book.

That means making the cover eye-catching, but colours should be used to separate elements, so not too many. “It’s your ultimate marketing tool.” The words on the cover need be surrounded by space and the imagery used should be “clear and telling”. There’s so much to think about!

Good and bad design

Bell gives examples of designs made by other people to illustrate her points. But she also uses examples of her own work. In one particular case where an author had commissioned artwork, the cover art restricted the space for title and author. They were not able to come to an agreement, so there his book is on Goodreads, with no cover and no reviews. I assume she asked his permission to use this example. It illustrates how important it is to allow the designer to create the text and imagery at the same time.

Some of the examples she gives of amateur design remind me very much of the covers of the free gift books given away by the Dutch book publishers organisation during book week. They rarely show any flair, especially in the typography.

Covers to attract readers

Have you ever looked at a cover and wondered why those objects are shown on the cover?

“When a reader sees a cover, they aren’t likely to relate to it in the same way the author of the book does because they haven’t read the book yet.” Authors have their own personal reasons for what they want included on the cover, but that isn’t necessarily what is likely to attract readers. After all, they haven’t read the book yet.

The cover has to attract the right readers and be appropriate to the genre and the market. For instance, the cover designs for bestsellers in the US are very different from those used in the UK.

My aim is to get readers to adore the cover as much as the book, and hopefully enhance their reading experience.

Finally, a note on fonts to avoid. We’ve probably all heard people deriding Comic Sans, but what about Papyrus, Bradley Hand, Mistral, and Chiller?

One criticism I had about the ebook was that it was rather irritating that the author wants me to skip about, backwards and forwards to look at different illustrations or remember what she said a few pages ago, which was a bit irritating in an ebook format. This is illustrated by this quote: “I also want to mention quickly, why I have two versions of this cover: because I made the rooky mistake that I illustrate in anecdote three from section one! Go check out the reviews of this book on Goodreads.”

Jessica Bell is a busy lady. She not only designs book covers but also writes books and music, and runs her own publishing house, Vine Leaves Press. This hasn’t distracted her from producing a fantastic guide for authors that is brimming with examples and images that really help make the point.

  • Site: jessicabelldesign.com
  • Tip: If you’re an author looking for a cover, Jessica Bell also sells pre-designed covers on her Twitter account, ready to go apart from changing the text. @IamJessicaBell

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy as an ebook via Book Sirens. Nevertheless, I am free to express my own opinions, whether they be positive or negative.