by Christopher Stevens. A novel, published 1 October 2011
A GIRL CALLED BARNEY is being self-published, as part of an Observer Magazine investigation into how ebooks and the Amazon Kindle are changing the face of publishing.
A REAL BOY, the memoir by parents Christopher and Nicola Stevens about bringing up their autistic son, David, won widespread praise when it appeared three years ago. Serialised in the Daily Mail and acclaimed by NAS president Jane Asher as "wonderfully honest", it was the story of how the Stevens family learned to understand and cope with David's profound disabilities.
Now Christopher Stevens has returned to the theme, with a novel that follows a young businessman struggling to look after his baby niece after his sister dies. Single, workaholic and overweight, Richard knows he faces a challenge – but he is utterly unprepared for a child who screams without ceasing and who seems even more confused and bewildered by the world than he is. As he comes to terms with his little girl's autism, Richard must also cope with the devastating changes to his own life.
"This is a darker, more painful book than our family memoir," Stevens said. "I wanted to imagine what it would be like if I'd had to cope with an autistic toddler on my own. Clearly, it would have been just about impossible. In reality, my wife was able to shoulder so many of the burdens. In fiction, I was able to explore some of my worst fears, the 'what if' terrors that grip you at three o'clock in the morning.
"Richard's relationship with his girlfriend breaks down – she isn't prepared to take on such a deeply challenging child. His business goes to pieces, because he can't cope with constant childcare, and lack of sleep, and the intense stress of an autism diagnosis, and still be able to do his job. And gradually his life takes on a hallucinatory quality: it's as though other people, and ordinary social values, are no longer quite real. In fact, the story begins with him breaking in to a neighbour's flat, half naked, to retrieve his niece who has wandered in there. And if you haven't had to cope with an autistic child, that scenario might seem ludicrous. For some parents, though, these ridiculous situations begin to seem normal. Autism does that."
The decision to launch the book himself was an easy one. "I might consider conventional publication later on," he said, "but this was an opportunity to learn about the radical changes that are sweeping through publishing. Look at the statistics – almost half the titles ordered every day on Amazon are Kindle texts. More than ten per cent of Penguins turnover is in ebooks. The internet is the biggest retail outlet for a growing number of print publishers. When the Observer Magazine asked me to investigate that, I leapt at the chance, and the only way to explore in depth is to do it yourself.
"I started out as a self-publisher, when I was a young writer 20 years ago, working in local newspapers. Now I'm lucky enough to have excellent publishers, and a career as a biographer: my life story of Kenneth Williams, BORN BRILLIANT, was published last year by one of the oldest publishing houses in Britain, John Murray's. But the book world is changing rapidly. Authors are going to have much more power in the future, but so are readers. I don't think any writer can afford to ignore that."
A GIRL CALLED BARNEY is available as an ebook, for a limited time at 99p, through
A sample chapter can be seen online for free at www.barneygirl.co.uk
Contact Christopher Stevens: christopher.stvns@
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I am a journalist and author, researching the major changes in the publishing world created by ebooks and electronic book readers such as the Kindle. Read a sample of A Girl Called Barney at www.barneygirl.co.uk
Learn more about my books at http://www.christopherstevens.webspace.virginmedia.com/