Q&A With Gavin Clifton
How does it feel to have books published in your name?
To have books published in my name is a dream come true. I've always wanted to be an author, and I've always wanted to write Children's Books. Unfortunately, it had taken me some years to get around to doing so, but now I am at the right age and stage in my life because of my age and life experience living with cerebral palsy.
When did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
It was at Primary School. I loved English lessons and coming up with quirky ideas and stories. Then it came to a point where other things took over my life, being a typical teenager, playing football, partying and going out with friends and finding out who I was as a person. But as I entered my thirties, my love for writing reignited greatly, resulting in me beginning to knuckle down and start writing my first children's book, 'Max And The Magic Wish'.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
I write about my experiences living with cerebral palsy, disability acceptance, family and friendship in every book. I do all of this to educate others on disability. I always live my life to the best of my abilities and try to smash through barriers that get thrown in the way so I can educate others on what it's like living with cerebral palsy. Some say I'm a little too determined for my own good, but that's how I am, stubborn, 100mph and determined. If I can use my experiences of living with cerebral palsy as a catalyst to show others with disabilities that if they put their mind to it, they can also achieve almost anything, I can hopefully encourage others to do the same and make a difference in other people's lives.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
My life is writing, and when I'm not writing children's books, I'm collaborating on writing songs. I've been songwriting for quite some years. Also, now my autobiography has been published, I hope I've used this particular writing process as an opportunity to release some skeletons out of the closet by talking about my anxieties, fears, hopes, failures and victories, maybe enabling me to increase my confidence as a person in public and maybe get out there and tell my disability story a lot more.
Do you hear from your readers? What type of feedback do they give?
Yes, I love hearing from readers. The feedback from the likes of reviews for Max And The Magic Wish and Paddy The Polar Bear Teddy has been incredible, and people have been telling us how children have been engaging and asking questions while reading, which makes me so happy. Be sure to head to Amazon and check out all the Amazon reviews people have written.
What did you want to do as a child when you grew up?
As a child, I was always interested in Computer Technology. So I've always wanted to work with computers in a round-a-bout way. My interest in computers is still strong because I use my laptop to do all of my writing.
Can you give us an interesting fact about one of your books?
Yes, I can, 'Max And The Magic Wish' is a true story, and whilst on a family holiday long ago, we met a fortune teller at the beach. Interestingly, she said to my mother back then, 'You will have a writer in your family in years to come.' Whether this influenced us, I'll let you all decide. Another funny story about when we met the fortune teller, she did hand me six lottery numbers on a bit of paper, but unfortunately, I lost them quite a few years ago. I could have may well have won the lottery by now. I guess we'll never find out, but now that my dream of becoming an author has come true, that's all that matters.
Which famous writers are you inspired by or appreciate the most?
David Walliams, I think we both have the same sense of humour. He's great.
What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?
Have a clear idea of what they want to write about, make sure it's something they are passionate about, and follow your heart.
Apart from being a disability author, what other things are you involved in that advocate's disability?
I am a patron of Nathalene & Katie's Cerebral Palsy Foundation, a charity that makes and supplies disability aids and apparatus for disabled children. I support them by being a visible advocate as much as I can. I am also an ambassador for Cerebral Palsy Cymru, a national centre of excellence for families in Wales with children with cerebral palsy. I try to visit the centre in Cardiff whenever possible and help raise awareness about their incredible work.
My Autobiography: Cerebral Palsy And Me
What inspired you to share your story and write your autobiography about living with cerebral palsy?
There aren't many fully written cerebral palsy autobiographies out there, and I more and more searched the Living With Disabilities book market. Personal accounts and stories about the intimate realities of living with cerebral palsy were very far between. As you get older, you become a little wiser by gaining experience, and the experiences I have endured living with cerebral palsy are very niche and are not often talked about openly. So I thought about writing my cerebral palsy story long and hard, deciding that putting out a resource that educates and raises awareness is the right thing to do, and this is why I have written Cerebral Palsy And Me.
How has living with cerebral palsy shaped your perspective on life, and what message do you hope readers take away from your book?
My cerebral palsy doesn't define me as a person. But it has played a part in my personal growth and how I adapt to daily life physically and mentally. You could argue that people with disabilities are thrown different challenges throughout their lives than most, not always by their own doing, but because of the daily barriers they face, like accessibility in physical environments and on the internet, social exclusion, and the lack of assistive technology, and barriers in healthcare and the workplace. Still, I believe that striving to distribute disability awareness more and with the correct structured endorsement is where it will have the most impact in places like schools and on social media. This can help all areas of society become, over time, more understanding, non-judgemental, inclusive and accessible. The message I want readers to take away from the book is despite having disabilities and being different, people with disabilities can achieve their dreams, become successful, and live independent lives if they choose to do so with support and resilience.
Did you find it challenging to convey your experiences accurately in your autobiography? How did you describe the physical and emotional aspects of living with cerebral palsy?
In parts of the book, I found it extremely challenging to convey what I wanted to share accurately. It was like being on an emotional rollercoaster, and now, I am not embarrassed to admit that I was close to tears when writing certain aspects of the book. They weren't tears of sadness, but they were tears of frustration. I'm a very proud Welshman. I'm as stubborn as they come, and although I have come a long way on a journey of self-acceptance since becoming a published author, I haven't truly accepted myself as being disabled. When writing the final chapters of my autobiography, the penny did drop. If one positive thing has come out of writing this book, it's the realisation that I still need to work on myself and find another extra percentage of self-acceptance from the depths of my soul.
Could you share some of the key moments or turning points in your life that you discuss in your book and how they influenced your journey?
Yes, I truly believe a key moment in my life that I have written about in the book was when my parents decided to fight for me to have a mainstream education. I don't intentionally mean to come across as being distasteful or seen as undermining the incredible support and education Special Needs Schools give students with complex needs. But I know my parents winning the fight to have me mainstream educated has shaped my life for the better by allowing me to reach my full academic potential. As I talk about in the book, attending a mainstream school hasn't just meant I learned a hell of a lot. Still, it has helped me become socially independent, too, not only forging many friendships along the way but becoming a visible educator and interacting with other people from a young age, helping me to become an integral part of the community.
Did you face any specific obstacles or misconceptions about cerebral palsy that you wanted to address or clarify through your autobiography?
There are many different disabilities. Some are physical. Some are learning disabilities. You also get people suffering from mental health and hidden disabilities. I fully appreciate that not all disabilities are the same. Although others may not understand how different disabilities affect different people, they may conceive that physical and mental disabilities are connected. Yes, some people may have both physical and cognitive disabilities at the same time, and I entirely adore and respect them. I will support and advocate for more accessibility and equality for people with every kind of disability.
Still, I often get mistaken for not being academically or socially capable of living my life the way I choose. Of course, any loving and caring person wants to make sure the welfare of disabled people is fully considered and upheld. But, please, I want to make people aware in the nicest possible way without offending that my disabilities are physical and not learning disabilities. I am academically and socially capable, although I may do things differently daily, going about my life almost independently. Although I do need help with some daily chores. Please can I kindly ask everyone to try not to judge me or anyone until you genuinely know them and what they can do. Thank you so much.
Were there any particular people or support systems that played a significant role in your journey with cerebral palsy? How did they impact your life and the events you describe in the book?
Yes, there were, and when you read my autobiography, you'll find out how my special bond with Claire, my nursery nurse throughout primary and junior school, has had a significant impact on how my life has gone and how the relationship played a significant role in shaping me into the person I am today.
This was a unique period during my school years when I struck a special bond with one particular nursery nurse, Claire. We clicked immediately and were inseparable and united, just like the A-Team was until my last day of primary school. I was even Claire's Page Boy at her wedding. We did everything and went everywhere together. Claire would be right by my side if I had any medical or pediatric appointments or swimming hydrotherapy sessions during school.
Claire was vital in supporting me, not only as my nursery nurse and sidekick but also as a dear friend.
What advice would you give to individuals living with cerebral palsy or facing similar challenges based on your experiences and insights?
There's no escaping that your disabilities will be with you for life, and from personal experience, accepting your quirky disabilities can be like riding a rollercoaster and possibly you'll never get your head around being disabled. I still get down days, overthink, and reflect on certain aspects of my disabilities and how they affect me. My advice is to take each day as they come. If you are feeling frustrated as if your body doesn't want to function. That's normal. Remember the reason and message behind my first children's book, Max And The Magic Wish, that it's okay to be accepted as you are and be accepted by others.
The journey and destination to fully accepting your disabilities differs for every disabled person. Some people reach the point where they are perfectly happy with having disabilities, and that's a fantastic milestone and achievement. But, on the flip side, some people may continue on the road to accepting their disabilities for a long time and possibly for a lifetime, which is perfectly okay. Remember, your mental health is so important, and if managing it takes a certain amount of time, there's no shame in taking your time on your journey of self-acceptance.
How do you hope your autobiography will contribute to raising awareness and understanding of cerebral palsy within society?
I hope that publishing my story about living with cerebral palsy will be the catalyst to starting lots of conversations about all kinds of disabilities and that this will, in turn, fuel the desire to maybe begin more disability awareness in the areas of society that are willing to listen how we can slowly expand and put programmes in place where we consult with each other and especially with the disability community how we can start to improve accessibility, diversity and inclusion. Do I think we'll ever get to a place where all areas of society are equal? No, I don't. Still, small changes in how we make society easier to navigate for disabled people can have a lasting impact on a disabled person's life.
In your autobiography, how do you balance sharing your experience with cerebral palsy and maintaining your privacy?
I knew from the time I put pen to paper that if I was to write a book that would educate others about what it's like to live with cerebral palsy, make a difference, inspire and become a statemental beacon of hope for not only others with disabilities and parents with children with disabilities, but younger generations for years to come I would have to bare all, somewhat throwing some private parts of my life like my love life out there for all to read whilst exposing my vulnerabilities and face some fears head on because that's how our authenticity inspires others to hopefully do the same so they can make a difference to other people. So, truthfully, there was very little balance when sharing my experiences with cerebral palsy and maintaining my privacy. I had to lay it all out there for all to see.
Do you have any plans or projects related to cerebral palsy advocacy or raising awareness?
Yes, although attending and conducting public speaking events can be challenging because of my speech impediment, I am determined to continue to find better ways to use augmented and alternative text-to-speech technology to enable and help me speak at more public and online author events. The only sticking point to using AAC is everything needs to be prerecorded. Therefore, on this website, I have explained how everything needs to be conducted when I attend any event in a dedicated area. Please feel free to have a look. If you want to contact me to discuss me attending your event, please email me.
Also, I am now part of the See No Bounds Online Global Network Get Connected Inclusively team coordinating alongside host and Paralympian Louise Hunt Skelley. It's a safe online space where many disabled and non-disabled business people and creators network monthly to make friends and connections and discuss their experiences and the daily barriers they face. I look forward to helping Get Connected Inclusively grow into a leading and inclusive networking group.