Writing a children’s story for my autistic granddaughter
Let me declare my partiality. I admire Ambitious about Autism – what they do, why they do it and how they do it. Such was my admiration, in 2014 I ran the London Marathon for them, raising over £7000 for their remarkable cause.
My granddaughter is autistic, and she is the inspiration behind my latest children’s story – The Night Agnes Florence Emily Danced Before the Emperor.
I wanted to salute her endearing character and resolute courage with a short bedtime tale highlighting the importance she attaches to predictability and assurance in her daily routine; clarity of purpose; peace – not being overwhelmed by noise – and; above all, the value of hearing soothing music. Moreover, it needed to be a story she might enjoy, one that might have a particular meaning for her.
Second, I wanted to feature Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart because listening to his music is often a calming element at stressful moments in my granddaughter’s daily life. Moreover, I too enjoy listening to Mozart at the end of a busy or tiresome day. But there was another reason for including Mozart. With autism now more widely understood, we have become aware of historical figures whose legacies suggest they might have been autistic before diagnosis was possible. In the musical world, Mozart is thought by some to have displayed some characteristics of autism.
Both he and his older sister, nicknamed Nannerl, showed impressive musical aptitude from a particularly young age. Born on January 27, 1756, he was only four years old when his parents noticed his ability – not only to learn music quickly but to memorise it too. He started composing at the age of six, writing his first symphony aged eight in a house in Ebury Street while visiting London in 1764. Although he died on December 5, 1791 just before his 36th birthday, Mozart left an incredible canon of music, from symphonies to concertos to operas to chamber music, choral pieces and more. He wrote over 600 works in his short lifetime, making him one of the most prolific composers of his time.
It is conceivable that Mozart was autistic. For example, though apparently easily distracted and bored by some tasks, he applied intense concentration when inspired, composing significant pieces of music in just a matter of hours. The overture to Don Giovanni is said to have been composed in only three hours the night before the opera’s premiere and performed to thunderous applause the next day.
Further behaviour suggesting Mozart could have been autistic are his highly sensitive hearing – loud sounds could apparently make him physically ill – and he was also said to struggle with impulse control and to use repetitive body motions and facial expressions, as well as word repetition (a pattern some say is noticeable in his music too).
Today, such talents and behaviours might well indicate that a person is autistic. In Mozart’s case we’ll never know for sure. But with classical music providing such an important source of expression and calm for so many autistic people, he is nonetheless a shining example of inspiration. For that reason, I chose to make him a character in this story, and I did so with great pleasure.
A last point. I’ve so far written and published six novels for adult readers between 2013 and 2021 – the first three forming a historical trilogy. This current divergence into writing for children has given me particular pleasure because it’s an opportunity to try to understand better a child’s mind, to get a glimpse of their view of this utterly unpredictable chaotic world and particularly how they perceive us adults.
All of us, child or adult, have fears and apprehensions – things we prefer not to encounter or experience, whether it be creepy crawlies, yapping dogs or thunder. My next book – early next year – is about a child, sensible in so many ways, who is unable to abide her feet leaving the ground. Out of the blue something extraordinary happens.
The Night Agnes Florence Emily Danced Before the Emperor is available to buy now here.
About the author
Edward Glover began his literary career in 2014, writing and publishing his first novel, which led to five more published between 2015 and 2020. In 2022 Blue Falcon Publishing released his first children’s story. His second story is now available and a third is due for release in early 2024.
Before he began writing he was a career diplomat in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.