“When Amy Met Gary” is the first book written by Yorkshire based author Karen Murray. Self-published; it is a story about four adults with a learning disability who all live in Magnolia Street. The book is the first in a planned Magnolia Street series. One&Other recently spoke to Karen about her background and the inspiration behind the project.
Karen, please tell us about your background - ambitions to be an author – favourite author/book
I have been working with adults with a learning disability since 1998 in a variety of job roles including supporting people to find work, training people to train their care staff and managing a self-advocacy service across York and North Yorkshire.
For the last two years I have been self-employed working for a number of organisations that support people with a learning disability across North Yorkshire.
Mostly I facilitate self-advocate groups where I encourage people to speak out about things that are important to them. I am also a Trustee for Ripon Community Link and Ripon Walled Garden scheme.
I have always loved reading and for me, the key to a good book is one that leaves me thinking and reflecting long after I have put the book down. Many years ago I read Feel the Fear and Do it anyway, by Susan Jeffers. This book really changed the way I thought about things and in effect changed my life. What had been the inspiration behind Magnolia Street?
I am always looking for new ideas and different ways of doing things to get people talking, learning, interested and involved. Mostly I get my inspiration from the groups I work with and the issues they raise. What was the motivation to write about people with a learning disability?
In early 2012, I had an idea to start a reading group but I was surprised when I was unable to find any novels written specifically for people with a learning disability. In my frustration I started writing a couple of chapters about four characters with a learning disability and read it to a group with really positive results. Afterwards the group bombarded me with questions about the characters and the situations they faced. I knew then this was something I needed to develop.
When Amy Met Gary is a novel which is written to encourage the reader to think about the circumstances the characters face and think about how they would feel or react if they were in the same situation. I have done a number of book readings to lots of groups around North Yorkshire and to help bring the story alive, I take the four characters with me in the form of large hand puppets. This gets the audience interested and involved right from the start! Tell us about the books characters and their lives?
The four main characters in the book are Amy, Jack, Brenda and Gary who all live in Magnolia Street and each have a learning disability. Amy and Brenda share a house together and have been friends ever since they were at school. While Amy is quiet and likes touching walls because they help her keep calm whenever she is nervous or stressed, her housemate Brenda is loud and bossy! Gary lives in a flat on his own, collects Dr Who memorabilia and doesn’t like people touching his things. He goes to a self-advocacy group called Stronger Voices with his best friend Jack who lives next door to the pub with his mum, dad and sister. Why did you decide to go down the self-publishing route for the book?
When I first had the idea for the book, I was unsure whether to proceed but when people heard about it, they urged me to get it published. After a lot of soul searching, editing and re-writing, I sent it to an authors’ advisory service to get professional feedback. They suggested that because this was a unique book, publishers would be reluctant to take it on and the best route for me would be to self publish. Once I had decided to self publish, I started to think more clearly about what I wanted the book and the characters to look like and decided I needed good, clear illustrations in order to bring the book and characters to life. Tell us about the journey in getting the book to publication?
In August 2012 I made contact with a web designer, illustrator and publisher and the journey to self publishing began. At the start I don’t think I realised the enormity of what I had taken on and the many decisions I had to make about the size of the book, formatting of the text and the layout of illustrations. As I had very specific requirements about what the book would eventually look like, there were inevitable delays when something had to be changed and this was not always a simple or quick task. Whenever I faced a challenge and considered pulling out, the support from family and friends and my belief that this was a book that needed to be published, gave me the motivation to continue.
Finally, the first book in the Magnolia Street series has been published and the website and social media are active. I recently recorded the audio version of When Amy met Gary which people will be able to download from my website along with a map of the area where the characters live. I also plan to have a blog where I can include short stories about the characters focusing on particular issues, for example, keeping safe on the internet and money management. Karen, can you share news on future projects?
I have now finished writing the second novel which will need a lot of editing to bring it up to a standard I would be happy to publish. I do have lots of other ideas and I hope to write more novels in the series covering the many social issues that people with a learning disability might like to read about. However, I need to see how popular this book is before I begin the process again.Magnolia Street