|About the presenter: Karen Hollett lives in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada - Land of the Midnight Sun and the best Northern Lights shows on Earth! A stutterer since the age of 6, Karen recently published a children's book about stuttering and is working on a new books for publication in 2011 and beyond. Karen has a varied work/professional background that includes everything from convenience store clerk to public servant to co-owner of a chain of pizza franchises.|
For almost as long as I can remember, I've wanted to write feel-good story books for young children who stutter.
The first impulse to write for children who stutter came in early adult-hood. Like many people who stutter, I found school years to be challenging. I endured teasing & bullying, some social isolation, and the feeling that some people viewed me somewhat "less" than others around me. I can remember being in my early 20's, reflecting on those awful days, and thinking that I'd like to do something to make life better for other children who stutter. At the time, I enjoyed writing, and so I came to think that perhaps I could write books for young children who stutter. In these books, the hero would be a child who stutters.
My other motivation for wanting to write books was somewhat less noble -- but, hey, I'm human! To this day, it bugs me whenever I feel treated like I'm less intelligent or less capable than I really am. In recent years, I've learned not to dwell on these situations, but back then I would get very frustrated. I would daydream about ways to show people the intelligent, capable person that I was. I thought of all sorts of things that I could do to show them! I would think of my yet-to-be-written books. If I could become a published author -- that would show them!
Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. While I thought about my book idea quite a bit, I never came close in those years to making my goal a reality. There were many reasons for inaction at that time. Among other things, I grew up in a tiny out-port community on an island (Fogo) off an island (Newfoundland). In my mind, becoming an author was something that other people did. People from big cities and big schools - they were the people who wrote books. People from tiny Fogo Island didn't write books.
Aside from my deep-rooted out-port inferiority complex, another big reason for inaction at that time, and really for the next decade or so, was simply the craziness of everyday life. New relationships, new jobs, my first (and only) child and, unfortunately, one health crisis after another took most of my time & attention in those years. There was even a bout with advanced cancer in my late 20's which, obviously, I survived!
By the time I approached 40 years of age, many of the issues had had made the previous 15 years so hectic, had been resolved. My health was reasonably good, my son was nearly raised, and life had settled into a relatively comfortable routine. For the first time in a long time, I actually had time on my hands. I began to think about how to occupy my free time. Once again, the idea of writing children's books crept back.
There was, however, still one really big obstacle standing in the way of writing books about stuttering. If I did write a children's book about stuttering, it would draw attention to the fact that I'm a stutterer! And, if I was to promote the book, I'd have to speak to strangers!-- about stuttering! These thoughts were TERRIFYING!
For most of my life, right up to about a year or so ago, I'd been afraid to draw attention to my stutter. I didn't really accept myself as a stutterer. In fact, I didn't even like saying the word "stutter". If I had to refer to my speech problem at all, I'd refer to it as a "speech impediment". For some odd reason I believed that saying I had a "speech impediment" sounded better than saying I had a "stutter". Needless to say, I avoided most situations where I had to speak in public and I certainly never initiated discussions about stuttering. I really, really wanted to write these books, but I was terrified about what I would have to endure if I did write one. So, once again, my book project just didn't happen.
Around this same time (my late thirties) I started seeing a great speech-language pathologist here in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. We initially set about trying to improve my fluency. The techniques I learned over the next several years did improve my fluency somewhat, but I still spoke with an obvious stutter. I still had all the same fears. I still wasn't comfortable being a stutterer. Stuttering was still holding me back in many ways. Recognizing this, my speech pathologist began to work on helping me accept my stuttering as something that was OK. She of course knew what I didn't know - that achieving a level of self-acceptance was a key to overcoming my fears, and to getting on with living life to the fullest.
Well, it certainly didn't happen overnight, but after a while this acceptance notion began to click with me. Finally, I got it. Stuttering didn't need to define me. I wasn't broken. I didn't need to be ashamed. I had been letting stuttering hold me back and I had the power to stop letting it hold me back. It's hard to put into words just how liberating this revelation was. I was 43 years of age, but I daydreamed about new possibilities like I was a teenager again!
Armed with my newfound confidence & determination, I decided that the first order of business would be to start my long overdue children's book project. As before, I mulled over all of the frightening aspects of the project -- drawing attention to my stutter, talking about stuttering, and maybe even doing interviews about stuttering! Scary stuff indeed, but this time I was determined that these fears wouldn't stop me.
It was now mid-2009 and I set about learning how to write for children, and about options for getting a book published. I contacted stuttering support organizations and stuttering experts to get help with my research and, later, to get feedback on draft manuscripts. I worked feverishly with an illustrator and a printer. And finally, in May of this year, 20+ years after I first got the idea to write for young children who stutter, I'm happy to say that my first book, Hooray for Aiden, was published! Hooray for Aiden is an illustrated storybook for children of ages 4-9. It is a feel-good story of how Aiden, a young girl who stutters, overcomes her fear of speaking at a new school. (See www.HoorayPublishing.com where I'll be adding resources that will include a book reading as well as short videos of me talking about the messages in Hooray for Aiden.)
Because I'd never written a single word for public consumption in my entire life, I had no idea how the book would be received. Thankfully, the feedback has been really great. In the few months since it's been printed, hundreds of copies have been purchased by parents, educators, speech-language pathologists, psychologists, libraries and stuttering support organizations. Below is a sample of the feedback on the book.
"...an impressive, powerful book about Aiden, a child who stutters." (Canadian Stuttering association - Facebook Posting)
Accomplishing my long-held goal of writing for children who stutter has brought many personal benefits, both anticipated and unanticipated.
My main hope was that I could write books that would be enjoyed by children who stutter, and which send a positive message about stuttering. Obviously it's up to each reader to decide whether I've accomplished this, but the feedback so far from professionals, and from parents, has been encouraging, heart warming and often quite touching. It's a great feeling to know that people actually like and appreciate something that you created! It's a great feeling to know that something you created might help others, even if it helps just a tiny little bit! And, it feels great to show them that you can do it!
Perhaps the greatest unanticipated benefit of my book project was getting more plugged in to the stuttering support world. Prior to starting work on my book, I didn't know anything about the stuttering support organizations that exist, or the people behind them. My book project started with an inquiry to the Canadian Stuttering Association (CSA), to see what other children's books about stuttering were in print. I was blown away by how quickly the folks at the CSA responded and how helpful they were (and still are). The CSA referred me to other experts who also helped a great deal with my research and writing. In the months that have followed, I've made contacts from all over the world with associations, experts and regular folks like me, who stutter. I feel more plugged in, I feel less alone, and it feels great. Knowing that there are people out there to help and support me is very comforting and empowering. I feel more confident than ever that I can continue to achieve goals that previously, because of stuttering, seemed unattainable.
So that's the tale of my journey to becoming a children's book author. The main message that I hope comes through is that gaining a degree of self-acceptance and comfort with stuttering can be key to overcoming fears and achieving goals. This is no surprise to many of you. But, I hope there's some benefit to being one more voice attesting to the power that comes from self-acceptance and the realization that you control how much, or how little, stuttering will disrupt your life.
In real life, personal transformations don't happen overnight, and they aren't perfect. I still struggle. I still have fears about stuttering. But, I do struggle less, and the fears I have aren't as daunting as they used to be. As a result, I'm doing things today that I wouldn't have dreamed possible just a couple of years ago. And, when you achieve something that has eluded you for a long time, the feeling of accomplishment is indeed very sweet!