I loved Shtum by Jem Lester and you can read my review here, but today I’m thrilled to be part of the launch celebrations for this wonderful book. Shtum is published on 7th April 2016 in e-book and hardback by Orion. It is available on Amazon, from the publisher, Waterstones, W H Smith and all good bookshops. I’m thrilled that Jem Lester has written all about the inspiration for Shtum in a special guest post.
A must-read for fans of David Nicholls, THE SHOCK OF THE FALL and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.
Ben Jewell has hit breaking point.
His ten-year-old son, Jonah, has never spoken. So when Ben and Jonah are forced to move in with Ben’s elderly father, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.
As Ben battles single fatherhood, a string of well-meaning social workers and his own demons, he learns some difficult home truths.
Jonah, blissful in his ignorance, becomes the prism through which all the complicated strands of personal identity, family history and misunderstanding are finally untangled.
Funny and heart-breaking in equal measure, Shtum is a story about families, forgiveness and finding a light in the darkest days.
The Inspiration for Shtum
A Guest Post by Jem Lester
My inspiration for Shtum was not purely that my own son is profoundly autistic; but more a realization that despite his lack of language, he was far better at communicating his needs and wants than I was. That, I think, forms the core of the story. I thought it was imperative to provide readers with an honest account of the day-to-day struggles and joys of living with a child such as Jonah, but I didn’t want to focus entirely on that particular narrative thread. I thought that to place it in a wider context would enable a far wider readership to find something to identify with.
To a greater, or lesser extent, all of us have some difficulty communicating – that is why we lie. But autistic children do not have the guile to lie and part of the joy of being around them is the knowledge that they say – or act out – what they mean. It may not always be pleasant, but it’s always honest.
This is something to value and celebrate in any individual and, hopefully, something that can be taken away from Shtum.
I have to admit (in this spirit of honesty!) that writing about autism was not at the top of my agenda when I began in 2011. My family and I had just been through the exhausting process of an educational tribunal on behalf of my son, Noah, when I joined the MA in Creative Writing at City University. We had won and finally took him to his school the day before the course started. When it was first suggested to me that I write about autism in my novel, I baulked. I was tired, raw and feeling a bit lonely and didn’t feel as if I had the mental energy to do it. It was too close, I said, maybe in the future.
All that weekend, I turned it over in my mind, and by the following week I’d come to the decision that, if I could make it funny and honest, I would have a go. There was also a nagging doubt in my head about somebody else writing my story. How would I feel if someone got there first? I have to say that the thought didn’t please me.
When I started, I wasn’t certain what kind of book would emerge; and like many attempting a debut work of fiction, I assumed it would be rubbish and no one would read it at all.
The outcome is Shtum. It is more than I expected it to be and the reactions so far, so early on in its life have been overwhelming.
I’m a bit pleased.
About Jem Lester
Jem Lester was a journalist for nine years and saw the Berlin Wall fall in 1989 – and though there, he denies personal responsibility. He was also the last journalist to interview the legendary Fred Zinnemann, before the director died. He denies responsibility for that too. He taught English and Media studies at secondary schools for nine years. Jem has two children, one of whom is profoundly autistic, and for them he accepts total responsibility. He lives in London with his partner and her two children. On his inspiration for the book he says: “I think, initially, the idea for Shtum came from the realisation that my own non-verbal, autistic son was more forthright in expressing his wants and needs than I was. Of course, I wanted to dismantle the stereotype of the ‘gifted’ autistic child but at the same time I thought it imperative that the joy and humour of these wonderful, innocent children was recognised and celebrated.”
You can follow Jem Lester on Twitter. There are more posts all about Shtum with these other bloggers too: