New Writers’ Scheme member Ruth Kraemer is on the blog today, talking about the importance of positive stories in diverse fiction and how her son’s birth inspired her to write.
On a fine summer’s morning, clad in a floaty dress and with my husband by my side, I made my way to Dublin’s National Maternity Hospital. It was our first pregnancy, our first big ultrasound scan; we were excited!
A few hours later we left again in shock. We’d seen our baby’s body, his cute, round head, his lovely little hands and feet. What the midwife had seen was a fetus with a heart condition and Down syndrome.
Upon returning to our flat, I took up the book I had been reading and threw it across the room. The novel, now on the floor, was about a child with Down syndrome. Her birth sparked the central conflict of the book: an infant rejected, a family slowly falling to pieces.
No blame applies to the author. The book was well researched and the portrayal of the person with Down syndrome reasonably sympathetic. But the narrative just served to worsen the feeling of doom that I was experiencing. That book, by the way, wasn’t the only one receiving rough treatment that day. I also dumped ‘What to expect when you’re expecting’ into the next available waste paper bin.
Back then I would have very badly needed a piece of fiction about a child with Downs who is just allowed to live, to laugh and be part of family life. A book that shows the joy and lightness of their life without glossing over the attendant challenges and difficulties. A story that lets the raw love of a parent shine through.
So lacking a lighter narrative I retired to bed and cried, convinced that my husband, our child and I were being expelled from normal life and relegated to some diminished existence at its fringes.
Stories are important, they shape our perceptions, form our expectations, influence our attitudes. Diversity in fiction helps us catch a glimpse of what a life different from our own might feel like. It helps us empathise and grow.
The stories I heard about Down syndrome before I got to know my son Jakob were rarely positive.
But being with my child teaches me that there are more paths in life than the narrow path prescribed to us as normal. Paths which are just as beautiful and maybe even more suited to who we are. I care for Jakob together with my husband and our son’s love cracks our hearts wide open every day. He shows us that living a little outside the norm opens up room for all sorts of possibilities. Without Jakob in my life I would never even have considered writing a novel.
During the hours spent in the parents’ waiting room of his therapy centre I typed away on my laptop and a story slowly took shape. Three years later there it was; a novel. I joined the New Writers’ Scheme in January of this year and was thrilled to receive detailed and constructive feedback from my reader. I’m currently reworking my manuscript accordingly.
My novel follows Rebecka, a graphic designer who moves from Berlin to the Kentish coast to take up an artist’s residency for a year. The heroine’s sister has a much-loved child with Down syndrome and autism. He’s a wild little boy who not only keeps his parents on their toes but who also does his best to shake up his aunt Rebecka’s life, very much to her benefit.
About the author
Ruth Kraemer is a recent NWS member who has loved romantic fiction ever since she first encountered the inimitable Jane Austen. Ruth studied design and computing in Trier and Derry. She lived and worked in Ireland for ten years before settling in the Rhineland with her husband and son. Find out more on Ruth’s website and her Facebook page.