Autistic Author Interview
We were thrilled to feature Chris Bonnello of Autistic Not Weird after the release of his YA SciFi novel, Underdogs. It’s a dystopian future story featuring autistic, dyslexic and other neurodiverse heroes. Since our interview, Underdogs has been such a success Chris’ publisher asked for a second novel much to the delight of the Underdogs‘ fanbase.
Tell us about your second book, Underdogs: Tooth and Nail.
Following the success of the original Underdogs, I was amazed by the response it got from the neurodiversity community and how enthusiastically the publisher wanted more!
In this follow-up, the British population remain trapped in giant walled cities with innumerable cloned soldiers holding them prisoner, and the heroes from Oakenfold Special School remain their last chance at freedom. This time however, the horrors of military science push the stakes as high as they will go… and the villains have deliberately goaded the Underdogs into a battle that impacts them personally and strikes them where they’re vulnerable (right down to having their old special school as a battleground).
How was your first book, Underdogs, received by the autism community?
People seemed to value the representation enormously. It’s rare that autism is faithfully represented in fiction at all, and when it is the focus is often on a character “overcoming” their autism and becoming closer to normal, whereas the Underdogs series is about special school teenagers fighting against insurmountable odds while being the best neurodiverse people they can be. I was told there were huge lessons in the books about overcoming anxiety (especially from Kate’s character), which were valued quite warmly.
That, and apparently it was a bloody good book in general. According to the reviews, anyway!
Are you finding that both neurotypicals and neurodiverse are enjoying your books?
I’m led to believe so! I’ve made an effort to write the series to be as widely accessible as possible, rather than being a niche book for a niche audience. It’s a tricky balance, but in my experience all you need to do is tell the truth – that way, the story resonates with the neurodiverse and teaches neurotypicals.
I do stress that the Underdogs series isn’t specifically written as a teaching tool for learning about autism, dyslexia, Down’s Syndrome etc, and that the characters are individuals rather than walking representations of their neurotypes. But like I said last year, teachers are using it in schools to help their students understand themselves better. And if neurotypical people learn from the characters too, then that’s a win.
What does it feel like to be releasing a second book in the series?
Odd. For a number of positive reasons. Firstly, I get to call myself a “serial novelist”, which is a dream I’ve had since I was thirteen. Secondly, I can afford to feel more confident about people liking book two – because anyone reading it will have already read (and presumably enjoyed) book one! Thirdly there’s now a sense of community, especially on the series’ Facebook page, the people reading through Underdogs: Tooth and Nail right now often love the characters as much as I do, and have been looking forward to their return. Which is quite an honour, really.
What’s the message you want your readers to take away after reading the book?
Here, have a few things that are either general themes of the book or direct quotes from it:
- “The problems are not the person.”
- Bravery isn’t being unafraid – if anything, it’s being afraid and doing it anyway.
- Confronting your past can make you feel vulnerable, but it allows you to move forward.
- “The last person who never made a mistake never made anything.”
- Play to your strengths. And if you’re human – neurodiverse or not – you will have strengths.
- “The pain of missing someone is always worth it for the joy of having known them. Always.”
Do you have any proud moments to share about Underdogs II?
It’s early days, but the last couple of weeks have included:
- The son of a friend, who’s very well-read and loves the traditional classics, putting “Underdogs” as his answer to his brother’s survey question about what his favourite book ever is.
- A friend writing me an ALLCAPS message in excitement, when he found out that one of the Underdogs is asexual. Finally, he said, he had representation.
- And the very first person who finished the books, telling me in consecutive sentences “you’re a monster” and “when’s the third book coming out?” Which I think is a compliment, given how much I swear at my favourite authors when they make me feel things!
This novel series has been an amazing adventure.
It may be too early to ask, but will there be more Underdogs books?
Well the next two are certainly written! I can’t give any details about publication because nothing’s been signed yet, but I’m confident that even in the worst-case scenario (i.e. the publisher being unable to publish the other books) I’ve had some experience in self-publishing. So, one way or the other, I intend for books three and four to get published.
What words of encouragement can you offer to other autistic creatives?
Aside from the typical “write what you love”, I’d say “write what’s good for you.” This published book series that I’m answering interview questions about after selling thousands of copies? It started as a coping mechanism for unemployment – a world I built for myself because it gave me something where I could actually have a say in how things turned out. A number of other autistic people I know feel the same: writing your own universe is so satisfying if the real world doesn’t accommodate you very well.
And also, remember that your stuff doesn’t have to be successful for it to be valid, or even for it to be good. The unpublished stories I wrote did me a load of good, and if the Underdogs books had never been published then they still would have done me a lot of good. Publication and success might come later or it might not. But write stuff for your own wellbeing, first and foremost.
Discover more about Chris Bonnello and buy his books:
- Autistic Not Weird website: https://chrisbonnello.com/underdogs/
- Underdogs Novels Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Underdogsnovel
- A Day in the Life of Chris Bonnello Comic: https://geekclubbooks.com/2020/04/day-in-the-life-chris-bonnello-autistic-not-weird/
- Buy Underdogs on Amazon US* or UK
- Buy Underdogs: Tooth and Nail on Amazon US* or UK
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