BRINGING awareness to disabilities through writing a novel aimed at teenage readers is proving a successful route for one young Nelson Mandela Bay author. NMMU applied linguistics masters graduate Carolyn Morton – who has a hearing problem – wrote the fiction novel Hearing Helen with the intention of highlighting hearing disabilities, after writing her thesis on literature for deaf readers.
“When I was 16, I started losing some of my hearing, and when I turned 20 or 21, it really started bothering me. I would struggle to hear in lectures. Then I did my master’s focusing on disabilities and writing for the deaf as opposed to writing for people who can hear,” she said.
“After that, I realised that my research would not be accessible to people out there and it would sitting on a shelf somewhere at NMMU.
“I had to get the message [about disabilities] out and I had the confidence that I could do it through a book.”
Her novel is also available in Afrikaans and was short listed in the English category of the 2011 Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature, the only Eastern Cape-based finalist chosen in a pool of nearly 110 entries.
Although both the author and the main character have hearing difficulties and play music, that is where the similarities end between the two.
Morton said none of the other characters was based on real people, with only one “loosely based” on her grandmother.
“The book is essentially about two girls and their friendship. On the one hand, Helen feels marginalised because she has this disability. On the other hand, you have June who seems to have it all and everything goes her way. She [Helen] tries, through her music, to leave the high school where she is in order to go to a music academy where her brother went to.
“She’ll do anything to get into the academy . . . she doesn’t mind if other people lose out in the process.
“Friendship is also a big theme and I would say that it is based on the good friendships that I have,” she said.
Morton wrote the book with the deadline of the Sanlam literature awards in mind. Despite the challenges she faced, she would like to write another book which would touch on other societal issues.
“It took me a few months to write this book and I was on a tight deadline because I wanted to be able to finish it in time for the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature competition. I’d obviously like to write another book and I am in the planning stages of it. The book that I do write, however, will see me looking at a different social issue.”
- Hearing Helen, by Carolyn Morton is published by Human & Rousseau and retails for around R125.
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