Two of the main themes of the novel, ‘The China Bird’, are:
1.Society’s perception of beauty, which even today falls within the very narrow band of the acceptable norm.
The artist, Angela Lapper, who was a thalidomide baby, born with no arms and very small legs, influenced my attitudes towards disability and beauty.
Late one night I watched a TV documentary of her work and saw the casts she had made of her body. I was so struck by the beauty of her form that I began to see beauty in a totally different way and from it drew inspiration for a strand of the story in my novel.
The definition of deformity originally meant ‘different from’. Nowadays it is defined as ‘to mar the beauty of, disfigure, deface’.
2. Society’s perception of disability, especially with regard to sex and sexuality.
It is common for able-bodied people to regard those with disability as asexual. This issue was first brought to my attention when I read an article about a group of disabled men in a care home in France.
The men informed the staff at the home that they wished to have a sex life. After much persuasion by the men, the staff finally agreed to wheel them down to a caravan in a lay-by half a mile from the home, where the men knew that two prostitutes operated.
When the families of these men found out, there was a big outcry and newspapers published articles, saying what bad taste is was, and how irresponsible the staff were. It was not seen as right or proper that these men should be allowed to have sex.
Reading this article gave me pause for thought; I began to explore the sex life of Edward, one of the main characters in my novel, who it so happened, was disabled.