Scifipulse was recently fortunate enough to catch up with Elinor Caiman Sands. Author of many short stories. Additionally, Elinor is the former Deputy Editor of the British Labour party’s Progress political education organisation. She also paints and creates 3D digital art. During this interview Elinor discusses writing her first book, disability representation and coping with ableism.
SFP: What got you into writing?
Elinor Caiman Sands: I think there was a certain amount of inevitability about it to be honest. I was largely channelled that way by a combination of ableism and sexism. As a disabled kid in 1970-80s Britain my education was limited. Even after age 10, when it improved a lot, it was still pretty narrow. I certainly never had any science education, and no art, and hardly any foreign languages, so when people were always telling me I was a good writer I think it was a case of well, I’ve not had much opportunity to try anything else. And people seemed to think I wouldn’t be able to do anything else except write, so I probably took the route of least resistance. Plus, it’s kind of fun!
SFP: Can you please tell us about the novel you’re working on at the moment?
Elinor Caiman Sands: It’s based on my first published story, “Europa Spring,” set on Jupiter’s watery moon and features a community of disabled people who’ve been isolated from the rest of humanity for 150 years. The main character, Brad lives happily with his beloved wife, Celeste. His only concern is Celeste’s recent inexplicable illness and failing pregnancies, and uncertainty about the long term future of his people. Then a mysterious space pod crashes through the ice ceiling, re-establishing contact with the rest of the solar system. Brad at first assumes this is a joyous and hopeful event, promising potential diagnosis and treatment for Celeste’s problems as well as a brighter future for Europa.
But it soon becomes clear the physically “perfect” human visitors are deeply prejudiced against his people, who due to their underwater environment, genetic modification and some inbreeding have evolved to be radically different from the human “norm.” Now Brad and his friends must find some means to save themselves and their way of life, finding allies where they can, before the visitors’ attempts to “cure” them prove fatal.
SFP: What do you think hasn’t yet been done in literature featuring disabled protagonists?
Elinor Caiman Sands: Well, it’s possible I’ve not been paying enough attention to recent publications but I suspect there’s a lot. I can’t think of a disability equivalent to, say, Octavia Butler’s “Kindred,” or Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale.” I’d very much like to see one. But we also need more of the opposite, novels staring happy disabled folk getting on with their lives, people who aren’t really singled out as “disabled” at all.
SFP: Do you think that disability representation in media is moving in the right direction or are there still some obstacles?
Elinor Caiman Sands: Ableism in the media has always been a problem. It does seem as though, recently, here in the UK there are more disabled folks on TV. I have no idea about elsewhere in the world, and honestly, there are so many books published and so much TV made these days I can’t keep up with it all. I’ve seen a couple of people claim “our time is coming,” in the wake of #MeToo and Black Lives Matter and I hope they’re right, but I’m not confident that they are. Certainly we need it after the pandemic that has killed so many disabled folk and brought the extent of ableism to the fore. There’s still such a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding out there it’s going to take a great deal to really tackle it.
SFP: What is one thing you would like abled people to take away from your writing and what is one thing you would like disabled people to take away from your writing?
Elinor Caiman Sands: I don’t know that there’s one thing, nor do I write specifically for disabled readers, more the opposite. I used to work in politics so I’m always having to guard against trying to “educate” abled people too much. The last thing I want is my fiction to sound preachy. That’s one of the few faults Charles Dickens had in my view and certainly another of my favourite writers, the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has been accused of that, but Aaron is so brilliant he can get away with it!
SFP: What would you say to someone who has been made to hate themselves because of their disability? I’ve struggled with this myself.
Elinor Caiman Sands: It might not be the most constructive thing to say but I’d say it’s not you, it’s them. I don’t think I’ve ever hated myself but certainly I have a problem with people. I think I’ve always had and it surely gets no better the older I get. I mentioned Aaron Sorkin a minute ago. I’m a big fan of his TV show The West Wing, which is really very good for disability representation by the way, and my favourite character there, Toby, has a line which has been turned into an internet meme: “There’s literally no one in the world I don’t hate right now.” These days I can easily identify with this feeling!
SFP: What writers are you inspired by?
Elinor Caiman Sands: Gosh, lots. I’ve already mentioned some of them: Octavia Butler, Charles Dickens and Aaron Sorkin. Also Shakespeare, Joe Klein and Daphne Du Maurier. But I’m liable to be inspired by whoever I happen to be reading that day.
Scifipulse would like to extend our warmest thanks and best wishes to Elinor Caiman Sands for so graciously taking the time to answer our questions.
Her Twitter: @ECaimanSands
Check out our interview with C. L. Lynch here
Check out our interview with Sassafras Lowrey here