Inspired by her day job as a care home operations manager, Jan McGavin from Dundee has published her debut novel. It is a dream come true for Jan – combining much-needed disability representation with the magical world of fantasy fiction.
Disability is vastly underrepresented in our literature: a 2020 survey found that only 3.4% of books published the previous year had a disabled main character, leaving many feeling unrepresented by the fiction they are reading.
While working for Kennedy Care Group, which has care homes across Angus, Fife and Aberdeenshire, Jan wrote the novel The Stone Dragon. It focuses on the importance of celebrating individuality and accepting our unique differences, as well as promoting representation of disability in literature.
The dragon with a difference
Aimed at older children and adults, it has just been published on Amazon Kindle and follows Snuffle: a disabled dragon born without wings into a society that has no room for diversity, difference or anything that could be perceived as a weakness.
Throughout the pandemic, Jan found writing to be the perfect escape from the busy nature of lockdown life, which has hit care homes on a disproportionate scale.
Jan explains: “I have always been very passionate about inclusion and I think it is becoming more important in our society. I think we live in a world where there’s this idea that everyone has to fit into a particular mould in order to be accepted.
“I’ve worked with a lot of people with different disabilities. I’ve seen how there are a lot of conversations about ensuring people are included, but often it falls down.”
No such thing as ‘normal’
At the heart of the book is the central message that it’s OK to be different: a message that is equally important regardless of how you feel you fit into society.
Jan enthuses: “For anyone who does feel different, I hope they can take great strength from the book and they can see that it is possible to be different and still be very successful. Really, if you’re true to yourself, you can get through anything.
“For other people, I hope that they read it and reflect on the fact that it doesn’t matter if we’re all different. Everyone has their own talents and their own purpose. Hopefully people will be a little more accepting of anyone who is different.
“I hate the word ‘normal’, I don’t believe in it. Normal simply means ‘like me’, so we all have our own version of what ‘normal’ is, depending on our own experience. I think we should all just be able to be who we are without fear of judgement.”
Making it accessible
Jan’s commitment to inclusion and representation doesn’t stop in the novel’s fantasy world; in fact, one of her overarching goals with the book is to make it as accessible as possible to disabled readers.
She says: “Recently I listened to a radio interview with a woman who is blind and she was talking about how few books are available in Braille, it only seems to be a very limited amount.
“I would like to look into that and get The Stone Dragon published in Braille, to make sure it’s available in accessible formats.”
Currently, only a very small percentage of books are available in Braille format, but with the rise in popularity of audiobooks and eBooks, the joy of reading is slowly becoming more accessible to those living with visual impairments and other disabilities.
Working for a care home, it hasn’t always been easy for Jan to find the time to write. But, with the support of Kennedy Care Group, she has finally managed to turn her dream into reality.
Jan continues: “It has taken me 15 years to complete the book, really because of my job.
“As you can imagine, working in a care home is not a 9am to 5pm job, and there were many times where there might be weeks or even months where I hadn’t even written a word because I was just too busy with work.”
“But Kennedy Care Group have been a fantastic support: not only in my day job, but in my writing, too.”
Respecting and encouraging individuality is one of Kennedy Care Group’s key philosophies and is something that has been carefully woven throughout The Stone Dragon.
Owner of Kennedy Care Group, Tom Dailey, says: “I was very keen to support Jan. The themes in the book are handled very sensitively.
“The way she’s written it – about a dragon as opposed to a human – it holds more of a story and is done very imaginatively. I think at the end of the book, people will come out of it feeling good about themselves.”
The Stone Dragon is available on Amazon Kindle for £7.99, and is coming soon to paperback.