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U.K. freelance journalist and public speaker Lydia Wilkins recently added another title to her resume—author. Wilkins, who has autism, published The Autism Friendly Cookbook in November, 2022. She also serves as ambassador for AccessAble, an accessibility guide in the U.K. and Ireland, for people with disabilities.
A.f.A. : Tell us a little about yourself and how you got to where you are today?
Lydia : I’m a freelance journalist specializing in disability and social issues. At a very young age, I had always known that I wanted to do something wordy. I was the child who was always with their nose in a book! I learned pretty quickly I can’t write fiction, which is sort of connected to my autism diagnosis, and switched to journalism almost by default, really. Since I graduated, I have covered disability related stuff such as when it came to people shielding millennials in the U.K. versus social issues like the fate of dolphins and overfishing where I live. I sometimes act as a speaker and can be found creating podcasts. It’s quite mixed!
A.f.A. : Congratulations on the publication of your book, The Autism Friendly Cookbook. Why did you decide to write it?
Lydia : It happened due to an accumulation of events around the first COVID-19 lockdown here in the U.K. I never thought I’d write a book! I was 21 at the time. Speaking to others sparked the idea. So, here is the sum of everything I have learned and researched with 100 recipes, illustrations, adaptations and more. Lockdown was a creatively challenging time, and I needed an escape.
A.f.A. : Do you envision writing another book, perhaps a follow-up to The Autism Friendly Cookbook?
Lydia : Yes. I would like to, but I don’t think I will ever write about anything autistic related! The amount of vitriol from autistic individuals—and I am one of them! —was so interesting. It’s not a book for everyone as autism is a spectrum. I’ve never claimed to speak for all. I’m a journalist first. I am not an advocate or activist or anything else. I am working on finding myself an agent to represent me right now, but I have an idea for a memoir manifesto type thing. I’d like to do something like For Queen and Currency or even Mad Honey. But never again on cooking! Unless you can tempt me. Wink wink.
A.f.A. : How representative is the media industry of people with disabilities? What more needs to be done? As a journalist, how has this affected you?
Lydia : In a word, no, the media industry is not representative of people with disabilities. It never has been. This is a huge issue, and it impacts every single one of us as the media is something of a cultural wallpaper regardless of the rise of things such as TikTok. We still talk about outrageous headlines, for example. I think we need to be more honest to start with. I recently wrote for The Unwritten about how disabled journalists have yet to have their #MeToo moment. Why? That is a barrier to us. And disabled women are more at risk! I think editors need to be far more aware and proactive. I am sick of the expectation that someone like me will just be a free educational resource, and yet newsrooms don’t bother, they dismiss and/or invalidate. Ultimately, we need to create space.
A.f.A. : How do you envision the relationship between publishing and people with disabilities in the future?
Lydia : As an autistic person, I find it almost impossible to envision a future. But independent media is doing a lot for us here in the U.K. There is power in community. Emma Gannon has written about how the social media game rules are changing. There’s a real want for community. Maybe that’s the future of news; we can and will do this for ourselves. I’m nervous on that as truth matters, but disabled writers and editors at the helm is just so exciting. I want to see more of this world before I depart for the next. I want the post pandemic world to be kinder and to be more curious and open.
A.f.A. : In your work as a journalist, author and speaker, what significant moments or achievements stand out for you? Why?
Lydia : Back when I graduated, I was covering thalidomide. As far as I know, I was the only truly independent journalist to go to Germany and visit the headquarters of the manufacturer of that drug, which caused a disaster on a colossal, global scale. I am proud I went all the way to Germany solo. Travel is difficult for me as a disabled individual. I’ll never forget it.
Interviewing Alan Rusbridger, former editor of The Guardian, the same year was great—my childhood self wouldn’t believe that one. I also covered the publication of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel. He was the subject of the podcast, Untold. I got an exclusive on that and did some data work for a newspaper in the aftermath. That story has had a life of its own and seems to be causing quite a fuss right now!
A.f.A. : What advice would you give to other inspiring writers living with disabilities?
Lydia : Think what your values are, write them out, tattoo them across your heart and don’t let them go. We deal with so much extra, and I think the way we are with ourselves matters. I had one of my values, based on a New York Times clipping, engraved in a ring I wear often. Shame follows us around too often. Last year I read a quote that said, “to live without shame is a radical act.” So, keep your ideas, write them down, believe in them and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise because they are invaluable. Nurture your ideas, keep them, and keep writing. Keep dreaming of what you want to do. Shame silences and there is a power to speak and to question. It is not shameful to care or to feel either. I see too many individuals who moderate themselves for this reason. Surround yourself with people who have the best of intentions. Create and make space for others. If you screw up, apologize, and learn from it.
A.f.A. : What can we expect from you next?
Lydia : I would really like to have an answer to this one. Sadly, I don’t! I’m in a kind of transition stage. I left my last regular job. I’m also a Long COVID-19 individual, undergoing seemingly endless testing and appointments. I’d like to think there’s another book at the very minimum. I’m always available for speaking related stuff online or in person! And a course is sort of being adapted off the back of the book. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start.
A.f.A. : What message would you like to share with the world about the importance of inclusivity and the power of the media to unite people?
We speak so much about how words matter in the context of doing harm, but not really how they have a power of unity. I think we need to be reminded of this right now, especially post pandemic.