Stroke in Antarctica in a Novel


(If you don't see the audio player above, visit http://Strokecast.com/Antarctica)

I don't see many novels that deal with stroke and aphasia. Memoirs, sure, but not novels. That's one of the things that makes Jon McGregor's novel, Lean Fall Stand,* interesting. That, pls the fact that Jon himself is not a stroke survivor. He's someone who has taken an interest in our community an endeavored to learn more.

Oatmeal, a light-brown Jellycat brand teddy bear, sits on a couch and read's Jon McGregor's Lean Fall Stand

Jon's novel follows the story of Robert, a research scientist in Antarctica. Robert gets caught in a storm , suffers a stroke, and acquires aphasia. The novel chronicles Robert and his wife's adventures as they enter and then adjust to living in stroke world.

Jon and I talk about the book, Jon's research, his adventure in Antarctica, writing beyond an author's personal experience, and more.

About Jon McGregor

Author Jon McGregor wears a dark patterned shirt, suspenders, and a beret while standing against a dark green wall looking at the camera

Jon McGregor is the winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Costa Book Award, the Betty Trask Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters E. M. Forster Award, and has been long-listed three times for the Man Booker Prize, most recently for his novel, Reservoir 13. His latest novel, Lean Fall Stand*, is out from Catapult in September 2021. He is professor of creative writing at the University of Nottingham, England, where he edits The Letters Page, a literary journal in letters.

Jon's Resources

Jon talks a lot about the research he did to understand the experience of stroke and aphasia. He met with therapists. He talked with survivors. He attended support groups.

The Stroke Stories podcast is another resource he used to learn about Aphasia and stroke from a survivor's perspective. It's a show that tells stories more as news type pieces rather than in a traditional podcast interview. You can find it in popular podcast apps.

A couple years ago, I was lucky enough to be a guest on the show. You can listen to that episode here: Stroke Stories Episode 50 - Bill Monroe

The Aphasia Access Conversations podcast is another one Jon found helpful. It's a show focusing on the education, experience, and thoughts of speech therapists who work with folks who have aphasia.

For more stroke related podcasts, visit http://Strokecast.com/StrokeRelatedPodcasts.

Jon also learned from Sara Scott's YouTube channel. Sarah survived a stroke at age 18, about 12 years ago. Since then she has posted videos recognizing various strokeaversaries. You can watch her progress in dealing with aphasia over the decade and see her recovery over the years.

Sarah Scott 10 years living with Aphasia

(If you don't see the embedded video, visit http://Strokecast.com/Antarctica)

Edwyn Collins is a Scottish musician who made it onto the worldwide charts in the 80s with his post-punk band Orange Juice. He survived a stroke with aphasia in 2005. Jon drew inspiration from the documentary of Edwyn's story, "The Possibilities are Endless"

The Possibilities Are Endless (Official Trailer)

(If you don't see the embedded video, visit http://Strokecast.com/Antarctica)

Jon also learned from the Stroke Odyssey production from Rosetta life:

SO Trailer 7

(If you don't see the embedded video, visit http://Strokecast.com/Antarctica)

Artists' Residencies

Artist residencies are a fascinating thing. In the one Jon talked about, he applied to go to Antarctica. He would be provided transportation, lodging, and access to the work of research scientists. In return, he would, eventually, make a thing.

In Seattle a couple years ago, the city offered space in a draw bridge that an artist could have for months to make a thing inspired by the space.

The variety of residencies available to artists is kind of amazing. It's an interesting intersection of public relations, marketing, public art, patronage, and other elements.

If you feel a desire to create but want space, education, or inspiration, it may be worth exploring the idea of residencies.

Writing About Marginalized Communities

We discussed the idea of writing about marginalized communities in this interview, specifically about disabled people or people with disabilities.

A lot of the same concerns apply when writing about folks of a different race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, cultural background, etc.

When you write a character who is of a different group, especially if the character is part of a historically marginalized group, the writer has a special obligation to get it right -- to make sure they can write about the character and the character's experiences with honesty, accuracy, and individuality, without reducing them to a series of stereo types.

I've read parts of Lean Fall Stand* (Jon's team sent me a copy) and so far, his portrayal seems good. Of course, my experience with aphasia is all second hand. I'd encourage you to check it out and share your thoughts.

Become a better writer

Jon is a long time novelist and a professor of creative writing. You might expect him to have advanced models and techniques for becoming a better writer and telling better stories. But what is Jon's advice?

Read more.

Write more.

It's that simple. Sure you need to read deliberately and think about the choices a writer makes in the pieces you read.

To get better at walking, we need to walk more. To get better at moving our fingers we have to move our fingers more. To get better at speaking, we have to speak more.

To get better at writing, we have to write more.

More reading and more writing. Hmm. I can get behind that.

Hack of the Week

Jon talked with as bunch of folks with aphasia and cited two things they did that were helpful.

First, the used their phones and tablets to help communicate. It wasn't just about typing out messages or using special apps, though. It was about using other tools for communication. For example, telling the story of travelling to a city by using the maps app. It was about thinking of different ways to share the story without strictly telling the story.

Second, a lot of the folks Jon spoke with carried a card that explained they have aphasia and explains what aphasia is. There are still millions of people out in the world who have never heard of aphasia and folks with aphasia still have to deal with them. A simple card can make a big difference.


(If you don't see the list of links below, try visiting http://Strokecast.com/Antarctica)

Where do we go from here?

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast

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