In today’s podcast episode we chat to Katherine May. Katherine is an author of fiction and memoir whose titles include Wintering, The Electricity of Every Living Thing, The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club, The 52 Seductions, Burning Out, and Ghosts & Their Uses. She is the editor of The Best, Most Awful Job, an anthology of essays about motherhood. Her journalism and essays have appeared in a range of publications including The Times, The Observer, Good Housekeeping and Aeon.
Previously the Programme Director for Creative Writing at Canterbury Christ Church University, Katherine currently works as a literary scout for Lucy Abrahams Literary Scouting and a freelance editor for organisations including Faber Academy and Audible. She lives in Whitstable, Kent with her husband and son.
In this interview we talk about Katherine’s recent book, Wintering, which is all about how we process and accept the inevitable darker times in our lives. We note how as a society we are almost geared to fight against the ‘bad stuff’ and often this sets us up to struggle when ‘life stuff’ does happen, which it does for all of us. We discuss how as a society we actively try to avoid feeling bad. Katherine explains how engaging with our winters teaches us valuable lessons.
Katherine is one of a growing number of women who are diagnosed as autistic later in life. She shares what that meant for her in terms of self-acceptance, understanding, and being able to find women like her.
We talk about the intersection of wellness and being neurodivergent, often a place where the wellness industry as a whole fails to address how their offerings aren’t serving the community. Katherine shares how we need more agency in wellness processes to suit all of our differing needs. She talks about how we need to find ways to communicate our needs, and understand consent.
Katherine talks about how there is still a long way to go for mainstream understanding of autism, and the need for better representation of neurodivergent people. Plus, Katherine shares how we need to not just show diversity of autistic people, but also normalise without attaching tragedy narratives.
I was eager to ask Katherine about her experience of sea swimming. She kindly shares the joy and therapeutic benefits of sea swimming all year round. And yes, she does enjoy it more in the winter.
Katherine shares what a good life means to her, plus an excellent self-care tip for fellow autistic people.
Finally we talk about why Katherine was drawn to writing, and specifically writing memoir.
I left this interview feeling positively buoyant and inspired, with a determination that one day I will try sea swimming.
Wintering is something that comes to all of us. It is about learning to engage with wintering. We can’t avoid it, but we can learn something from it. It can bring change.
In some parts of the wellness industry it’s almost mean at its root to say that if bad things happen to people, it’s their fault or the result of not doing certain things. It’s a terrible way to talk to people who are suffering.
If we don’t engage with our winters and what they are teaching us we find we repeat the same things over and over again.
By getting the autism diagnosis Katherine was able to give herself what she needed instead of what she thought she ought to do.
When you stop resisting who you are and what you need you have the capacity to feel better.
Neurodivergent people includes the autism spectrum, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, some people include bipolar disorder, depression, etc.
Often the wellness industry is not able to meet people’s needs because often they don’t know what their needs are.
Self-care was developed for people with a variety of needs to do the basics, to keep self-regulated and healthy and happy.
Different autistic people will have different needs.
Some autistic people are sensory seekers, others are sensory avoiders. You can’t predict each other’s needs. We need to create a community of respect where people ask about other people’s needs.
There is a need to diversify what autism looks like in the public eye. We need to see more of not just the positives but also just the neutral humanity of autistic people.
Sea swimming gives the most extraordinary high. It’s 15 minutes of bliss. When it’s cold to start with, trust that it gets better.
Thinking about what the good life is is a constant process. It’s about the flexibility to follow interests, energy, fascination, levels of concentration, passion.