There’s a little bit of Don Tillman in all of us, says author Graeme Simsion, talking about the socially awkward protagonist of his Rosie trilogy.
“Going all the way back to the beginning, who hasn't been out on a date and done something klutzy, and here's Don who does klutzy things all the time,” Simsion says.
“But he comes through, he triumphs, and we realise, in a way, that doing those things doesn't make you a lesser person, that it’s okay, it’s a forgiveness in a way and it doesn't matter so much, it’s not who we are.”
It’s an interesting take on how we label people who might be a little different. When Simsion wrote The Rosie Project in 2013, he avoided labelling Don. Readers speculated he was on the autism spectrum, but Simsion never explicitly tackled the question.
Through the sequel, The Rosie Effect, more questions were asked, and now, with the conclusion of the trilogy, The Rosie Result, Simsion lays it all bare.
In the new novel, Don and Rosie return to Melbourne from New York with their 11-year-old son Hudson, who is struggling at school and with his peers.
“I’ve really enjoyed the journey with Don and Rosie, it’s been a journey that happened at the right time in a sense, because between the first book and The Rosie Result, autism has become so much more visible,” he says.
“There's been so much discussion around it that I was able to have the books progress with the thinking of the time. In the first book I was really skirting around the idea that Don might be on the spectrum and we still used the term aspergers, it’s far less used now.
“There wasn't the activism around the issue that there is now.
“Here we are in the third book, confronting it full on.
“If someone is behaving like Hudson is at school of course they are going to suggest he's on the spectrum, whereas Don, back in the day, would have just been a nerd.”
The Rosie Result is as much a book about parenting, how being autistic affects your parenting, how raising an autistic child affects your parenting.
“It's increasingly recognised that autism is a lifelong condition, the research is a bit ambiguous but it’s almost an article of faith now,” Simsion says.
“But we rarely talk about the adults, we made life really difficult for them by forcing them to mask their autism and just get along.
“This is Don's journey, if you like, the adult autistic person whose autism wasn't acceptable and he's had to mask it and now Hudson is the new generation coming through where that word is applied to him early on and Don is quite worried about that.”
Simsion never intended to become a champion for autism - “I certainly didn't set out to do that because I didn't think the books would sell as many copies as they did,” he says. They’ve sold more than 5 million copies worldwide.
“People get their impressions of autism probably more from fiction than they do from any learned papers or lectures or articles,” he says.
“Think of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Big Bang Theory, Rainman, the Rosie books, these representations fix themselves in people's minds and inform our thoughts.”
He said the autism community has been a great support to him too. He sent copies of The Rosie Result out early for feedback.
“They’ve never placed any expectations on me, they've been tremendously supportive and positive - not universally, there are always people who dislike the representations and so forth - but overwhelmingly, particularly with the new book which really confronts some of the issues.
“There's been a wonderful response to the authenticity of it, about the issues that are being raised.”
Journalist Clem Bastow, who recently revealed she has autism, is launching the book and in Canberra he has an event with local autism advocate and author Jeanette Purkis at Harry Hartog in Woden.
“Jeanette is proud of being autistic ... You go back a few years and people weren't out and proud and if I’ve helped in any way, that’s great.”
The Rosie Result, by Graeme Simsion, Text Publishing, $29.99.