Listen: Author Graeme Simsion chats to Katrina Roe about the latest in his wildly successful ‘Rosie Project’ series.
If you ever meet someone who says they don’t like to read, hand them a copy of The Rosie Project. It’s the hilarious story of Don Tillman, a University Professor with undiagnosed Asperger’s, who sets out to find a wife.
The multi-award winning book went on to sell more than 3.5 million copies in 40 countries around the world.
The eagerly awaited third book in the series, The Rosie Result, explores Don and Rosie’s challenges in parenting their unconventional son, Hudson, who is having trouble fitting in at school. His school wants him to be assessed for autism, but Rosie and Don aren’t sure whether an autism diagnosis would help or hinder Hudson.
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Although the author, Graeme Simsion, is not autistic, The Rosie Project series has been widely embraced by those in the autism community. For research, Simsion drew on his own experiences working in science and IT.
Growing up, Graeme was in the radio club at school, he studied physics at University, then worked in information technology for 30 years and did his PhD in a science faculty. When he started writing, he wanted to write a character who would stand out. He realised his science background was a point of difference from most other writers.
“I’ve been working with characters like Don Tillman all my life and studying with them,” Graeme said in an interview with Hope 103.2. “All the time I was meeting these socially awkward, largely males, who seemed to fit a certain sort of mould. We wouldn’t have called them [people with] Asperger’s or autistic back in the day, but geeks perhaps.”
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A Glimpse Into Character Don Tillman as a Child
The first book in the series, The Rosie Project, is a romantic comedy, a genre which normally isn’t followed by a sequel. The second book is a domestic comedy that follows the early days of Don and Rosie’s marriage. The latest book, The Rosie Result, was written in response to the many readers who said they would love to see Don as a child.
Graeme liked the idea, but didn’t want to write a book set in the 1980s, which wouldn’t be up to date with current ideas about autism. Then he had an epiphany: give Don a child, which would naturally cause him to reflect on his own childhood. “So they get to see what it was like for Don growing up, and they also get to see what it’s like for someone like Don growing up in the present day,” Graeme explains.
Simsion said he didn’t try to become a medical or clinical expert on autism while writing The Rosie Result, but followed debates on social media, such as Twitter. “I looked at the debates – the very unmediated, unfiltered debates… I thought these are the issues around autism that people are passionate about: about diagnosis, about identity, about stereotyping.
“I’ve had an enormous amount of feedback from the autism community, and it has been overwhelmingly positive.”
“And in the process I got to know quite a few people in the autism community, particularly people who identified as autistic. I was frankly more interested in people who identify as autistic than mothers of, or fathers of, or grandmothers of those people.
“Since then I’ve had an enormous amount of feedback from the autism community, and it has been overwhelmingly positive – as it was for the first two books, even though I don’t identify as autistic myself. I’m not an ‘own voice’, I’m an outsider, but I’m very conscious of being that outsider, and I believe I’ve done my very best to treat that community with respect and to understand what’s going on there.”
While Don and Rosie face many challenges bringing up their unconventional son, the book raises questions that are relevant to all parents.
“I am trying to write universal stories with messages for all of us that just happen to have an autistic person as the focus,” Graeme said. “So these books are not saying, ‘This is what the world is like for people on the spectrum only’. They face the same challenges as the rest of us do.”
The Rosie Project Movie Stuck in ‘Development Hell’
While fans are excited about the new book, they’re also impatient for The Rosie Project movie which, according to Simsion, is stuck in ‘development hell’.
“The problem is casting. It’s a romantic comedy which means A-List actors; they’ve got to find someone suitable to play Don… The stars just haven’t aligned,” he said.
“Look I’d love to see a movie, it’s a wonderful advertisement for the book. But at the end of the day I’m really happy to have these books out there. If you said, ‘which would you rather have: a movie of the Rosie project or this new one, The Rosie Result published?’ I would in a heartbeat say, ‘Give me the new book’.”
When asked about his next project, Graeme admits he doesn’t have another novel itching to get out.
“People have said, ‘We’d love to see Don Tilman’s Standardised Meal System’…the next book could be a recipe book.”
“For the first time in about 11 or 12 years I don’t have a novel on my plate, but my publisher hates not to have a book,” he said. “A number of people have said, ‘We’d love to see Don Tilman’s Standardised Meal System’, so the next book could be a recipe book.”
Fans of the beloved Don Tillman will remember that one of his little quirks developed in The Rosie Project, is his habit of cooking the same meals on a predictable rotational system, which minimises waste and maximises efficiency.
That means you could soon be cooking one of Don’s favourite meals for your next book club meeting or dinner party!
Fans of The Rosie Project series can see Graeme Simsion himself at Sydney Writer’s Festival on Thursday, May 2.