“Most people found Ollie odd, but Tyra found him soothing. His emotional climate was a still glass of calm that revealed nothing of the water beneath it: perhaps torrential rapids, perhaps sparkling shallows, perhaps just depth after depth of unmoving pond. The surface visual made it impossible to tell. Tyra basked comfortably in his reserved aura where she could tune down her emotional radar. Dear Ollie.”
Many of the characters in A Circle of Lost Sisters are inspired either by people I knew as a teenager or by young people I have taught over the past decade. Some, like Holly, are an amalgamation of several different girls. Rowan is about 30% my high school girlfriend, 40% my former student and only 20% my own imagination (the remaining 10% of her is made up of narrativia…a biological substance which occurs naturally when an invented character starts to think for herself). Of all these different factual/fictional hybrids, the one who has been least diluted is Oliver Ford.
Ollie is based entirely on a past Drama student of mine called Sam. One lesson was enough for me to appreciate Sam’s talent. All he had to do was tune a guitar behind the dialogue of two other actors. Trust me, no one listened to a word of that dialogue because we were all in pieces over his physical comedy and straight-faced delivery. Other teachers struggled to see Sam’s potential. Though brilliant in maths and science, he was often accused of laziness or labelled an under-achiever. I found this baffling because he worked so hard in Drama, always rehearsing and researching. We soon discovered Sam wasn’t lazy, he was (and still is) heartachingly, engagingly, endearingly aspergic.
So brilliant at dead pan comedy because he so seldom cracks a facial expression of any kind. Bewildered by emotional confrontations but able to recreate from memory scaled diagrams of complicated set designs seen once in live performances. Sam changed my understanding of what autism means–when he wasn’t making me laugh my ribs sore. In return, I stole his voice, mannerisms, ticks, tells and appearance to construct a character whose still eye perfectly balances Tyra’s emotional hurricane.
Happy Autism Awareness Month, Sam/Ollie.
Extract from A Circle of Lost Sisters featuring Tyra Baley and Oliver Ford.
Tyra, as usual, was lost in thought as she wandered home. I saw Trey Lee die today. Why did a ghost kill Trey Lee? Why would Miss Hirst allow it if she could prevent it?
‘Tyra?’ The deep male voice made her jump. Just beyond the school gate stood Ollie Ford, a bit closer than normal personal space generally allowed but Ollie was not very good at judging socially-acceptable distance.
‘Hey, Olls. I thought everyone went home.’ The rest of the school had been empty of student life when Tyra left. Only the swarming insects of investigation remained.
‘I waited for you.’
Ollie’s grey eyes stared at a point somewhere over her head as he flicked dark blonde fringe away from his face several times. Ollie wasn’t very good at eye contact either. He didn’t like large groups of people unless he knew them well, like The Circle Freaks, but he struggled with one-on-one situations too…unless he was following a clear script like the “argument” with Rhiannon. Tyra waited patiently in case a further explanation for his presence was forthcoming though she did not actually expect it to be and, as usual, Tyra sensed nothing solid of his mood to help her decipher his actions.
‘Why did you wait?’ she asked.
‘Rhini said you were there.’ He focused vaguely on Tyra’s left shoulder. ‘You found Trey’s body.’ He flicked his hair a few more times. This was Ollie’s nervous behaviour: excessive fringe flicking.
‘She said how horrible that must have been for you and how upset you must be because of it,’ he changed focus to her right shoulder and blinked several times at it. This was more nervous Ollie behaviour. Flicking and blinking? What’s got Ollie so rattled?
‘Aye, it was pretty upsetting.’
‘Did you have to talk to a lot of people about it?’ Blink. Flick. Blink.
‘Was that horrible too?’ He blinked rapidly at her forehead but kept a steady head this time, allowing his ashy blonde fringe to fall around his ashy grey eyes.
‘Yeah it was.’ There was a long pause with much fluttering and flipping.
‘I can walk you home if you want.’
He finally met her eyes then. She could see her own surprised and rather baffled browns reflected in his calm greys. There was a great deal more rapid blinking.
‘Thank you, Ollie. That’s very thoughtful.’ Well, well, well…maybe my friends are not totally self-involved…at least…not all of them.
Oliver Ford walked Tyra Baley home. He talked non-stop about the weather and Trey Lee and the chemical processes behind forensic investigation procedures and, once she got used to all the blinking it was the most relaxing part of her week. Tyra had absolutely no idea how to feel about that.