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Action Deafness Books - Featured Authors

Nick Sturley – author of bestseller Milan

What motivated you to write Milan?

Well, to cut a very long story short. Back in 1991, during my second year in training for film and television production at, the now defunct, North East Media Training Centre at Gateshead (I was one of the first-ever six Deaf trainees there along with other hearing trainees) and as part of the final year project, I wrote and directed a short film called MILAN. It was a fantasy thriller filmed on a shoestring budget about a Deaf man's fight against a [metaphorical] Milan who had inexplicably 'oralised' the entire British signing Deaf Community. The story also highlighted issues on the impact of the infamous Milan 1880 Congress to this day.

In 1996, I decided to write a remake of the film in a script format based on the same premise, but in a more sprawling and epic nature (with a slight difference being that the transformation of the entire British signing Deaf community into hearing people) and the story has three key time points of 1880, 2003 and 2030 in which the main character, John, is in all of them. Pretty much everything has been thrown in the story such as time travel and its paradoxes, other dimensions, the actual moments of the Milan 1880 Congress, non-stop action, humour, thorny issues, analogies and references to key Deaf moments and history and, finally, plenty of shocking and unexpected plot twists. Each chapter ends with a cliffhanger and this often forces the reader to quickly move to the next one and so on making it very difficult to put the book down! There is a Visual Glossary section at the back which details in both illustrations and plan views of the key characters, places and architecture to help the reader understand the text descriptions in the book.

It took me seven years on and off to engineer the story's structure in a script format. I then decided to convert it into a novel and began on March 17th 2003 – the day before the recognition of BSL – and had it published in October 29th 2003 (same date as a key moment in the book). It was self-published with my own money.

Milan cover click to read more
Front cover of bestseller Milan

Where did you draw your inspiration?

Up to until 1990, I had absolutely no idea about the infamous Milan 1880 Congress and the impact it had in our lives until I saw an excellent Deaf drama by Doncaster College called "The Last Flickering Light of Hope" at the BDA Centenary Congress in 1990. It was about Milan 1880. I was totally fascinated by it because I come from Cornwall which was – and still is – one of the most oralist counties in the UK when it comes to the education for the deaf (fortunately for me, I later attended Burwood Park School in Surrey which was an oral boarding school, but we were allowed to sign outside the lessons) and had quite a difficult childhood because my hearing parents were told by those-who-knew-best not to sign to me and this frustrated me and my mother on communication.

I then went on to read the influential Harlan Lane's "When the Mind Hears" book which had a large chapter dedicated to the Milan 1880 Congress and I was fascinated by it. When the final film project came on, I decided to write and direct the MILAN short film and it went on from there.

What’s it feel like having your work published?

To be honest, I don't even remember how I felt at that time when it was published in 2003, however, I do remember that there was immense satisfaction from me that I was able to share the story to everyone and help inspire others to do the same. It had been inside my brain for seven years and I was glad to have got that out of my head!

What’s the dominant theme of your writing?

I don't think I actually have one although I like to incorporate Deaf issues into the story. Milan is very multi-layered and it takes one to discover these layers underneath the skin. The same goes for my current Tales From Signtown series.

Tell us about Tales from SignTown, how did this come about?

It is a brand new 24-volume ebook series published by DeafEducate. I was approached by Steve Gibson, the publisher, to write something for DeafEducate to help deaf children improve English through BSL using the ebooks. I came up with the idea of writing the favourite fairytale stories with a Deaf focus as there is no such thing like this and subsequently I came up with the Tales From Signtown concept in which Steve liked very much.

Basically, Tales From Signtown is a collection of the 24 of the most favourite and classic fairytale stories – such as Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, The Ugly Duckling, Sleeping Beauty, Little March Girl, Emperor's New Clothes, etc – and bring them all together into, or around, a town, namely Signtown. The key characters – mainly Deaf – interact with each other there, but also tell their own respective stories. It is a bit like a fairytale version of the Deaf Community. I have also thrown in my own ideas, Deaf references and some nice surprises too!

One of the most interesting aspects about these stories is that each story has its own good and dark theme in which, I think, will help educate the deaf children in a number of issues. For instance, Red Riding Hood explored the dangers of talking to strangers, Goldilocks entered someone's else house without being invited, Jack robbed and murdered the giant ogre, Cinderella showed more of her graciousness than her beauty, the Ugly Duckling was about the inner beauty and the Little Match Girl tackled the painful issue of child abuse, neglect and tragedy. Some of them will be slightly expanded by me with my own ideas to reflect today's issues. There are happy and sad endings throughout the series.

There is a single story arc throughout the series and each of the fairytale stories link up with it and the final story – volume 24 – is a marvellous one by Hans Christian Andersen and is the only one that is as close to having Deaf issues and will be a great thrilling and absorbing finale to the series. It is a totally unique approach to retelling the fairytale stories from a Deaf perspective and I'm loving every minute of it.

I have written the text in a way that is very visual for the deaf children to understand and be translated into BSL by their parents or teachers for the deaf. The series also can be read by the young-at-heart Deaf adults!

The Tales From Signtown series comes in three versions: the ebook with the CD of the BSL translation and is aimed at the Deaf education market. The second books without the CD and aimed at the consumer market. The third being the world's first ever BSL ebook for the iPhone & iPhone Touch which has both the text and BSL translation.

You’ve got 5 mins with Helen Fraser, the Chief Executive of Penguin Books. What would you ask her?

Take her out to dinner (with a gooseberry BSL interpreter, of course) so that I can have a good natter with her about publishing books for the Deaf children in both text and BSL! And of course, I would pitch her with some of my ideas and I'd love Penguin (or another publisher if she says no) to publish a Tales From Signtown omnibus book with the 24 stories as chapters to complete the story arc in one book!

What’s your advice for aspiring D/deaf and deafblind writers?

What I have learnt a great deal from publishing my Milan novel is that the Deaf Community is a niche market and it can be very difficult to sell books to them. But don't let this stop the aspiring Deaf and deafblind authors from writing though. If they have a story to tell or something non-fiction, do it.  


Click here to go to Action Deafness Books to view Milan details and purchase