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“You grieve for the person that you thought you could become” - MDX alumnus puts shock of late autism diagnosis behind him to achieve Penguin Prize nomination for debut novel

To mark Neurodiversity Celebration week, Mike Ranson describes enlightening process of writing crime novel after years of feeling like society was gaslighting him

MDX graduate Mike Ranson has been nominated for a Penguin Undiscovered Writers' Prize in the Crime & Thriller category, which he hopes will propel his writing career.

But the 43-year-old says the achievement has only been possible since he came to terms with his autism diagnosis five years ago. He describes the enlightening process of writing a crime novel after years of feeling like society was gaslighting him.

“It’s very late to discover why everything that has gone before has gone the way it has gone,” he said.

“The diagnosis was quite a shock and it took me many years to get over. They say that post diagnosis you grieve for the person that you thought you could become.

“Autism is a very limiting situation both socially and intellectually because I do not think as fluidly as other people tend to. I have to take a step back to be able to connect the dots. Other people can sometimes think that I am a bit slow.

“There have been occasions where my autistic tendencies have played against me getting ahead. One example is networking, that’s just Greek to me, I have not got a clue. Everything I have learnt has been through long, hard studying.”

After years of trying to get published Mike felt he needed a major change and applied to Middlesex to develop his writing. He graduated from MDX last year after completing the MA in Novel Writing as a distance learning student.

Mike said that he found online learning difficult at times and was grateful for the support of tutors. “You do not have the body language or silent communication elements which makes things harder, especially for me,” he said.

“But it was good to see my confidence grow and the course lived up to expectations.”

Arch Angel, which features a number of hard-hitting themes, is set in a city of the same name in Northern Russia. The novel is a crime noir set against a dystopian backdrop.

‘Archangel’ is a crime noir set in the city of Arkhangelsk in northern Russia. On the last full dawn before the long dark of the Arctic winter, Detective Sergeant Viktor Razgonov interrupts three fellow detectives beating up a homeless man. Viktor intervenes, but the three transform into demons and attack him.

He then uncovers a secretive world where corruption leads to both profit for some and salvation for others and discovers that some of the worst people in the city are, in fact, serving a greater cause.

Mike says he initially had mixed views about the Penguin Prize nomination, due to the criteria that you must come from an under-represented background.

He said: “When I was submitted for this prize I was unsure about ticking the box because there is still a lot of prejudice out there. I didn’t feel like I had the mental and physical energy to deal with that attention. It was the first time that I have had to think about whether I want to wave a flag to say who I am or do I want to carry on skulking in the shadows.

“My whole life I feel like society has gaslighted me. I have tried to fit in, follow the social script and do this and that but found it was wrong because I didn’t understand the nuances of body language or various different references that were being made so it has been very difficult. I always thought there was something wrong.”

Mike hopes that his novel will be published by Penguin. The prize also includes a £10,000 advance and a private editor who works with the author to complete the manuscript and publish it.

Mike’s MDX MA supervisor, Dr Adam Dalton, said: “Mike's work is undoubtedly of commercial standard. Beyond that, it demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the disrupted and disrupting nature of crime noir, particularly relevant in this post-truth era. The novel is set in Russia, with themes of gaslighting, the monstrous and dispossession.”

Neurodiversity Celebration Week is a worldwide initiative that challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences. It aims to transform how neurodivergent individuals are perceived and supported.

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