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Author Graeme Simsion on Asperger's, 'The Rosie Project' and Its Sequel

ChinLin Pan/KUT

If you read fiction, and you don’t know about  "The Rosie Project," you’re missing something. The book was a breakout hit all over the world, raking in reviews ranging from merely exuberant to down right delirious. So what’s all the fuss about?

"The Rosie Project" is a flat-out fun read by an author who appears to have a lot of different interests dosed with a healthy sense of humor. But believe it or not, the book started out as high drama.

"This is the story of Don Tillman," author Graeme Simsion tells The Texas Standard's Emily Donahue. 

"Let me describe Don Tilman in his own words from the book: 'I am 39 years old, tall, fit and intelligent; with a relatively high status and above-average income as an associate professor. Logically, I should be attractive to a wide range of women. In the animal kingdom, I would succeed in reproducing. However, there is something about me that women find unappealing.' So that's Don," Simsion says.

"Don may or may not have Asperger's Syndrome, I never say. He certainly would not identify as having Asperger's Syndrome, even when he's asked to give a lecture … on Asperger's Syndrome," Simsion says. "Which his buddy thinks might be a sort of good idea for him to do the research and see what it's about. But he comes out of it and his buddy says, 'Did it remind you of anyone?' and he says, 'Oh yes, Laso Hervase in the Physics Department." 

Simsion  got many of the aforementioned raves for his sensitive portrayal of Asperger's. He didn't do any formal research, he says, but he spent 30 years working in information technology [IT].

"I actually studied physics first, taught at universities and did a PhD, and so I had lots of contacts with academics and with information technology people," he says. "There is a Don Tilman – several of them – in every math department at a university, in every IT department, engineers … there's a lot of Don Tilmans like that out there."

But Simsion says he was tremendously concerned about being respectful. "I was quite happy to deal with controversy … but I didn't want to put a negative, stereotypical image out there that was going to cause pain. I've been enormously gratified – the response has been overwhelmingly positive beyond my expectations. I have been invited to speak to autism and Asperger's groups."

Simsion spoke in Austin on Tuesday. He'll be in Houston tonight, at the Blue Willow Book Shop. So why a book tour now, after the book's a hit?

"Well," Simsion says, "it's just come out in paperback and … Sony Pictures, who've optioned the film, will be watching." It's not under production yet, but Sony gave Simsion the screenwriting gig. 

What's next? "By the end of this week, I will have completed all of the edits, the final proofing of 'The Rosie Effect' and that will come out on 30 December."

Hear about Greme Simsion's writing process – from drama to comedy with "The Rosie Project," and how its sequel came into being – by clicking on the interview link.

Emily Donahue is a former grants writer for KUT. She previously served as news director and helped launch KUT’s news department in 2001.
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