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creative writing Celebrating our individuality

I’m the author with alopecia. Now I’m 57 and I’m happy, but it’s taken me most of my adult life to adapt and to stop being afraid. In 1981, I felt a hidden bald patch at the back of my head, and four months later I’d lost every hair on my body. My GP named it alopecia and prescribed anti-depressants. That didn’t seem right to me because it was the hair loss that made me feel low, so I threw the pills away. I was trying to carry on as normal in my teaching job, wearing an unconvincing acrylic wig from a department store (which once blew off in the playground) and it wasn’t easy to hold my head high. I was in shock, struggling to adjust to my new reflection, and emotionally undermined because I didn’t feel attractive or feminine anymore. A dermatologist gave me a lotion

for my scalp and over the next few years I tried UV and infra-red rays, reflexology and homeopathy, but no- one called alopecia an auto-immune condition. My family is full of those and I have an underactive thyroid, so it made perfect sense. However, in those early days, everyone (except me) put it down to stress, which made me feel as though I’d brought it on myself. None

who called to tell me that it was beautifully written and had moved him. That was the turning point. I believed that I could become an author and eventually, in 2007, I did. I now have 20 titles for children and teenagers. When my alopecia novel became

Sue dancing (for four hours non-stop) to raise money for Alopecia UK

of these treatments ever generated a single hair and the disappointment was sometimes acute. I tried not to think about alopecia

but every day I was living in fear of discovery, along with wind and rain, heatwaves, head lice, salt and sand, and sweat. I also felt like a fraud. As the years went by, I found beautiful real- hair wigs which fooled most people but I’m a very open person and I hated the deception, which I thought was unavoidable. I couldn’t wait to remove the wig at home so my kids grew up with the real, bald me. But outside the house I was in disguise, playing the part

of a confident, capable teacher with ‘great hair’ and I think that it took its toll. At home, I was often tearful. I was also haunted by a sense of guilt about this indulgent self-pity, because although alopecia is tough to live with it isn’t a chronic or terminal illness. So I felt feeble, hyper-sensitive and small. I’d been writing all my life and in

2002 I wrote a story about a girl with alopecia, entitled The Waterhouse Girl. Of course, writing it was therapeutic but emotional and challenging, too because I realized that my character was bigger and braver than me! I sent the story to my hero, Michael Morpurgo,

Berkhamsted author and illustrator combine

Sue Hampton is a Berkhamsted author with 20 published novels, mainly for children and young adults. Her latest book Gorilla Dreams has just been published and entered for the Blue Peter Book Award. It's £5.99 and available online, from Sue, and at Waterstones. Mary Casserley is a Berkhamsted artist whose books include Berkhamsted High Streetand Postcards of Berkhamsted. She normally draws buildings or paints landscapes so providing illustrations for Sue's latest book in the form of dancing gorillas made an exciting change!

Sue and Mary would love anyone under 13 to get creative and enter the

Gorilla Dreams drawing/ dance/poetry/story

competition. There will be an exhibition and prize giving at Berkhamsted

Library. Find out more at at the Gorilla Dreams Facebook page. The

deadline is 1st November. 13

Since I became an ambassador for Alopecia UK, I’ve met some amazing teenage girls learning to live with alopecia and finding great courage. I danced for four hours non-stop to raise funds for the charity and am starting up a support group in Hertfordshire. After 33 years, I’m finally comfortable with my hairless scalp. It’s made me stronger and it has helped me to become the author that I always wanted to be.

a book, I decided that it was time to own my bare head. The day I walked fearfully out of the front door without a wig, a huge smile grew on my face. I felt exhilarated, liberated! Now, it’s wonderful to hear that many people with alopecia have read The Waterhouse Girland have been helped by it, but the message, that it’s OK to be different, is for everyone. A boy with hair wrote to tell me, “You made me a better person”. I’ve been booked by over 300

schools as a visiting author and I always begin with alopecia, individuality and difference. When I create a character, her appearance is much less interesting than her personality, actions, thoughts and feelings. We can’t allow ourselves to be defined by our hair, weight or features, or judge others by how they look.

Sue Hampton

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