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Isley Robson | Finding Inspiration in Neurodiversity

June 5, 2017

Hello, Fresh Fiction readers! I’m honored to join you to talk about the inspiration behind my debut novel, THE FIRST WORD.

So far, I’m not one of those authors who can pinpoint one definitive moment when inspiration struck and I was hit with the premise for a book. One day, maybe for my twenty-fifth novel, I’ll be sitting at a rickety café table by the Seine or charging up a Peruvian mountainside—or maybe contemplating life from the ramparts of a Scottish castle—when the muse descends. I’d love to have a whole new world unfold before my eyes, and to have the characters take shape almost of their own accord and start imposing their will upon the page. But, for me, inspiration has always been a much messier thing.

THE FIRST WORD started with tears. Lots of tears. If I’m going to be completely honest, it was not a pretty picture. There were red, raw eyes. There was a leaden feeling in my chest. There may have even been snot, and a pile of used tissues, which doesn’t sound terribly romantic, but please hear me out (it ended up plenty romantic, I promise!).

This book started out with an emotional truth. I decided to give my hero, Rhys, the same struggle I faced when my son was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Of course, THE FIRST WORD is a romance, so Rhys is not just any old Joe Schmo off the street. He happens to be an indecently attractive engineering genius at the helm of a successful alternative energy company. But his wealth and worldly success mean nothing if he can’t help his toddler son Will, who has only ever spoken one word: Andie, the name of the occupational therapist who is the heroine of the story.

Rhys, himself, is not exactly neurotypical. He beats himself up about his awkward manner and his trouble reading social cues, and considers himself to have undiagnosed Asperger’s. In short, he’s a sexy nerd who is endearingly unaware of his own appeal.

I can’t pretend that the journey taken by Rhys and Will represents the story of everyone who faces autism (as the saying goes, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism”). And yes, Rhys has aptitudes and resources that not everyone is privileged to enjoy (he is a romance hero). But what I aspired to do was to stay faithful to the emotional truth of their struggle. When we first meet Rhys, he is grappling with the reality of the uphill battle in front of Will. He doesn’t want to change him, but he fears for him and agonizes over how the world will treat him. “Who will he be?” he wonders. “What will become of him? Will he be happy? Will he be loved?”

THE FIRST WORD is not about Will being miraculously cured. But it is about finding the place where you belong and the people who belong with you. There are wrong turns, roadblocks, and snafus along the way. Andie has troubles of her own that make her resistant to the inconveniently searing attraction she feels for Rhys (why make it too easy for them, right?). Her skittishness and his awkwardness often have them working at cross purposes.

My goal was to depict the reality that those of us who are flawed, quirky and neurodiverse fall in love, too. After all, “normal” is a spectrum. Writing my way to a happily ever after for Rhys, Andie and Will was my way of writing toward hope. I hope you find their story inspiring!

THE FIRST WORD by Isley Robson

The Visionaries

The First Word

To stay sane, Andie Tilly must keep her mind on her work. Her job as a pediatric occupational therapist is the perfect distraction from the unspeakable tragedy she experienced as a child. But when she meets alternative-energy magnate Rhys Griffiths and his autistic toddler, Will, she quickly realizes her heart will never be the same. Especially when her name becomes Will’s first word.

After accepting a position as a live-in therapist for Will, Andie steels herself against the appeal of the disconcertingly attractive—and attracted—Rhys. But their chemistry can no longer be denied, and their heated affair seems destined for happily ever after. A destiny Andie’s terrified to embrace.

When Andie’s guilt, Rhys’s awkwardness, and the abrupt appearance of an erratic ex threaten to dismantle their delicately blooming relationship, they must decide if love is worth the challenge. Can Andie and Rhys find their way back to each other? Or will the demons of the past simply prove too strong?

Romance [Montlake Romance, On Sale: June 1, 2017, Trade Size / Kindle, ISBN: 9781503943674 / ]

About Isley Robson

Isley Robson

Isley Robson is a word lover who, when not reading, spends her time writing about colorful characters and the people who love them. After earning a degree from the University of Technology Sydney, she moved to the Boston area to continue her studies and eventually took a job in corporate communications. Through it all, she continued writing and has now won a variety of romantic-fiction awards, including the Orange Rose 2015, the Fire and Ice 2015, the Catherine 2014, the Laurie 2014, and Show Me the Spark 2013. Her debut novel, The First Word, is book one in The Visionaries series.

Robson lives in New England with her writer husband, two children, and two dogs. For more information, visit her at or on Twitter @isleyrobson.



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