Fern Ling Chettle

The Electricity of Every Living Thing

Katherine May as a Role Model

Katherine May is an autistic author of fiction and memoir based in the UK. But what makes her a role model for neurodivergent creatives? 


Katherine May, promotional image for 'Current, flows: autism, creativity and learning' - Created by  Matti Blume, sourced on the Playing A Part: Autistic Girls website . 

In her car one afternoon, Katherine May heard a woman being interviewed on the radio about her experiences being autistic. Suddenly, everything made sense. Katherine recognised in herself the qualities being described, and took her suspicions to her GP and a private psychologist where she received her own diagnosis. 

Reconciling the past through a new lens

Reflecting on her childhood, Katherine notes that “I never felt like I was allowed to see myself as different in a positive way”. Dispelling the autistic stereotypes she had often overheard growing up about how autistic individuals lack empathy, Katherine sees now that “Actually autistic people can experience emotions very deeply and they can get really overwhelmed by their sense of empathy, which is how I often feel”. 

In 2015, she set out to walk the 630-mile South West Coast Path in the UK. Having only received her diagnosis in her late 30s, there was so much to process, so much reflection and re-assessing that Katherine felt she needed to do. In a world filled with so much stigma and expectation, particularly towards mothers and wives, Katherine searched for a kinder understanding of herself. Her experiences on this long walk formed her 2018 memoir The Electricity of Every Living Thing, which went on to become an international bestseller. 

My world is made up of tiny electric shocks. Every living thing carries its own current, and this finds its earth through me. Every unexpected touch, every glance, has a charge.” - excerpt from The Electricity of Every Living Thing (2018) 

Releasing the weight of masking

Throughout her writing, and in her second book ‘Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, Katherine explores the necessity of taking pause from the overwhelming state of the world. In particular, she examines what has led her to feel unable to ‘let her mask down’, to stop feeling as though she needs to pretend to be someone else. Describing herself as “a parrot, a mynah bird”, she has spent her adult life carefully learning sets of gestures and social behaviors, whilst underneath rose “raw, boiling chaos”. Reflecting on being in the woods, Katherine notes “Perhaps walking is the only place I don’t have to pass?”

Since the release of both her books, Katherine has documented her search for balance in her now-celebrated podcast How We Live Now, which asks the questions: How do we stay soft in a world determined to harden? How do we ride the waves of our anger, sorrow and exhaustion, and still find space for wonder, hope and joy? At the center of her perspective, is the understanding of how being autistic shapes the way she experiences the world. When asked in interviews how it once felt to be applauded for ‘passing so well’ and masking to the point that ‘others couldn’t even tell’, Katherine has this to say:

“Imagine submitting yourself to an operation that changes all that you are, your way of relating to other people, your way of thinking, and your way of perceiving the world. I don’t want a cure for being myself.”


Here are some more resources about how Katherine May serves as a positive example of autistic representation: 

“Do You Feel, ‘the Electricity of Every Living Thing’? Memoir of Autistic Author, Adventurer Katherine May.” Disability Arts Online, 26 Jan. 2022.

“Public Event - Playing a/Part: Autistic Girls, Identities and Creativity - Research at Kent.” Playing A/Part: Autistic Girls, Identities and Creativity, 14 Sept. 2021. 

Archer, Elizabeth. “Autism Diagnosis: I Knew I Was Different but Didn’t Know I Had Autism.” Express.Co.Uk, 7 May 2018.