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How one author set out to change perceptions of asthma through stories

West Dunbartonshire author, Paul Murdoch, talks to Mary Irvine about how being asthmatic inspired his latest book.

Magic Scales - and author Paul Murdoch
Magic Scales - and author Paul Murdoch

“At four years old I remember rolling down a grassy hill on a summer’s day. I tried to take a breath, but I couldn’t. This carried on throughout my childhood. Sometimes I would be fine, but then I’d start wheezing – usually when I caught a cold – and I just got used to it.

“I wasn’t formally diagnosed with asthma until my early 20s.”

How did asthma inspire your story?

“I have two sons who live with asthma. Joe has it mildly while Ryan has more severe symptoms.

“When Ryan was 11, he had a really bad attack. We were on holiday staying in a very damp cottage. Ryan ended up in hospital and was there for four days on a nebuliser; it was a really scary time.

“To entertain him, I began telling stories about a boy who had adventures in fantasy lands with dragons and monsters. He was frustrated with me because I kept forgetting the characters’ names and wanted me to write them down, so that’s how the idea for my books were born.”

The hero, James Peck, lives with asthma. Why?

“Ryan asked me if could make the main character have asthma like him, so I did.

“People with asthma are often portrayed as weak in films and books, so I wanted to show children with asthma they are just as able and their condition shouldn’t stop them doing things. Just look at all the people with asthma who achieved great things, like David Beckham and Bradley Wiggins.

“The book also mentions James using his asthma inhaler. Hopefully this will help kids who are embarrassed to take out their inhaler in front of their peers, and help spread the message that, when managed properly, asthma need not be a barrier to living a full, healthy and adventurous life.”

Review of ‘The Magic Scales’

Although this book will probably be categorised as ‘Young Adult’ and end up in that section in most libraries, I know many adults would enjoy the story, especially if they are into fantasy.

All the elements are there – adventure, magic, excitement, drama, together with that touch of humour so characteristic of this author, who has a fantastic imagination. All are woven together in a story packed with action which keeps the reader spellbound to the very end.

The characters are well written, distinct, and believable – even the fantasy ones. Particularly intriguing is the wizard goldfish, Mendel.

An important aspect of the book is the hero, James Peck, who lives with asthma. This is one of those ‘hidden’ disabilities that can be ignored but James (or rather Paul) shows how a boy deals with asthma while embarking on his quest.

There are occasions, not overdone, when James’ asthma does come to the fore but with Mendel’s help, he overcomes those times. It’s a well-crafted book all round and a joy to read good writing.

Available to buy via Pauls website here.