‘Talking Book service saved my life after I lost my sight’

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JULIA Caesar was devastated when a brain haemorrhage robbed her of her sight, but the historian believes the RNIB Talking Books service saved her life.

Listening to the books inspired Julia to become an fantasy fiction author – and now she’s donating some of the profit from the books she’s written to the Talking Book Service as it celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

Julia’s mother once told her “If I wanted to find you anywhere as a child I’d find you on your bed, reading a book, or up a tree, reading a book, or anywhere – reading a book.”

So it was no surprise that she grew up writing academic articles and lecturing all over the world.

However, her life changed dramatically four years ago. After having already been rendered partially sighted through diabetic retinopathy, she suffered a brain haemorrhage which robbed her of the rest of her sight within just two days.

The 63-year-old, who had then been doing a literature degree through the Open University, said: “I turned my face to the wall and didn’t want to know.

“I thought I should just sit here and die because there was nothing worth living for.

“Suddenly it felt like everything I did was like walking through liquid cement, everything was a failure. I was so depressed... Talking Books saved me from almost suicide.”

Two books inspired her creativity.

“My OU tutor introduced me to Talking Books and loaned me Reach for the Sky, the story of Douglas Bader, who showed such raw courage. I thought to myself, what are you doing sitting here? You’ve got legs, you can do anything. It was an inspiration.”

The second was the Falco series by Lindsey Davis, which was read by actor Christian Rodska. Julia contacted her and discovered the author was partially sighted.

“I thought, if she can do it, so can I. I decided to start writing about another world that I’d previously dreamed up,” she said.

“The story had been inspired by a music CD my husband gave me – I found out much later that the singer was Andrea Bocelli, who lost his sight. Such a coincidence.”

Julia is writing a series of fantasy books entitled The Tapestry of Tten. The first book, Dawn of Darkness, in which the lead character is blind, is about a world on the brink of ecological disaster. The second, the Curse of Night, came out last month and the next, Another Shade of Mystery is in the hands of the publisher.

“They say write about what you know, so I did,” said Julia.

Part of the price of every book will be donated to the RNIB Talking Book Service.

It costs £2,500 to produce just one Talking Book and takes three months to do.

So what makes Talking Books different from an ordinary audio CD? The technology is called DAISY – Digital Accessible Information System - a format that makes a CD work more like a book.

For instance, you can find the last place you finished reading easily and can jump from chapter to chapter, page to page as easily as a sighted person.

The technology means that around 25 hours of audio can be recorded on a DAISY CD.

The RNIB Talking Book Service is provided through annual subscription and the DAISY CDs are delivered postage-free direct to the door. Easy-to-use DAISY players are loaned to play the books on and maintained by the service.

And how does Julia write her books? “I have a computer with a screen reader – he’s called Jaws,” she said.

He reads out what she has typed so she knows how accurate her touch typing is.

Since 1935, when the first Talking Books were issued to soldiers injured during the First World War, the RNIB service has issued millions of books to blind and partially sighted people across the country.

Julia said: “Without Talking Books it’s a long, lonely life for many people. When the green wallet comes through the post with your next books – it is so exciting.

“It’s wonderful for blind people but also dyslexic people, elderly people, those who can’t hold books. The pleasure of sharing books is immense and in my case literally ‘opened my eyes’ to the possibility of a different sort of life altogether.”