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School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

MJ Hyland - the public and misunderstood face of multiple sclerosis

Through her award-winning works of fiction and non-fiction, internationally renowned author MJ Hyland challenges misconceptions about the incurable neurological condition

Photograph of MJ Hyland
MJ Hyland is a novelist, an essayist and a Lecturer at the Centre for New Writing.

M (Maria) J Hyland writes essays about multiple sclerosis (MS) in blunt yet measured autobiographical prose-essays which have been published internationally in both magazines and newspapers and which have been read by thousands and stimulated fresh debate about diagnosis, treatment, symptoms and drug-therapies.

Prominent author MJ Hyland has multiple sclerosis (MS), a debilitating neurological disease. As an award-winning novelist and lecturer in The University of Manchester's Centre for New Writing, she has written several autobiographical and thoroughly-researched pieces covering the treatment, diagnosis and symptoms of this incurable condition.

Her essay 'Hardy Animal', based on an analysis of the impact of MS on speech, language and the production of fiction, directly challenged assumptions and medical language and medical treatment. The essay first published in Granta Magazine (special medical issue), was also run (in long excerpts) in The Observer Magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald and Italian magazine Internazionale. The work also appeared in MS Matters, the UK MS Society Members' magazine with a readership of over 70,000. The same essay was shortlisted for the prestigious Hazlitt Essay Prize in 2013.

The debate and discussion MJ Hyland raised were explored in two later editions of MS Matters, along with extensive media (print and radio) coverage in the UK, Ireland and Australia. The essay is now compulsory reading for students on the University's MSc in Medical Humanities.

'Hardy Animal' directly challenges the assumptions and medical language associated with MS and sheds vital light on diagnosis and treatment.

MJ Hyland's work also raised awareness about MS through several other channels:

  • Interview, featured on the front page of The Observer Magazine
  • Coverage on BBC Radio 1, Radio 3 and BBC World Service programmes
  • The Guardian article "The drugs do work: my life on brain enhancers" stimulated over 1,000 Twitter posts and comments

In addition to her non-fiction works about MS, MJ Hyland has had substantial influence on new and aspiring authors and the best-practice methods for teaching fiction. Her essay 'Revising and Rewriting' outlines the craft of editing and was published in the magazine WRITE and syndicated in various outlets The Guardian's publishing arm. Based on this work MJ Hyland has:

  • Taught six sell-out Guardian Masterclasses which achieved 5/5 ratings from attendees and generated $24,000 in revenue
  • Established Hyland & Byrne Editing, an editorial consultancy firm which now employs five editorial consultants and has 74 clients on its books
2,000 comments and posts written above chalk picture of bird and hashtag symbol
There were 2,000 Twitter and Comment posts about Hyland's essay 'Hardy Animal' and 'The Drugs Do Work'.

Our research

MJ Hyland's 'Hardy Animal' outlines her experience with MS. She reflects on how to further the public debate about illness and literature.

Her essay combines analysis and personal reflections on:

  • Language of diagnosis
  • Loss of control over one’s body
  • Use of voice recognition software to write fiction
  • Use of experimental drugs
  • Problems of 'coming out' as a writer with MS

Using her experience as an author, MJ Hyland also set out a framework for good editorial practice, described in her essay 'Revising and Rewriting'. This witty handbook for writers is a critique of the craft of writing and an ironic observation on how previous writers have engaged with didacticism.

Lead academic