Gary Skyner’s autobiography, You Can’t, You Won’t: A Life of Unarmed Combat, provides an honest, detailed account of his life as a thalidomide child. Gary was born severely disabled in 1959 after his mother was prescribed the thalidomide drug during pregnancy. Originally devised in 1957 by a German pharmaceutical company as a free sedative designed to combat morning sickness, thalidomide was first licensed in the UK in 1958. However, it became apparent that there was a surge in rare birth defects after pregnant women had been prescribed the drug. As one of the earliest in the UK to be born damaged by the deadly drug, Gary’s life was destined to be difficult and challenging as it impaired his physical development. Expected not to live, let alone to achieve much, Gary is living proof that there is nothing you cannot achieve if you believe you can.
Born with foreshortened arms in the Toxteth area of 1950’s Liverpool, Gary explores how his parents’ marital breakdown and his difficult relationship with his father were all caused, in Gary’s eyes, by the strains of raising a disabled child. In addition to his troubles at home, Gary’s tears turned to anger as he became aware of the government’s reluctance to make provision for thalidomide victims, leading him to become active in campaigns in order to shame them into proper negotiation.
You Can’t, You Won’t also explores how Gary’s dreams came crashing down on him due to his limitations as a thalidomide child. As a lifelong Liverpool FC supporter, he always wanted to be a star player, but he soon realised he had to accept his limitations. Working first as a telephone operator, Gary later became a welder, a housing officer and a trained paralegal. Despite his difficult life, You Can’t, You Won’t also explores the happier times, including having two daughters and his comic and motivational speaker career. There has never been a dull moment and this autobiography explores his belief that life should be spiced with jokes and laughter.
Written with conviction and humour, You Can’t, You Won’t is a story of courage and triumph that will appeal to those who enjoy memoirs, but also to those interested in the background of thalidomide births.