I finished a novel recently about a boy who is mad about football and who goes deaf. I sent the final manuscript off and got the nod from a publisher – they will publish it in 2015. Cue applause? If only.
We dream that getting a book published will be like a ship triumphantly returning to its home town: we sail into port and fireworks go off, the crowd cheers, ropes are thrown, loved ones wave, the boat / book lashed to moorings, off we step, up the boardwalk to champagne, photos etc. Instead it’s like endless attempts at docking in a storm in pitch dark, flurries of revisions, one editor to another, copy editor, proof-reader, sometimes one and the same person or the two or three swap round – and three months down the line, still the boat isn’t docked or lashed or moored, let alone any corks popped. Meanwhile, to mix metaphors (and so get my revenge on all those editors), you have projects backed up and circling like an airport in fog. What to do? Embrace the ‘Madness’.
Meanwhile, as part of my PhD research, I’ve been reading Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks. He is a neurologist (famous for The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat) who writes about medical phenomena from a humanistic viewpoint. So, unlike many academic authors, Sacks does not excise the ‘I’ – the personal – from his writing. On the contrary, he often describes how he builds a rapport with his subjects and he describes how he attempts to understand from the inside what it feels like to experience life with various conditions. Some facts I picked up from Hallucinations: (1) Oliver Sacks took a heap of drugs in the name of research early on in his career – to understand their effects, of course. (2) He says his doctor father could, upon entering a patient’s home, tell by his sense of smell only, some medical facts such as whether they were diabetic; but that as his father aged, he lost this ability and had to rely on other diagnostic methods. (3) On blindness: some elements of the human seeing equipment can get bored when not used and so begin to fire their own messages off – these are perceived as hallucinations. (Charles Bonnet syndrome). Until diagnosed, the subjects sometimes think they are going mad. Charles Bonnet hallucinations have no relevance to events or issues in these people’s lives. As such they contrast with traumatic hallucinations, within which category “especially common are hallucinations engendered by loss and grief” – an area apposite for my novel. Sacks explores the aetiology of traumatic hallucination, both visual and auditory. My PhD novel explores, among other things, the effect on a father of the death of his daughter. A long while ago, I came across the Kubler-Ross model for stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I also learned that these things do not always happen in the listed order. I guess my novels feature a lot of grief. Last note from Sacks’ Hallucinations: There are similarities in effect between hypnotism, hallucination… and prayer.