My question for the author is:
Have you met people with either or both of Jasper's conditions? Especially is there anyone among your family or close friends?
I'd like to ask the author if she needed to do a lot of research on the subject or does she know someone with synaesthesia and seeing the world through colours?
I am interested to know if the author has first hand experience of the issues in this book because of how well they are presented.
Looking forward to another book by Sarah.
Can I ask Sarah, what prompted her to include these particular conditions into the story, they have such a profound effect on his life, How did she become aware of the condition initially? Many thanks again, for a fantastic "most extraordinary
I’ve been interested in synaesthesia for years, after first coming across the condition during my work as an education journalist. I’d written a feature about childhood
synaesthesia following new research at Edinburgh University, which estimated that the average UK primary school had at least two pupils who experience colour when
they hear or see words. Researchers warned of a lack of awareness in schools - a finding that I’m sure still resonates today. I interviewed a mother for the feature, who described how teachers at her daughter’s school initially thought the nine-year-old was making it up when she claimed she was “trying to see around the colours” that were projected in front of her in the classroom. At one stage, her daughter had become distracted in class and spelt a word wrong because the boy sitting behind her was tapping a ruler, which created purple streaks. However, once teachers became more aware of the potential distractions for the little girl, they were more tolerant and understanding.
The findings stayed with me long after my feature was published. I often wondered what it must be like for a child when people struggle to understand their daily experiences - or simply don’t want to know. I found the subject fascinating. I kept cuttings from newspapers and magazines about synaesthesia and also avidly read up on another condition that fascinated me - developmental prosopagnosia or face blindness.
I started to research synaesthesia and face blindness more intensively and both conditions played on my mind a lot. The central idea for the book eventually came to me in a dream: I saw a terrified young boy running across a suburban street at night, terror etched on his face. When I woke up, I realised that a particular colour could have traumatised the boy. Perhaps he had face blindness and identified people by the colour of their voices. What if the voice colour of someone he knew well had transformed to a horrific shade as they screamed? What if he had seen the colour of murder? The idea for the book grew from there.
I knew I would have to undertake extensive research into synaesthesia, face blindness and autism because neither myself, nor any of my family members, have the conditions. I didn’t think anyone in my friendship group had synaesthesia either, until I discussed Jasper with one of my closest friends while I was writing the novel. She was very surprised when I explained that Jasper was a synaesthete - not only did he see colours for all sounds, but numbers also had colours and personalities eg number
four is carrot orange and sneaky for Jasper. She replied: ‘Of course numbers have personalities, isn’t that the same for everyone?’ I said it wasn’t. Numbers have no colours or personalities for me, or indeed, for most people. Her jaw dropped. She explained that for her, number three was a ‘bit wishy-washy and quite yellow’ while number four was ‘like a dog, it’s sort of loyal’ and number six was ‘like a girl with an open face and freckles who you would like to be friends with.’ My friend is a synaesthete, but had never realised she had the condition until we discussed it.
I was eager to delve into other people’s experiences of synaesthesia and face blindness to ensure my depiction of Jasper was accurate. I started off by interviewing experts in synaesthesia - Jamie Ward, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Sussex and Dr Mary Jane Spiller, Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of East London. Both were tremendously helpful and encouraging throughout the process.
I also wanted to talk to synaesthetes themselves and was aided by James Wannerton at the UK Synaesthesia Association and Professor Sean Day, from Trident Technical College, South Carolina, who runs the world famous Synesthesia List. Both put out appeals for potential interviewees. I was overwhelmed with the response and the generosity of the synaesthesia community in terms of their help and advice - people got in touch from the UK, Germany and the US.
I quizzed synaesthetes about the colours they saw for sounds such as a front door slamming, a doorbell ringing, a bird singing, a car engine revving, and voices talking. I realized that everyone saw completely different colours. However, their colours remained within a range ie their footsteps in the street couldn’t be a dark charcoal shade one day and then an attractive, fluorescent flamingo pink the next. They also shared a few familiarities - all described how whispers made voice colours change to whitish/greyish colours and how dramatic changes in voice colours could happen.
The synaesthetes also saw colours that were incredibly difficult to describe - colours that you or I have probably never experienced. In addition, everyone I encountered regarded synaesthesia as something that enhanced their lives and they could not imagine their world without
it. I decided to construct my own sound/colour schemes to make the palette individual to Jasper and his experience. As a result, I kept large spread sheetsdetailing the colours for every single sound I mentioned in the book, ordered by headings such as such as vehicle noises, birds singing, doors slamming etc. This forced me to keep track of all the colours I was using and helped to make the colour/sounds consistent throughout.
At the same time, I was also talking to people with face blindness to discover how they used ‘markers’ to distinguish between faces and how they coped with everyday life. I interviewed Hazel Plastow from Face Blind UK - she was hugely helpful in discussing the condition and for checking essential plot points.
I researched autism and was assisted by The National Autistic Society. In terms of other research, I had to learn how to paint like Jasper. He loves to paint using acrylics, so I visited an artist who teaches my children at a local art workshop and she helped me to mix the colours I wanted to use for different voices, producing the new shades that are created when voices merge together in conversations.
She also helped me to paint the colour of murder using impasto gel to build up textures in the acrylics and different tools such as cardboard strips or knives to create different paint effects.
I wanted to be able to describe the crucial painting - Ice Blue Crystals with Glittery Edges and Jagged, Silver Icicles - as authentically as possible because I knew Jasper must also attempt to recreate the horrifying scene in Bee
Parakeets are a crucial element in my plot and required a further wave of research. I interviewed wildlife experts about the nesting habits of parakeets and plotted my novel on a calendar from the date the parakeets first arrived on Jasper’s street, through to their nesting, the birth of the hatchlings, their development and the departure of the fledglings, which Jasper so dreads.
I also had help from a serving detective with police procedures and checked my social work and legal queries with experts in their fields. The extensive research was
crucial - and I have to say, thoroughly enjoyable.
I remain a member of Sean Day’s Synesthesia List. I’m also a member of the International Association of Synaesthetes, Artists, and Scientists (IASAS).