T.A. Williams On Writing a Blind CharacterI’m not sure when or why I decided to make the main protagonist of Chasing Shadows blind. Normally with my books I can recall some seminal moment in which an idea occurred, but with this one, nothing. It just sort of happened. I think it makes the book a lot more powerful as a result, but, for a writer, it certainly threw up a load of unexpected problems.
Firstly, there’s very little body language or non-verbal communication that doesn’t involve the power of sight. Yes, there are squeezes on the arm, clicks of the tongue, murmurs of approval and whistles of surprise, but so much revolves around visual clues. In a story where one person is blind, there are no nods of the head, no shrugs of the shoulders, no knowing looks. In fact, as I wrote it, I found myself realising for the first time just how difficult it must be for blind people not just to find their way around, but to interact with other people. In Chasing Shadows, Amy, the blind heroine, reflects on this point.
Her mind strayed to the Welsh nurse. What was her name? Nicky? Jackie? She couldn’t remember exactly, but she recalled the occasion. It was when she was sent home from hospital. Or, more precisely, when she was sent back to a near empty house, echoing with the memories of her family who would never again share the house with her. The visiting nurse had told her the problems she was encountering with her boyfriend, Wayne or Duane or some such.
Throughout the whole sad story, Amy had listened sympathetically, while deep inside her she would have given a lot for a Wayne or a Duane of her own. But when you’re blind - or at least recently blinded - there are very few occasions to meet Waynes and Duanes. And even if you ever did, the chances of them treating you as a normal girl are as good as non-existent. The chance meeting, the casual coffee, the proverbial glance across the crowded room were all things of the past. And as for a casual affair… Being visually handicapped, she had learnt early on, could also mean being physically handicapped in other ways.
The other difficulty that Amy’s blindness threw up as far as the writing is concerned, was the whole question of description. Luke, her companion on the journey, has to describe everything to her as they go along, and that includes such vitally important matters as where the toilet paper is situated in the bathroom and how hot the food looks. Of course, it also gave me the opportunity to imagine myself in the position of a blind person, using her enhanced senses to locate a car even though the engine is turned off, find a coal shed in a blizzard or try to determine what sort of wood a table is made of, by touch alone. It was a fascinating, and sobering experience and I am greatly indebted to Darren from local sight loss charity Devon In Sight for his input.
In the course of the book, Amy seeks to establish some sort of equilibrium in her life and to come to terms with her handicap. As I wrote Chasing Shadows, I learnt a lot about just what it means to be blind. So, next time you see one of those lovely Labradors wearing a hi-viz jacket walking down the road, spare a thought, and some time, for the person holding the reins. That person could be you.
Don't miss the rest of the blog tour!