Continuing the series of blog posts in which our authors revisit their previous Manifold Press titles, we asked Chris Quinton to talk to us about the inspiration behind ALOES – and the result was the following fascinating article!
ALOES – by Chris Quinton
Aloes was one of my first books with Manifold Press, released on May 1st, 2010. How did Aloes happen? Well, some years ago, and prior to the birth of Manifold Press, one of my other publishers was in the habit of holding competitions on their private authors-only Yahoo group, and one of the once a month challenges was to write a three hundred word story on a three word prompt. I usually did fairly well on them, and they sometimes triggered an idea for a longer tale. On one particular occasion, the prompt was zinnias, scrapbook, and couch. I think. My memory isn’t all it could be. Anyhow, I wrote three hundred words in the first person, featuring this poor guy who walked in on his boyfriend cheating on him, and, if I remember rightly, I won that month (no prizes, just a pat on the back). However, Perry, the hero of my triple drabble, sort of stayed with me. He hung around in the back of my brain cell, every now and then politely clearing his throat to remind me he was there.
I knew I’d tell his story sooner or later, but expected it to be later rather than sooner. Then I read an article on synaesthesia, and Perry pricked up his ears. And stuck out his elbows. I can take a hint, so I started researching.
Synaesthesia is a fascinating condition, and has many variables. At least ten forms are known, the most common being Chromesthesia where a sound is perceived as a colour, and Grapheme-colour synaesthesia where numbers and each letter of the alphabet are seen as a colour.
Something I found particularly interesting is that a lot of synaesthetes don’t see their condition as an affliction, but a gift that can enhance their lives. Nor is synaesthesia a modern phenomenon. As a mind-boggling coincidence, while I was writing this blog a godsend of an article appeared [thank you, Fiona Pickles] showing that Vincent Van Gogh was almost certainly a synaesthete, specifically under the Chromesthesia heading. In a letter he describes seeing colours as sounds in a matter of fact way that shows he was clearly comfortable with it.
From a letter to his brother Theo [the italics are mine]: “Some time ago you rightly said that every colourist has his own characteristic scale of colours. This is also the case with Black and White (sic), it is the same after all — one must be able to go from the highest light to the deepest shadow, and this with only a few simple ingredients. Some artists have a nervous hand at drawing, which gives their technique something of the sound peculiar to a violin, for instance, Lemud, Daumier, Lançon — others, for example, Gavarni and Bodmer, remind one more of piano playing. Do you feel this too? Millet is perhaps a stately organ.”
Okay, so Perry is a synaesthete. But how? He wasn’t born with the condition. The logical possibilities were either an illness that affected the brain, such as meningitis, or a blow to the head. The latter being the more dramatic, that’s the one I chose to run with, especially as I had remembered some books and articles I’d read so many years ago, it isn’t funny. They featured one Peter Hurkos, born 1911, a Dutchman who’d had a severe head wound after a fall from a ladder in 1941, and had a metal plate fitted over the resulting hole in his skull [that last detail is from my memory]. From then on he began to experience psychic phenomenon.
Hurkos had a long career as a professional psychic, specialising as a psychic detective. He moved to the USA in 1958, and by 1969 he claimed he had solved an impressive twenty-seven successful murder cases around the world, including the Boston Strangler serial killer, and the Sharon Tate Murders. Sadly, that resume turned out to be pretty much bogus. But despite the great Randi and others proving Hurkos was a fake, he retained a loyal following for many years. He remained in the USA until his death in 1988, having wrongly predicted the date of his demise…
Perry’s is a version of the more rare lexical-gustatory synaesthesia that I’ve given a paranormal twist. Normally, synaesthetes with that form experience a particular word as a taste or a smell. In Perry’s case, he can taste the intent behind the word, whether it is a lie or a truth, but it isn’t a talent he was born with. In his case, I decided it resulted from a combination of some dodgy out of date medication and a blow to the head that dropped him into a coma.
The human brain is an amazingly complex organ. Head trauma has been known to cause some strange and heartbreaking after-effects for the sufferer’s family and friends, amnesia being the least of it. Personality changes, speech pattern and accent changes, have all been recorded. There have even been cases where the patient has awoken with the ability to speak a foreign language with a fluency they’d never shown previously. Hurkos’ claim to have gained a psychic talent isn’t such a great stretch, and Perry’s new talent is only a few steps farther on.
Perry’s new talent isn’t static. Over the course of the story, it expands from the taste of bitter aloes for the spoken lie or crisp fresh apples for truth, and it has the potential to be a curse as well as a blessing.