Writing has always been my place of retreat as I was born with a number of gifts which the world considered handicaps, and so became involved in activities which reduced my need to hear.
A major gift was being born with mild synaesthesia. Sights and sounds had a mutuality so that each spoken letter of the alphabet had a colour. This made conversation both meaningful and colourful. I also saw auras around people, and soon learned that certain auras suggested the person could either be lots of fun or someone to be avoided. It also had other complex effects and advantages, which may be a feature of a future book.
In the 1930s however, doctors were convinced that synaesthesia was a dreaded childhood disease and any child who had that affliction must be incarcerated in a mental hospital and given electric shock treatments to get rid of the ‘curse’. To ensure that didn’t happen to me, I was constantly warned by my parents not to talk about my colour abilities. The kids on the street knew I was a ‘little weird’ but the authorities didn’t listen to children. I tended to spend all my time sketching rather than playing games on the street. My mother and my grandfather were also synaesthetes so I could chat with them, but I needed to think about it myself. I did this by writing a Little Prince story in which the prince was also a synaesthete — another potential book but should it be for adults or children?
The need to withdraw when aunts and uncles were around, or people on the street stopped to look at my sketches, also meant I was regarded as a very uncommunicative little boy and the idea developed among the neighbours that, since my father was seriously deaf, I had his problem too. So my little prince had to have experiences relating to that affliction. My mother, who asked me to read my stories to her, was very supportive and told me many years later how keenly observant I was.
The hearing problem, however, became a reality when I joined the RAF and, since I already knew how to fly, I did my two years of military service training as a pilot, including in early jets which had no pressurization. This meant that at high speeds my ears were subjected to screaming engines.
Senior levels of the RAF were also suspicious of any weird abilities and the only way I could think about the incredible new colour experiences I was encountering was to write about them. In my book He Who Sits I was able to include one of the colour abilities revealed to me in the air.
These varied responses to my need for an existence where I can be invisible encouraged me to be a painter and a writer, both of which benefit from the ability to be isolated even when in huge crowds. Some readers of my books have told me they feel they can be ‘right there’. That comment encourages me to ensure I am also ‘right there’ when I write, and my paintings are helpful in making my characters more visible. That none of my books have yet been written up in newspapers suggests I still have a way to go. Nevertheless the journey as a writer has been both exciting and revealing.
by David Chesterton