With Are You Seeing Me? having just hit the shelves in Australia, I’d like to share with you some insight into what inspired me to write the novel.
Anyone who’s spent any time with me knows I am Dad to a set of twins: one girl, one boy. My daughter is ‘neurotypical’, which is how people in the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) community sometimes refer to regular, everyday kids who do not have autism. She is amazing. She plays trumpet, creates short animated films and adores The Hunger Games. My son, who is three minutes younger than my daughter, is diagnosed with autism. He is amazing, too. He is awesome at Minecraft, swims like a champ and enjoys Pixar films. They will officially be teenagers in 2014.
Are You Seeing Me? is a gift to my daughter. She was due a book – my previous novel, Kindling, was a gift to my son. (By the way, all of my books are gifts for my beautiful
wife). When I first started considering what to write, I kept coming back to a message I held dear for my daughter: ‘You should never feel like you must be your brother’s keeper. Love him, as he loves you, but live your own life to the full.’
I imagined another girl hearing this message from her dad; a girl who, like my daughter, knew the joys and challenges of sharing childhood with a disabled twin brother. A girl who, unlike my daughter, was nearing the end of adolescence rather than just the beginning. A girl who had grown up without a mother and had lost her father on the cusp of turning eighteen. A girl who, through the unfairness of Fate, found herself the sole carer of her special, same-age sibling. A girl I chose to call Justine.
I imagined a boy, too. Perry. Pez. I knew from the beginning he would share the story equally with his sister. Some things about him I could recognise in my own son – affection, sense of humour, his pain at the distress of his sister. Other things would belong solely to Perry – those ‘extra-sensory’ abilities, his capacity to converse, his constant search for social meaning, his fascination with earthquakes and sea monsters and Jackie Chan. He would have a big heart and a strong voice. He would be different, but the same. Above all else, he would understand: we cannot live in a world of one.
Our dependence upon each other – for me, that’s the essential theme of Are You Seeing Me?. Dependence is not defined by age or intelligence or physical prowess or a diagnosis. It is determined by simple existence. If we walk on the Earth – a planet with its fair share of instability and difficulty and struggle – we don’t walk alone. Every one of us needs the people around us, even those we might never meet. All the characters in the book, from the main protagonists to the extras, share that common reliance on the lives that surround them. Even Ogopogo needs the hawk circling high above his head in order to appreciate the sky.
- The story went through three working titles before arriving at Are You Seeing Me?: The Mantle, Finding Fault and Master Disaster.
- The day after I sent the complete edited manuscript to my publisher, an earthquake was felt in Vancouver. Thankfully, nothing like Perry’s prediction. But still freaky, hey?
- My wife’s aunt lives in a house that overlooks Okanagan Lake and the purported home of Ogopogo, Squally Point. I’ve visited twice and watched the lake, hoping to see evidence of the mythical sea monster. No luck so far. I think Ogopogo trusts Perry a lot more than his author.
- Mt Baker – the peak Justine sees on Highway 99 – is a beautiful sight on a clear Vancouver day. The mountain is not in Canada, however – it is in the US state of Washington, some 230 kilometres away.
- The earthquake-proof Qube building described in the novel must be seen to be believed. If you can’t view it in person, I recommend checking it out at the blog We F***ing Love British Columbia!
- My favourite Jackie Chan movie is Drunken Master 2.