Hi Danny – just finished The Last Night on Kindle for my PC. Congratulations on a terrific read. […] And the synaesthesia thing. Where did that come from? I think more could have been made of that re: the paintings. […] By curious chance I am also a synaesthetic – with numbers and letters, including days of the week and months etc, which I see in colour. […] I wonder whether you are synaesthetic?
First off, Cecile, thank you for the inquiry. I’ve been asked this question a lot from readers, which I’m pleased about because synesthesia is such a fascinating condition. In our character Alex Evergreen’s case, his situation is described like this:
When he hears certain sounds, he sees certain colors, sometimes in lines or circles. Or a taste will have a particular shape.
Each person’s manifestation is different. Some people see letters in color (like you), or numbers will be laid out in a particular pattern.
My favorite description is of a person watching a block of ice melt on a New York rooftop, and the drops sliding down the side were colored. With these cross-sensory experiences, it’s no wonder so many of these individuals become artists. In Alex’s case, he becomes a painter to process his unique way of seeing the world.
To answer your question: I do not have this condition, but it fascinated me when I learned about it in a college neuroscience class. I’m a highly visual person who can think three-dimensionally, so I enjoyed imaging what those sensations—both good and bad—must feel like. Research helped me pinpoint many of Alex’s perceptions, and I used his painting as a way to explore them.
Some of these synesthetic descriptions sound akin to poetic metaphor, a tool writers have been using for centuries to heighten the reading experience. I just lump myself into having that type of artistic imagination.
Although, during my research I did wonder if my notion of the calendar fell into this other territory.
I see the months spatially. I always have. Below is the best representation of how I view the year:
In my mind, each box is the same size. Yet, as you can see, this concept would not work mechanically if September must move downward toward October and December must lie directly below January.
I’ve never heard this sort of layout described until just this week I Googled “synesthesia calendar” and found these two examples (here and here) that resemble mine. Both are circular in movement, and one has more months on top and fewer on the bottom.
This is the only thing close to a possible case of synesthesia that I’ve linked to myself. However, being the skeptic that I am, I’ll just call my view a creative quirk.
Regardless, Alex’s perceptions added a wonderful element to his particular story and The Last Night as a whole. Thanks for asking, Cecile.
As always, questions and comments are welcomed and encouraged. The easiest place to reach me is via Twitter.