Today, I am delighted to welcome to my blog A. K. Benedict author of Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts. It will be published on 25th February by Orion. My review for the novel follows the feature.
1/ One part of this novel involved Jonathan, as a sighted-person, going on a journey blindfolded – I would feel very uncomfortable doing that. I wondered if you tried this yourself, or it was just an author’s feeling for how it may/ must be?
You’re right – I did try this myself! Not quite in the same way as Jonathan, though. I first imagined how that whole experience would be for him, then went mudlarking blindfolded. I went to exactly the same spot and sat on the foreshore and slowly swept my fingers across the stones. I had to be careful as there are many sharp objects hidden in the shingle. It added an extra dimension to my search rather than taking away. I became lost in the act, remembering what London Mudlark, a brilliant mudlark on Facebook, told me: look out for straight edges and true curves as nature does not make things perfect. I touched something round which thinned out into a tube. I’d found my first clay pipe, something I hadn’t managed up till that point. I’ve seen many others since but it took the concentration involved in being blindfolded to start me off.
I didn’t have the blindfold with me the first time I went round Borough Market so I closed my eyes. Without Maria to guide me, I was a bit clumsy but it helped me to focus on the sounds and smells, the taste of the samples and, of course, to imagine the ghosts. . .
2/I felt that the Jonathan was more at ease when he was with Maria, but when she left him he felt vulnerable. Can you talk about your feeling for that part of the narrative a little and how you went about getting the sense of it across?
Jonathan feels very much at ease with Maria, more so than with anyone else for a long time. Opening up to her means he is more vulnerable when she leaves. That side of friendship and, after a while, love is both beautiful and unnerving. We relax and unfold when we connect with people, but feel the loss so greatly when they leave, whether it’s for half an hour or permanently. Jonathan is accessing parts of himself that have gone unnourished for some time, and I accessed the part of me that knows that feeling well.
3/ I had never thought of smells compensating for sight. An example in the book was herbs in bouquets of flowers. When Jonathan was blindfolded he seemed more aware of scent and sound, than he was when seeing. Do you feel that a certain smell would signify danger (eg) to a blind person and whether there are ones that can give comfort?
I think smells are an important way that we gather information but that it’s mostly done unconsciously. We smell each other all the time – pheromones are doing their stuff while we pretend to be professional. Smells signalling danger is a fascinating idea. I think there have been studies showing that on some level, we can smell when people are frightened – one indicated that people subconsciously know whether sweat has been brought on by panic or by exercise. I may be remembering that wrongly but I wonder whether fear-based sweat smells like danger on a deep level or to anyone with a developed sense of smell. The semantics of smell are utterly fascinating – do smells have any signification other than association? I think that everyone, blind or otherwise, links emotion and events with smell in an incredibly powerful way. The same aftershave could provoke joy in one person, dread in another, depending on who is wearing it and the memories attached. I can’t wear certain perfumes that I wore at times of grief or trauma, for example. I sometimes burst into tears if I smell lily-of-the-valley.
While I‘ve had some, brief experience of not being able to see – my earliest memories are of becoming blind from meningitis and then, after a while, slowly beginning to see again – I can’t claim any knowledge of what being blind must be like. I read research papers and talked with people who were born blind, became blind after time or regained their sight and there was a very wide range of experiences, as you’d expect. I thought the best way to approach writing from Maria’s point-of-view would be to really get to know her and try to represent her feelings about the world as best I could, given my limitations. She is comforted by the smell of hot towels from Indian restaurants and, after the events in the book, is now repulsed by the smell of roses, lavender and rosemary.
4/ I feel that Maria feels safer blind than seeing. My thoughts regarding this is that she feels like she knows who she can trust while blind and can somehow sense who isn’t being honest but if she is seeing she has to interpret everything else that goes with it. I also thought that she felt that having sight ‘tarnished’ her world and being able to see her London would destroy the way that she can see / smell and sense it. How did you approach this?
Yes, I think that’s exactly it – having sight would mean an entirely new, untested set of data to process, all the time. That is a huge ordeal for her. She has been able to paint a mental picture, a smellscape, a sound skyline of London, one that is beautiful, entirely hers and under threat. I approached this by focusing on my own synaesthetic tendencies. When I hear or play music, I often experience synaesthesia and see colours and/or smell scents. The chord A Minor, for example, is a rich Mahogany brown. This helped me to get into another mode of processing the senses and, hopefully, get somewhere near to describing Maria’s London.
Maria King knows a secret London. Born blind, she knows the city by sound and touch and smell. But surgery has restored her sight – only for her to find she doesn’t want it. Jonathan Dark sees the shadowy side of the city. A DI with the Metropolitan Police, he is haunted by his failure to save a woman from the hands of a stalker. Now it seems the killer has set his sights on Maria, and is leaving her messages in the most gruesome of ways.
There are a few different storylines running throughout this unusual novel. There is Maria, she was born blind and had recently had an operation to enable her to see. However she was much happier blind and wears a blindfold. Her life is at risk from a stalker. Then there is a case that appears to be connected to the Underworld, individuals have to be prepared to do their worst to be successful in business. And then there is the ghostly element, that for me was the most fascinating part. It took me a while to work out everything that was happening but there was a big surprise ( shock) that connected all three storylines.
Jonathan Dark, the lead detective is similar to other detectives that feature in other novels where their personal life is a bit of a mess. However, there is one thing about him though that makes him different to the rest.
Part of me understood the frustration that the police felt towards Maria for insisting on staying blindfolded but I also understood that she felt safer with what she knew. I never correctly solved any of the cases, there were some very clever twists. The most intriguing character for me was the cabbie, I could read a novel just about her and her passengers. I hope that if there are future Jonathan Dark novels she features in them.
Highly recommended if you fancy a crime novel that is a little different.