Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting today's stop on the When I Find You Blog Tour
9 August 2018
My thanks to the publishers and Random Things Tours for my ecopy of the book
and the invitation to be part of this tour.
I am delighted to welcome the author Emma Curtis to the blog and to thank her for this fascinating guest post about the subject of prosopagnosia or face blindness...
I first heard about prosopagnosia, or face-blindness, a few years ago. Stephen Fry was on the radio talking about having the condition. I was interested, but I was in the middle of something else, so I filed it away in my mind for a future project.
When I was ready to begin thinking about a face-blind protagonist, YouTube was an invaluable source. There were stories from women who had attempted to pick the wrong child up from school; people whose children were misdiagnosed as autistic because developing friendships was impossible when they didn’t recognise their classmates from one day to the next; teachers giving up work because it was distressingly hard to distinguish one pupil from another; people missing out on jobs, mislaying husbands, losing out in love. When I tried to picture my daily life without the natural ability we all take for granted, I knew that I had to write this story.
More than the crime novel possibilities, it was the strain of everyday life and the social disadvantages that I was drawn to. Conscious that they often inadvertently cause offence, face-blind people exist in a state of high alert. It can be a huge relief to discover that there is a name for their problem but even so, many, like my protagonist Laura, decide not to go public. There are valid reasons for this. People still don’t understand the condition and continue to feel offended when blanked in the street; there is a misconception that if those living with face-blindness only ‘worked harder’, they would overcome what can be perceived as a weakness; and perhaps most importantly, it makes them vulnerable – at best to practical jokers, at worst to people with malicious intent. Laura survives in the busy advertising agency where she works by knowing where everyone sits (fortunately, there is no hot-desking at Gunner Munro!), by hair colour, ear shape, gait, wedding rings and, importantly, context. Mouths are more helpful than eyes.
To help me understand the science behind prosopagnosia, I met Professor Michael Banissy, Director of Research at the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths University. Michael explained that the condition has nothing to do with poor memory but everything to do with the way the brain receives visual information. It’s a learning difficulty. Imagine your eye sending light to the back of the retina where the resulting image is interpreted as a face, checked against any information you already have and filed away for future reference. The face-blind brain instantly flips the information back out again.
It was important to me to tie down the parameters of the condition as early as possible in the story, because I want my readers to understand that what happened to Laura is possible. I want them to put themselves in Laura’s shoes, to feel her embarrassment, to be wearied by the mental gymnastics required every time a stranger approaches; to understand that it can be unnerving, that it can lose you friends and life opportunities; to realise that when walking into a room full of people, they might as well be walking into a field of sheep.
It is thought that two in every fifty people have the condition to some degree, so chances are you know someone who does. Talking to a friend about When I Find You, she mentioned that there is local man who always greets her cheerily if she has her dog with her but blanks her if she doesn’t. Having read my book, she now thinks she knows the reason why.
I hope you enjoy When I Find You. It’s been such a pleasure to research and write. Four years ago I didn’t know this condition existed. I now have face-blind friends and always introduce myself when we meet. I know they’re not being rude if they look momentarily panicked and fail to greet me by name!
EMMA CURTIS was born in Brighton and brought up in London. She is a member of ‘The Prime Writers’, a collective of writers who have all had their first books published after the age of 40.Emma has two children and lives in Richmond with her husband.
Twitter @emmacurtisbooks #WhenIFindYou