Six months into writing Resurrection Bay I came to an abrupt halt. I had a cast of characters I liked, a good setting and the solid workings of a plot. The problem was my protagonist, Caleb Zelic. Or, more accurately, the fact that Caleb was deaf. I hadn’t set out to write a deaf character: my subconscious had taken the memory of a profoundly deaf girl I’d known in childhood, and put her on the page in the form of a socially isolated private investigator with a stubborn streak. I was terrified. I’m a classical musician, sound is central to my world: writing a deaf character felt too far outside my own experiences. And if I got it wrong I would embarrass myself and possibly hurt people. So I set the story aside and got on with other, safer, projects. But Caleb kept edging into my thoughts. I wondered what his world would be like. Could he read lips, or did he use sign language? How did he feel about his deafness? How did other people respond to it? Eventually my curiosity grew stronger than my fear and I began what would turn out to be a five year journey of writing and research. I spoke to people in the Deaf community and did an online course in lip-reading, then ventured into the world wearing foam earplugs. With disastrous results. I missed trains and irritated shop assistants, learned that people with beards are difficult to lip-read, and that ‘letter box’ mouths are impossible. But the more I learned, the more I understood Caleb and what drove him.
Caleb is determined to live in the hearing world, but the idea of him using Australian sign language (Auslan) intrigued me. I enrolled in a short Auslan course just to see what it was like, and immediately knew that I’d found the final key to Caleb’s character. Auslan is a beautiful and expressive language – and the perfect way to show Caleb’s more vulnerable side. I went on to study Auslan and Caleb became bilingual, speaking English most of the time, but signing with those he loves. It’s seven years since I froze in fear at the prospect of writing a deaf character. I’ve just finished the second Caleb Zelic novel, And Fire Came Down, and I see the world a little differently now. Although Caleb’s deafness can create problems, it can also be a huge advantage. He notices things a hearing person would miss, gleaning information from people’s expressions and body language, the things they say, and those they leave unsaid. Great skills for a detective to have, and for a crime writer to learn.
RESURRECTION BAY by Emma Viskic is published on 24th August by Pushkin Vertigo