Healing from within – learning from writing


It seems so strange to our eyes, but at the time they couldn’t see things otherwise (…) They came at the body from the outside. It wasn’t simply that they didn’t have our techniques to enter the body with their minds. All their knowledge was buried in books, in scientific papers and in data gathered by machines. They kept new healers away from people in need of healing. They would have been horrified if anyone had tried to heal others without all that knowledge, whereas, in reality, it blocked access to what they really needed to know. Inside out, Alan McCluskey, April 2012.

One of the greatest difficulties with improving long-established systems, like the one we call Health Care, is being able to step outside the system and, from that unaccustomed vantage point, explore new possibilities that go beyond what is currently thinkable. Freeing ourselves from familiar logic is hard to achieve, rather like stepping through the mirror for Alice. It can be liberating, but more often than not, it is a frightening and disorienting experience.

What’s more, the moment you venture out, a chorus of expert voices intones from the safety of comfy armchairs, You can’t do that. It doesn’t work. Of course it doesn’t, in their logic. If we listened to them there would never be any major breakthroughs. Transgressing social norms and the fixed mind-sets of our institutions can be explored in inspiring ways through fiction, especially Sci-Fi and Fantasy. All that is demanded of the author is plausibility, a quality that can be built up over time as a novel moves forward.

In writing Boy & Girl, speaking mind-to-mind was a first step in creating a bridge between two worlds, between two people, Peter and Kaitlin. Travelling mind-to-mind followed on quite logically, making it possible for my young protagonists to lodge in each other’s minds and to see and feel the world through their eyes and their senses. What I did not anticipate, as I began writing, was that being able to travel to the body and mind of another had deep-seated implications for health care. That healing could better be assured from within than without, that the body knew exactly what it needed to be healthy, that healing could use this knowledge to counter illness and accident. All this became apparent as my characters affronted challenging situations.

These perspectives struck me as so important, I wrote a separate short story called Inside out that explored, under the guise of fiction, what might be possible in health care from such a standpoint.

Further reading

Inside out

Boy & Girl

In Search of Lost Girls


Sculpture: Huguette McCluskey. Photo and reworking: Alan McCluskey.

(…) When he looked closer, the whole surface was teeming with pulsing fragments of stories vying for a place in the light or struggling to make off with a character. Many of them were dark and sinister. The sight not only disgusted him, it filled him with deep apprehension. If he couldn’t heal the wounds, that wild underlife would continue to crawl out and burrow its way into the characters and take over the whole story. Extract from the Prologue, Storyfolk (draft written Oct 2011)

Madness has never been closer to the surface than it is now. As if the skin that contains it has worn perilously thin. And when that frail protection cracks or rips, madness bursts forth in unexpected places and splatters the front pages of  newspapers, its sinister tidings ricocheting across online  feeds: stabbings, shootings, rapings, bombings not to mention years of unreported abuse. Often inexplicable, it is sometimes justified by ideology or recuperated by groups that feed on violence and terror. But whether explicable or not, it is always unbearable.

As the outbreaks spread and multiply, we wonder if much more of the madness is crawling like maggots beneath the social veneer. Suffice it to watch a speech of Trump pointing an accusing finger at the one he calls “the devil”, his mouth twisted in hate and disgust, seen against the backdrop of his enraged supporters screaming, “Off with her head!” But madness is not just the prerogative of top-of-the-bill political loudmouths and fear mungers. It emerges unbidden in daily life when individuals rage in the face of their neighbours, when colleagues repeatedly stomp on workmates’ toes till all the victim can do is hobble disfigured through life, when people turn their backs on friends in difficulty, retreating into a world where “I” is the only God and “We” has been banished forever.

The madness evoked here is not some romantic flight into fantasy. It is not a stigmatised transgression of social norms. It is a rupture in the very fabric of society that inflicts intense pain and suffering on bystanders and targets alike and leads to death and destruction.

And the solutions? The causes are complex. Any solution, also. One possibility: reinforcing social cohesion on a local level that people feel they belong to a wider community and are linked to those who belong to it and are anchored in place by its structures. Another, cultivate openness and exploration, favour difference in which each person is a source of delight and richness. Channel imagination into creativity and artistic pursuits. Writing for me, for example, is an absolute necessity. Reinforce social values that go beyond the monetary to embrace the uncountable and the transcendent…

Autism and Chimera

When I began writing my novel Chimera – which is finished but awaiting editing and publication – I had no idea what I was embarking on. I had my own experience of being wrapped up in my stories and my worlds, missing out on what was going on around me, feeling worryingly absent at times around people. But from there to imaging myself in the head of a being who was totally unable to communicate with words and gestures was a giant step. My intuition was that seen from the inside Sam, my character, would  be wildly creative but no one else would know. What frustration. He had no iPad or computer to bridge between him and the world. To make things worse, or possibly better in the  longer term, he discovers he is a chimera, someone who shares his mind and body with another being. Sami, that other being, is quite the opposite to him. She is articulate, communicative and deft with her hands and feet. She offers him a chance to leave his long-standing isolation and span the gap to the world through her. But will he want to relinquish the security of the fortifications he has built around himself?

The video: a contribution from Apple to celebrate International Autism Day.