The works of Plato might seem like an odd place to start for a Young Adult fiction novel. He was a philosopher that lived nearly 2500 years ago. His writings were wide ranging. He was just as happy discussing politics as he was discussing science and mathematics. His thoughts on philosophy have had such an influence that they are still read, taught and debated in schools and universities throughout the world.
Certainly, when I picked up my book of Plato, I wasn’t looking for inspiration. To be honest, I find the version I own, a stuffy academic translation, quite dry. I thought a few chapters might help combat a bout of insomnia. But as I read I became fascinated.
In Ancient Greece, artists and writers would talk of being visited by a muse. A muse was a goddess that granted you inspiration. And that is what it felt like as I read.
Plato talks about the soul being divided into three parts that can often be in conflict with each other. That makes a lot of sense to me. We have all had thoughts that compete with each other. We want to have another slice of chocolate cake but we know we shouldn’t. We feel scared to go on the roller coaster but we are also excited by it.
Plato uses the metaphor of the soul being like a chariot rider and two horses. The horses may pull in different directions and the chariot rider’s job is to keep them in balance.
I suffer quite badly with mental health problems including anxiety and so this idea spoke to me. I often feel internal conflicts between my reasoning (knowing something is going to be ok) and my feelings (worrying about it, even if the worry is illogical).
This tangle of thoughts late at night gave birth to my novel, Will and The Whisp. What if you did have another soul inside your own body? Something with its own opinions, thoughts and feelings. How would you find a way to work together? Would you compete for control of the body?
In my story, the Whisp is a spirit that gets bound to Will Devine, in the first few weeks of his arrival at a new school. The Whisp can hear Will’s thoughts, it can see and feel what Will experiences, it can even see his dreams.
So many stories about mental health depict it as a terrible black dog or a monster and that can definitely be the case (in my story these creatures are called Ghasts). I have had my good share of Ghasts. But I wanted to depict the other side. My anxiety can be a problem, but not always. My anxiety is part of me. It just gets out of balance sometimes. When it functions well, it is my empathy for others; it is my passion to create the best art possible; it is my desire to leave the world a better place. My anxiety is wrapped up with all these wonderful things that make me who I am. I don’t want to lose that. I just need to learn to live with it.
And because I don’t think I am the only person that has ever felt like this, that was the story I began to write. Will and The Whisp is full of nods to my love for ancient Greece and Rome. I hope a reader might enjoy discovering them as much as I did writing them.
One other thing Plato believed in was the reincarnation of the soul. So I wonder if somewhere in the world there will be a very wise child who one day picks up a copy of Will and The Whisp. I wonder if they will smile a little as they recognise their own thoughts inside.