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Letting the Light In: Words by Joe Heap on writing The Rules of Seeing

August 21, 2018

About the Author

Joe Heap was born in 1986 to a biology teacher and a drama teacher, and grew up in a house that was 70% books, 25% bags of unmarked homework, 18% underpants drying on radiators, and 3% scattered Lego bricks.

He is very bad at maths.

In 2004 Joe won the Foyle Young Poet award, and his poetry has been published in several periodicals. He studied for a BA in English Literature at Stirling University and a Masters in Creative Writing at Glasgow University, during which time he ate a deep-fried Mars Bar. It was okay.

Joe is now a full-time writer, but previously worked as an editor of books for kids and young adults. He has also been a subtitler for BBC News, a face painter at a safari park and a removal man for a dental convention. Before smartphones were invented, he manned a text service where people could ‘ask any question’, but he has since forgotten most of the answers.

He lives in London with his long-suffering girlfriend, short-suffering son, and much-aggrieved tabby cat.

Purchase a copy of The Rules of Seeing here 

Read our review of The Rules of Seeing here 

Read a sample chapter form The Rules of Seeing here 

Words by Joe Heap:

There were several inspirations for writing The Rules of Seeing, but one thing stands above them all. Halfway through work on the book, I became a father for the first time. Sam arrived in the early hours of a frosty February morning, and from the beginning it seemed that he was trying to take in everything around him.

Of course, I knew he could barely see a handspan beyond his face, not to mention the fact that everything would still be upside down. Nevertheless, he looked with a sense of urgency, watery-blue eyes wide to the world.

Through the months that followed, the highs and lows of sleepless nights and developmental milestones, I couldn’t help but try to see the world as Sam was seeing it. In some ways it was frustrating – here I was, writing about a character learning to see for the first time, while living in the same room as someone who was doing it for real, who couldn’t tell me anything.

But often his curiosity spoke for itself. Watching Sam track an aeroplane as it crossed the sky and disappeared into a cloud, I realised that he had no idea that some solid-looking things were not solid at all. Watching his fascination at his own legs through a few inches of soapy bathwater, I realised how confusing the concept of transparency must be to him. Why are some things see-through, some opaque, some reflective? I watched him as he saw fire for the first time, and the ocean, and falling snow.

There are several cases of people who have lived blind for much of their adult lives, only for an operation to restore some of their vision. They are remarkable stories but, watching Sam, I was constantly reminded that this is a stage we all go through, at least once. It’s just that very few of us remember what it was like.

The Rules of Seeing is, in part, a book about the things we take for granted, or fail to see through overfamiliarity. Sometimes life shocks us out of that trance, and we stand, looking with the same urgency as the day we were born, eyes wide to the world, and really see.


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