I am delighted to welcome to TWG, the author of ‘The Hand Of An Angel’, Mark Brownless. Thank you to Sam Missingham, founder of Lounge Books, for asking me to be involved in this blog blitz.
Whilst reading science fiction novels isn’t really my ‘thing’, I couldn’t help but be curious about the thought behind this particular medical thriller. So, just because my nosiness got the better of me, I asked Mark Brownless to tell me how he researched his novel. Here’s what he had to say:
Thanks very much, Kaisha, for asking me to write a blog post on how I went about researching my debut novel, The Hand of an Angel, a medical thriller about near death experience. The story revolves around a cardiologist who becomes so obsessed with seeing what’s on the other side that he has his heart stopped and re-started again a short time later. But when he is brought back, he isn’t the same person and believes he may have brought something back with him.
The first thing is to say is that no matter how fantastical your premise, it must be grounded in reality. For me, some science fiction and fantasy can fall down if it isn’t eminently believable. It has to feel familiar, and therefore real, so your audience will allow you artistic license and not think too hard about how plausible what you’re saying is. I’m thinking here of Bruce Willis falling down a lift shaft in Die Hard and stopping himself with one hand, when the fall would quite happily have torn his arm off.
Before I go any further, I should just put my hands up and say that the research process for me was more straight-forward because I’m a clinician in my ‘day job.’ So I was sticking to what I know and a lot of the anatomy and physiology was fairly common knowledge. That said, I still needed to make sure I got everything right.
One of the pivotal scenes in the book is where the main character has his heart stopped in the ‘near death experience’ experiment. Typically, when the heart stops, there are only minutes before major organs like the brain will start to suffer from a lack of oxygen and become damaged. There are reports, however, of people being successfully resuscitated after much longer if they are cooled – such as being immersed in a body of very cold water. Needing to design something different, I took some of the latest cooling technology used in sports injuries, where cold water is pumped around a joint like the knee, for example, and upscaled it to the whole body. I called this the ‘cold suit’. In contrast to the move, Flatliners, where there is a lot of shiny technology, the experiment is set in the research wing of a newly built hospital that is running out of money, and so a lot of equipment is second hand, borrowed, or in this case home-made by students at the university. The cold suit was therefore very Heath Robinson, made up from plastic heating pipes attached to mesh from a garden centre. In the subsequent resuscitation scene, the protocols used are standard ones used by the ambulance service. A good friend of mine is a senior paramedic and we went through the protocols, defibrillator settings and drugs used, to ensure the accuracy of the story.
Early on in the story, a character is developing a new drug, ‘Zol’, that would boost the likelihood of a patient being resuscitated successfully. It’s perhaps no surprise that the drug becomes quite pivotal later on. In this day and age, with sophisticated, knowledgeable audiences, you can’t just make up a drug that does this or that. That would get a collective ‘really?’ from your readers, and lose a lot credibility. So I looked at the biochemical structure of adrenalin, a common drug used in emergency medicine, and will be familiar to anyone who’s seen a medical drama on TV. I theorised that it would be possible to ‘bolt on’ another chemical to the structure, and, in the book at least, it is this that turbocharges Zol. At the time of writing, some genuine research was published casting doubt on the efficacy of adrenalin. This was incredibly timely for the book, because it would add further justification to the development and use of Zol, despite it being untested (and made up!). Would it be possible to strap this additional part to the adrenaline molecule, and would it actually change how the drug worked? I don’t know – probably not – but it doesn’t matter, because there’s enough plausibility in the science to make it believable.
In doing the research, I used a lot of internet searching and reading through medical journals from numerous disciplines, which was fine, but you can’t beat talking to experts. For a scene involving a character who has a strange fracture, and an even stranger way in which his body heals afterwards, I turned to an orthopaedic surgeon friend. We discussed normal fracture healing at a cellular level, but also what the response might be if the body healed itself in a different way. Speculative medical research you might call it! Sorry I can’t reveal more, but, you know, spoilers.
So, The Hand of an Angel has a basis in research, is plausible but speculative, is grounded in reality but is… and I want to say science fiction, but then you’ll think of space ships and Iain M Banks, and it’s a million miles away from that. Let’s just call it fictional science then!
Is it just me who now wants to read ‘The Hand of an Angel’ after reading Mark’s guest post? I don’t usually like those sorts of books! I may need to give it a go. If you’re anything like me and want to grab a copy, you can do so via this little link here! Don’t forget to leave a review if you do grab a copy, I’m eager to find out what you guys think!
Thank you to, Mark Brownless, for the informative guest post!
About the author.
Mark Brownless lives and works in Carmarthen, West Wales. He has been putting ideas on paper for some years now but only when the idea for The Hand of an Angel came to him in the autumn of 2015 did he know he might be able to write a book. Mark likes to write about ordinary people being placed in extraordinary circumstances, is fascinated by unexplained phenomena, and enjoys merging thriller, science fiction and horror.
Mark is also fascinated by myths and legends such as those of Robin Hood and King Arthur. This has culminated in the release of his short story series, Locksley, a Robin Hood story, which will have new volumes added each month.
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