Fictional, yes, but steeped in our reality
Carolyn Jess-Cooke was born in Belfast, and returned last night to the city's Book Festival to discuss The Boy Who Could See Demons, her recent, acclaimed novel.
One oddity about the book is that, when it appeared last year in America, the ending was altered to suit the US publisher, who wanted more focus on a specific character.
The rewrite was, according to Jess-Cooke, "a major challenge", and means that two versions of the novel are in circulation – an unusual situation, and a salutary reminder of how powerful commercial considerations can be in the making of successful literature in the 21st century.
The Boy Who Could See Demons is Alex, a 10-year-old who lives in Belfast with his mother, who has attempted suicide on a number of occasions.
Jess-Cooke read a lengthy extract in which Alex's adult therapist begins teasing out the boy's mental disturbances, and what may be causing them.
Four different drafts and detailed psychological research were, Jess-Cooke revealed, needed to make the characters believable.
Part of that research involved delving into the Bamford Review of 2007, which detailed how tragically widespread mental health issues are among young people in Northern Ireland, and how more resources are needed to treat them.
Jess-Cooke's novel, though ostensibly a fiction, puts flesh, blood and emotion on to a troubled area of human experience too often left "unseen", as she herself put it.