Interview about aphantasia with Amanda Radley

First of all, please tell us about your books! How many sapphic books have you written so far, and what’s your latest sapphic book about?

I have written over twenty sapphic books and my latest release, Reclaiming Love, follows Sarah Campbell as she starts a new life on a remote Scottish island. Sarah is working on a top-secret project for her tech-giant employer, but the cottage where she is assigned to live is in desperate need for repair, and that is when she encounters widowed, semi-retired Pippa who has set up a handywoman service. Sarah must balance her need for Pippa’s assistance with her secret project!

 

What kind of imagery is affected by aphantasia for you? Is it just visual imagery, or is mental sound, taste, smell, and touch affected too?

For me, it’s everything. I’m unable to conjure up any of the senses in my mind, I can’t imagine what something would look like, sound like, smell like, etc.  The only way I can get around this is with a recent memory. For example, I can’t imagine the smell of the ocean out of thin air, but if I have recently been to the ocean then I can use a memory of that in place of imagining.

 

Do you have an inner voice or an inner monologue?

No. I was surprised when I first heard that people had an inner voice, because it’s silent for me. Unless I’ve been watching TikTok videos, in which case I hear snippets of popular clips on repeat as my brain attempts to drive me to the brink of insanity. But, again, that’s memory and not independent creation of a sense, and I think that’s a key difference when thinking of aphantasia.

 

Do you remember how you discovered that you have aphantasia? Did you grieve the fact that you don’t have an ability that the majority of people have?

As with so many areas of self-discovery, the first time I came across the concept was on social media. Someone uploaded a video of themselves expressing shock that they had met someone who didn’t have a “full-blown” movie play in their mind as they read a book. I raced to my wife, an avid reader, and asked her if she saw images in her mind when she read. She said she did, looked at me with bafflement, and asked if I did. The answer was no. Nothing at all. I think I did grieve the loss because it sounds like an amazing ability to have. I also struggled for a while as I considered whether or not my writing was impacted by that lack of ability.

 

How do you think aphantasia influences your life, for the better and the worse?

I’m a strong believer in embracing your differences as they make us what we are. While I do wish I had the ability to produce images in my mind, I know that not having that ability has made me the kind of storyteller that I am and maybe I wouldn’t have been as successful if things had been different.

 

How do you think aphantasia influences your writing? Do you feel your writing process is different from writers who don’t have aphantasia?

I had written over ten books by the time I realised that I had aphantasia, something which I think was a blessing. I have often though that if I’d found out before I’d started my writing journey that I would probably not have had the courage to write a book. I think the primary difference between myself and other writers is a complete lack of scene setting and character description. Because I have never been interested in reading descriptions of people and places, I always skipped them in my own writing. I’ve had many positive comments from people regarding this, as some readers have expressed that they feel jolted out of a story when a character that they thought looked one way was suddenly described later in the book as looking another.

As for overall writing process, I’ve never met two writers with the same process. There are countless ways to write a book and while some of my own differences may have sprung from my aphantasia, I’ve never thought that it has much of an impact on my process.

 

How do you experience reading? Do you enjoy reading fiction? Do you hear a voice, e.g., a narrator, the characters, or your own inner voice narrating? Do you struggle with long descriptive passages?

I’m one of the very few authors you’ll ever meet who dislikes reading and this is partly down to my aphantasia and partly down to my autism. As a full-time author, I’m always writing my next book and this means that I must be in that narrative and fully immersed in that world, something that is very tricky for me to master in normal circumstances and absolutely impossible if I’m reading another book at the time. When I do read, I stick to books that have a quick pace and are very light on descriptive passage, because my aphantasia means I’m unable to visualise what I’m being told, and my autism finds that dull and allows my mind to wander.

My experience of reading is simply words on a page, being read by own voice in my mind. There are no images, no character voices, nothing but those words being read aloud.

 

Do you struggle writing description and have to consciously remind yourself to put descriptive details into your writing?

I do struggle writing description, but I also write in a stripped-back manner that means they aren’t always necessary. I learnt early on that I wanted to write without large amounts of description because I’d always found that to be very dry in my own reading experiences.

Because of this, my books suit other people with aphantasia as there is not a lot of descriptive content, but it also suits people who don’t suffer from aphantasia as they are able to create their own world and characters without boundaries. I frequently speak to readers who believe that they have a crystal-clear image of a character but they can be completely different from reader to reader.

 

Are there any tools you use when writing to compensate for your inability to visualize, e.g., maps, floor plans, photos of celebrities you cast as your characters, etc.?

Not usually, no. I sometimes use maps to get details right. But I’m the sort of writer who enjoys a lack of specific detail in order to get to the heart of the story.

 

When you are writing, do you have to remind yourself that your characters’ inner lives differ from yours, e.g., remind yourself to show a character have a mental image flash through their mind?

I do have to remind myself now and then, yes. This usually happens during my second draft, where I will go in and bulk out anything that I think wouldn’t make sense to the masses. I call my second draft my attempt to “de-Amanda” the manuscript, to move it from something that only I would understand to something that more people will be able to connect with. Part of that process is adding in thoughts, feelings, mental images, and yes, some description.

 

How are you doing with love scenes? Do you feel aphantasia has any influence on your ability to write steamy scenes?

I often write fade-to-black scenes, so I neatly avoid this issue. However, on the few times I have written love scenes I have had to proofread them extra carefully to ensure I’m describing what is happening as this is one of those occasions where you can’t really fill in the gaps as you go as it’s a more personal and unique experience than, say, watching a sunset. Most of us can vaguely imagine a sunset, but a love scene between two characters needs more description.

 

Do you dream visually, and have you ever dreamed about your characters?

I occasionally dream vividly but it’s very rare, or I don’t remember the dreams. I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed about my characters. I do attempt to daydream about them, though. I find that helps me to get over any story humps that might come my way!

 

Where can readers find you if they want to know more about you and your books?

I’m on most social media platforms but the best place to find me is on my website www.amandaradley.com

 

Check out other interviews with aphantasic authors of sapphic books

This is part of a series of interviews with aphantasic authors of sapphic books. To read the other interviews, check out Jae’s article on aphantasia.