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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author of Crown & Scalpel, C.J.L. Thomason, shares the inspiration behind her blind protagonist, and how she uses echolocation to “see”.

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C.J.L. Thomason on The Table Read Magazine

Written by C.J.L. Thomason

Inspired To Create A Blind Protagonist

I was nearly 16 when during a summer break in 2004 I was staying with my friend Rose in the Netherlands, we started fantasising about another world. I named this world Landaïla and created three characters: Jade, Faraiël and Ambarenyll. A fourth main character Raven was based on my friend Rose. These four characters appeared in short little adventures. Soon I was writing scenes that became part of a bigger plot, which I would send to Rose to ask for her opinion. The characters changed over the years and at a certain point I decided to tell the story of Ambarenyll as a blind doctor.

Now I had read and seen quite a few stories featuring a blind character. Generally, I noticed – especially in fantasy and science fiction – that these characters have some kind of power which compensates for their lack of vision. One of my favourite characters must be Toph Beifong from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Toph is blind but sees her world through earthbending – she feels the vibrations in the earth and can easily perceive her surroundings even going as far as feeling the heartbeat of her opponents, which tells her when they are lying. I also love how Toph was sometimes limited, she couldn’t write letters, or put up posters of Appa, she couldn’t see clearly on loose sand in the dessert. But Toph’s power made up for a lot.

After seeing this, I often wondered to what extent blind people could rely on their senses in reality and wanted to write about a blind character, who doesn’t have superhuman powers, who simply uses techniques available to him.


I think this is probably how I stumbled on a YouTube video of Daniel Kish demonstrating human echolocation or FlashSonar as he calls it. What truly baffled me was that by using active echolocation, Daniel can ride a bike, hike in the mountains, and so on. The scientist in me found this intriguing and wanted to know more, and luckily for me didn’t have to look far for answers, because Daniel Kish is the president of the World Access for the Blind and, which he founded so he could help people with a visual impairment all over the world to gain more perceptual freedom. He is 100% blind after losing both eyes to retinoblastoma at the mere age of one. He started to click with his tongue from a young age, and by listening to the rebounding echoes of his clicks he could see his environment. On his website and in several interviews, Daniel explains how the sound of the echo helps him to know what material an object is made of, the time the echo needs to reach both ears tells him where the object is from his position and the speed at which the echo comes back indicates how far away the object is.

Thanks to modern technology and research in which Daniel gladly participated we know that when Daniel hears the rebounding clicks come back, the Visual Cortex lights up on fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). In other words, Daniel rewired his brain, he uses the part of the brain, which sighted people use to interpret the images our eyes detect, to translate the rebounding echoes from his clicks. Furthermore, when he uses echolocation there is no special activity in the auditory cortex.

Crown & Scalpel by C.J.L. Thomason on The Table Read Magazine
Crown & Scalpel by C.J.L. Thomason

Crown & Scalpel

This was the basis I used to write my protagonist Ambarenyll in my novel Crown & Scalpel. The blind doctor who clicks. Then I proceeded with his background story, how did he become blind and how did he learn echolocation, and for all of this I always looked back at Daniel and his colleagues of the World Access for the Blind. Slowly the story took shape. Jade his love interest was now Crown Princess of Landaïla. Faraiël was Ambarenyll’s brother. Raven became a close friend of Faraiël, and many more side characters followed, such as Ambarenyll’s blind mentor George.

During my PhD years 2015-2019 the story really took off; I went from 35.000 words to over 100.000 words and right when my Thesis was done so was my book. I send the final draft to Rose and she was ecstatic. “You should publish this!” Two other friends Anouchka and Michael also read the story and where just as enthusiastic.

Publication Journey

But then 2020 corona hit us, and the world went in lockdown. I took the time to polish my manuscript and set out in the query trenches but remained unsuccessful, I left it on the shelf for a few years until 2022 when I tried querying again, but again without positive result. I decided the manuscript could use an extra pair of eyes – and this I mean metaphorically, because the extra set of eyes were no one other than Daniel Kish himself. He was very willing to read the manuscript and did so in record time (just one day) and got back to me with a long email full of notes showing how he had read it all.

The email opened with the following quote: “Thanks for your diligence in portraying the blindness bit right. I’d say you’ve probably come closer than any other author I can readily think of. And yes, I can see you’ve done your homework.” Followed by “I see the George character is based on me, as is his approach to teaching. I am humbly gratified.”

With some adjustments to the manuscript that Daniel suggested, I queried once more. It was in December 2022 that I send a query to Arkbound. In January Steve from Arkbound replied with a positive outcome. They were willing to publish Crown & Scalpel on the condition that I raised £2000 with a crowdfund to cover the costs of publication. Thanks to family, friends, old and new colleagues, and Daniel’s contacts, the campaign was successful.

In April 2023 I signed a Publishing Agreement for Crown & Scalpel. On the 17th of February 2024 my book was officially published. I chose this day as it marks the 23rd anniversary of my mother’s death and I wanted to create a positive memory on this day from now on and to commemorate my mother. I think she would have love this story as well.

Find more from C.J.L. Thomason now:




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