Commentary on Silent Fear – from a Deaf reader’s perspective

Posted: September 24, 2017 in SILENT FEAR novel
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Deaf New Zealand filmmaker Brent Macpherson, of Stretch Productions, features prominently in the Acknowledgements for our new release crime-thriller Silent Fear (A novel inspired by true crimes) – and for good reason: the story is set in a university for the Deaf, and Brent educated us on the unique challenges facing the Deaf community and corrected potentially embarrassing errors in our portrayal of Deaf and hard of hearing people.

 

Brent Macpherson

Brent Macpherson…acknowledged in new release novel.

 

As one of the world’s leading Deaf storytellers working in film, television and other creative mediums, Brent’s passion for bringing to life stories about diverse people, including those in his own Deaf community, really rubbed off on us. Without his assistance this novel may never have been completed!

His commentary on Silent Fear  from a Deaf reader’s viewpoint is included at the end of the book.

 

Here’s Brent’s unabridged commentary on Silent Fear:

Silent Fear is one of the few mainstream novels to address the unique challenges faced by members of the Deaf community in any great detail. As a member of that community, and as someone who has been Deaf since birth, I believe this book is an important addition to the dearth of literature that exists about Deaf people and Deaf culture.

In the interests of full disclosure, let me state from the outset I have a vested interest in this book: I liaised with the authors in a consultancy capacity to ensure their treatment of the novel’s (fictitious) Deaf characters and the often unique issues they and their family members face were handled accurately and with sensitivity.

The novel provides a valuable insight into the dynamics of the international Deaf community all in one setting. It highlights a wide range of Deaf cultural elements and behavioural characteristics that are unique to members of the Deaf community.

As you’ll have noticed, sign language features prominently throughout. Members of the wider society may have seen Deaf people signing which is often perceived as a different form of communication. This perception is only a small part of the proverbial iceberg: below water, it’s much deeper and more meaningful to be Deaf.

Like myself, most Deaf people acquire sign language at a school for Deaf. In my case, I attended Kelston School for the Deaf in Auckland, New Zealand, at the age of five and subsequently learnt NZ Sign Language (NZSL) from older students. I became disruptive at a ‘normal’ kindergarten and teachers didn’t have a clue how to cope with me. It was decided that I would attend a Deaf school. To do so, I had to catch a taxi and a bus (the famous white bus) to Kelston for the next four years. These trips would be an hour-and-a-half each way so around three hours a day was spent exclusively in the company of many deaf children of all ages.

Reflecting upon how I personally learnt NZSL, those bus trips have renewed meaning for me. It was a unique time for Deaf students to be able to freely use sign language to communicate away from the gaze of disapproving teachers. We didn’t need to hide from them or from our parents. The bus became a relaxing comfort zone where a hidden education flourished. It was a cultural hub on wheels! Signing in the bus was regarded as an ‘underground language’ away from glaring eyes of the public so we could pass on our language to the younger generation.

Sign language was forbidden during my days at the school for the Deaf. If teachers caught us signing in the classroom, they would use a large wooden ruler to strike our hands and then force us to sit on them for the rest the day. Nevertheless, we cleverly found ways of using sign language. Ways that came naturally to us. We hid from teachers during playtime to sign to our peers. I recall hiding in the toilet to be able to sign one of my friends without being caught.

My proud identity as a Deaf person stems from attending a Deaf school and undertaking those long, enjoyable daily bus trips. Today, many of those students are still close friends of mine.

I was mainstreamed to a hearing school at age nine and will never forget my first day at my new school: I was completely cut off from my Deaf friends and was swiftly assimilated into the hearing world. It was totally alien to me.

My soul, identity and pride as a Deaf young person were stripped away in a flick of a switch.

I had to act and speak like a hearing person to fit society’s norm. I struggled with enormous internal conflicts, and these contributed to a sense of identity confusion. People would often comment, “Oh, Brent, you speak very well.” Yes, thank you, but what about my Deaf friends and sign language? I miss them.

Back then, society viewed deafness as a deficiency or an inadequacy – and, to a large extent, it still does. Of course, my parents thought putting me in a hearing school was best for my education. This was based on advice they received from ‘experts’ in deaf education.

A few years after leaving school, I reconnected with the Deaf community at the Auckland Deaf Society. Ah, this was, and is, where I belong. I met many of my long lost friends from primary school there; I immediately felt re-engaged with my identity as a Deaf person.

I am Deaf – period!

The room was full of diverse Deaf people of all ages signing, telling stories and jokes, laughing, having a few drinks, playing pool, enjoying each other’s company – like one happy family. After more than a decade not being allowed to use NZSL, I was amazed I could still remember the signs, and I was able to quickly relearn my natural language. After all those years of identity confusion, I felt re-energised and enthused, having rediscovered my suppressed Deaf identity and I embarked on a journey into the Deaf world where I belong.

The Auckland Deaf Society is at the heart of the NZ Deaf community just as many other organisations around the world are performing similar roles. Each Deaf community is a cultural group which shares a sign language and a common heritage. Members of Deaf communities the world over identify themselves as belonging to a cultural and linguistic group. Identification within the Deaf community is a personal choice and is usually made independent of the individual’s hearing status.

The Deaf community is not automatically composed of all people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. It is not limited to those who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. It may also include family members of Deaf people, sign language interpreters and people who work or socialise with Deaf people and who may display characteristics of Deaf culture. A non-deaf person may become member of the Deaf community by accepting and recognising Deaf culture, and this is usually strongly associated with competence in using sign language.

Deaf people as a linguistic minority have a common experience of life, and this manifests itself in Deaf culture. This includes beliefs, attitudes, history, norms, values, literary traditions and art shared by Deaf people. My language and culture includes body language, facial expression and hand shapes, which all constitute sign language. Behavioural characteristics associated with sign language and Deaf cultural norms are the heart of having Deaf identity. All these elements are critical components for this novel to ensure the Deaf characters portrayed are authentic.

In writing Silent Fear, the Morcans should be commended for the tremendous amount of effort they have invested in researching and ultimately understanding and appreciating the dynamics of Deaf culture and sign language.

The writers strongly recommended I reveal to you that, as Deaf readers will no doubt have noticed, they (the Morcans) have used lower case “deaf” throughout the novel when referring to Deaf characters and to the Deaf community in general – their rationale being that mainstream novelists and newspapers do not (generally) apply the upper case ‘rule’ when referring to this community and its members. This was the one issue we disagreed on…

Enough said.

I am proud to have been a part of this journey and have put my heart and soul into this novel, working closely with the Morcans. The process has been methodical and well considered to ensure the novel captures the essence of being Deaf. I sincerely believe Deaf and Hard of Hearing on a global scale will easily relate to Silent Fear, and I am sure will be enjoyed by all.

The end result is a story, which, in my humble opinion, does justice to the Deaf community.

Brent Macpherson

To learn more about Brent and the planned film adaptation of Silent Fear  visit his website at  https://www.stretchproductions.co.nz/silent-fear    

 

Silent Fear  is available via Amazon as a Kindle Pre-order book (launch date October 31) via https://www.amazon.com/dp/B075HRYTVC/

The paperback version is available now via https://www.amazon.com/dp/0473408120

Bloggers and reviewers note! ARCs (advance review copies) of Silent Fear  are available via this link: https://goo.gl/forms/Dv7GH9oJVAKLuRM23

 

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