Magical Realism and Migraines


Magical Realism and migraine may not be obvious partners to some, but they seem a natural fit to me. Migraine has been muscling in on my life since I was old enough to toddle, so why wouldn’t it show up as a principle player in my latest novel, Girl In A Golden Cage? Both my mother and husband have had lifelong battles with migraine. I’ve only been a bystander, but the condition is so familiar that it had to have its own story.

My main character, Francesca, hears screaming in her father’s hallway. Screaming so terrible, she’s sure that someone is being murdered, but she can’t get up to investigate. She’s nine hours into a migraine that began with aura symptoms, and matures into the kind of pain that should only be reserved for the dentist chair with no anaesthetic.

As a child, I viewed migraines as a quasi-bogeyman. They scared me. Completely unseen, they had the power to reduce the strongest pillar of my life, my mum, into a quivering wreck. Driving, she might pull off the road with an emergency-stop-suddenness and lay her head on the wheel saying, ‘I can’t see.’ It was the dazzling symptoms that caught my imagination early on. Where had her sight gone to? Was she seeing something else?


In the novel, Francesca is staying with her father in Milan, and it’s here that she sees her dazzling symptoms begin to morph. This enables her to witness something she wishes she hadn’t, involving her father, but can she rely on her own testimony when her symptoms are so out of control?

For my husband, who seldom has weeks without migraines, strain in its many forms often tips the balance. He tries to negotiate life avoiding invisible stress-mines that could trigger the next blast, but of course, that’s impossible.

Secrets are always potions of stress; they make the mind swirl. I wanted to show how Francesca’s determination to seek the truth is complicated by her symptoms, and how hard it is to stay on track when tension makes tipping over the edge that much more likely.

I’ve worked for years in the art world and that’s why I couldn’t help bringing an aspect of that into the story too. I came across an Anthony Gormley sculpture, Feeling Material IX, many years ago. The minute I saw it, it seemed to me a perfect piece of migraine art. Made only with wire, it’s form is so simple and yet the outer chaos seems to represent what’s going on inside the figure’s head. When I was beginning to draft ideas for the book, I knew that this statue had to be a central symbol.

Francesca is an artist. She has the kind of gift with a pencil that most of us can only wonder about. I wanted her to be creative: to have a mind that might be malleable enough to show her a place that teeters on the brink of possibility. The idea that there could be a way to slip the grip of migraine seemed a seductive plot line.

Fiction is one of the few ways others can experience someone else’s perspective. I haven’t had to endure the frightful pain of migraine, but I’ve been a close observer of the condition for so long that I feel I’m equipped to draw its likeness, and as all writers do, take a few creative liberties with the subject matter.

Girl In A Golden Cage by Lucy Branch is out in Kindle £3.99 and Paperback £7.99 from Amazon

#magicalreailsmbooks #migraine #inspiration

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