100% Proof: Spirits in the Spiegeltent

Séance master E.O. Higgins (or is that Laars Head?) talks about breaking on through to the other side, in both publishing and psychic matters

Feature by Rosie Hopegood | 03 Jul 2014

It’s no secret that the last decade has seen the face of publishing exponentially altered. The advent of e-books, self-publishing and the internet have left some publishers running scared, and many writers stifled beneath a mass of promotional events, Twitter accounts, blogs and marketing. 

Yet there is a flipside to all this negativity, and E.O. Higgins, author of the acclaimed Conversations with Spirits, is riding high in the wake of the change. Higgins’ success story is a thoroughly modern one, and the unorthodox manner of his rise to fame was unimaginable a few years ago. With a few draft chapters of the novel under his belt, Higgins stumbled upon Jottify.com, an online community for writers. As he explains, “I posted the first five chapters of my novel-in-progress, and was amazed by the positive response it received.” Within a short time his writing was the most read work on the website, and he was quickly spotted by literary crowd-funding website Unbound.co.uk. Higgins continued to receive overwhelming support from his online readers, and Unbound.co.uk’s funding target was promptly met.

The author was then picked up by a conventional publisher and given three short months to complete the novel – a pressure which would see lesser writers founder, but under which he flourished. “I don’t think I slept for about two of those three months! It really sped up the process. Before this I’d spent a long time working on a really long-winded novel that must have got to about 1000 pages. In fact, it’s in a shoebox somewhere – it’s probably still growing in there.”

“There is no life and no death, merely a misunderstanding of the ever-decreasing energy vibration. I am at the centre of that energy, swaying gently” – Laars Head, Psychic

So what was it about the book that captured his readers’ attention? Most likely it is his improbable hero, the eccentric Trelawney Hart, who, when the novel opens, has suffered a breakdown and is holed up in a gentleman’s club in Pall Mall, having replaced his childhood diet of logic and reason with one of cherry brandy and cigarettes. When Arthur Conan Doyle arrives unannounced and asks for his assistance in a case investigating a medium, Hart agrees half-heartedly and so begins the comic mystery that leaves the protagonist questioning his life choices. “It’s really less of a whodunit, and more of a howdunnit,” Higgins comments, and it is perhaps this mix of enigma and humour that has snared him an army of loyal fans.

In keeping with the psychical theme of the novel, Higgins will be hosting a special séance-styled event at Jura Unbound this year, unlike anything the Book Festival has seen before. He will be appearing as his ‘psychic thaumaturge’ alter ego, the comic creation of Laars Head. Fans of the author's work will not be disappointed, as his unique brand of comedy shines through in this entertaining sketch. While Conversations with Spirits features a medium who seems to be the real deal, this tongue in cheek performance will make no such claims but rather poke fun at the sort of psychic performers who, as Higgins/Head succinctly puts it, “appear on cable television with Yvette Fielding and lock members of the boyband McFly in a cellar.” While many authors are awkward in the spotlight, Higgins appears unfazed: “I don’t think of myself as a natural performer – but it’ll be Laars conducting the séance, not me.” And to see who from 'the other side' decides to turn up and what they wish to communicate, you only need to be in the Spiegeltent on 23 August.

It’s been an exciting couple of years for Higgins, whose unconventional route to success has culminated in a nomination for the Book Festival's First Book Award. When asked whether he feels confident about the award his answer sheds good humoured doubt upon his psychic ability. “Um, am I really nominated? This is the first I’ve heard of it – wow!” 

E.O. Higgins Seance will be conducted at 9pm on Sat 23 Aug in the Guardian Spiegeltent, part of Jura Unbound