John McPake, a former teacher, has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Soon after his marriage fell apart he started hearing voices and eventually moved into an Edinburgh hostel for men with enduring mental health problems. An earlier obsession with the works of Breughel develops into a full blown delusion, and he assumes the personna of Johannes, a 16th century Dutch weaver who travels with his friends, Balthazar and Cornelius, in pursuit of his son who has been abducted by the Spanish mercenaries. This is an echo of John's real life quest to be reunited with his brother. People with a diagnosis of psychosis often hear multiple voices. To the hearer the voices are as real as if they were listening to someone standing next to them. The voices, often unpleasant, can have completely different characters. John's voices jostle and bitch with each other for the right to tell his story.