Today’s special blog is in response to Mental Health Awareness week which is this week – yes, who knew? I didn’t until half way through the week, so this is a fairly swift response. But it’s an important issue for all of us and today’s blog aims to raise awareness by pointing you in the direction of some excellent writing (most of which has been or is scheduled to be reviewed on this site) to do with mental health issues.
Writing on mental health issues ranges from the obvious or ‘ in your face’ to the more subtle and/or subliminal. From adult fiction to YA fiction. From poetry to non fiction/self help. There’s plenty out there folks. Something for everyone. There are lots of good writers engaging with the ‘indie’ ebook process as a means of getting a message across that otherwise stays invisible. I mean, did you know it was Mental Health Awareness week? And how much do you know about mental health in general? Do you know your psychosis from your clinical depression? Do you know which terms are ‘politically correct’ and which are purely offensive and stigmatising? Do you know your ‘service user’ from your ‘pscyho.’
With no more ado… to the writers.
Dan Holloway is prolific in mental health writing. He says ‘mental health is dear to my heart.’ I’ve reviewed two of his novels on this site. However, since he favours poetry and we don’t review poetry, he hasn’t got the acclaim in IEBR that I feel he deserves. So here’s Dan’s special slot for Mental Health Awareness week – in tribute to an inspirational man.
His new poetry collection Last Man Out of Eden, is a joyous celebration of the lives of remarkable people he’s known who have struggled with mental health difficulties, in some cases have succumbed to them, but whose spirit shone gloriously and who gave the world more than any of the billions of so-called normal people who surrounded them.
(life:) razorblades included is a very dark book of short stories and poems that celebrate life by talking about death. It deals with mental illness in often transgressive ways to ask questions about what it means to be normal, and celebrates the outsider, and those who take the almost impossible decision to live in the face of the onset of darkness.
Dan can always be relied upon to exploit multimedia and he also pointed me in the direction of an online literary exhibition: What There is Instead of Rainbows Writers were invited to write about their darkest moment, specifically not from the standpoint of a survivor’s story but as a means of reaching out and connecting with others experiencing what they feel is unbearable pain.
He also pointed me in the direction of a blog piece which gives insight and thought into the ‘consequences’ of mental health issues on the everyday agenda.
And last but not least from Dan a video of his poem Mentalist, a critique of the government’s Workfare scheme in relation to mental health which he will be performing as part of his set at the final of the Hammer and Tongue slam in Oxford on June 12th. If you are anywhere near Oxford then, go and see him. Dan is an inspiration to many ‘virtually’ so I imagine he’s even more so in person!
Raising awareness of mental health issues for Young Adults is a potential minefield but a very important thing to do since young people are both very vulnerable and often misinformed about mental health issues.
Sherry Ashworth’s novel Mental will be reviewed on this site in June or July. It’s published by indie publisher Achukabooks and Sherry describes it as a three voice novel charting what happens when a 19 year old suffers a psychotic attack – three voices are the sufferer, his 15 year old sister and her boyfriend. You can find out more about it on her website.
Rosalie Warren’s novel Charity’s Child deals in a less obvious way with the subject of mental health issues but it’s also a fantastic read and will be reviewed on this site in June. Rosalie is also working on a novel dealing with the issue of bi-polar which will be published later this year as Alexa’s Song.
Julia Jones’ A Ravelled Flag shows that you can seamlessly integrate mental health issues into a story which on the face of it is an ‘adventure’ tale. Julia says: ‘ARF is mainly interested in how Skye’s periods of illness affect those around her. The subtle point is that people don’t listen to her. Even Donny doesn’t fully listen until late in the book when she gives him the vital clue that helps him realise where Lottie is. Gold Dragon can’t cope at all to start with but learns to accept Skye’s difference once they go sailing together – she’s steering to a different star. I hope I do manage to distinguish between difference (which is Skye’s normal mode) alcoholism, vulnerability and the actual incident of mental breakdown right at the beginning of the book. I hope that by the end her eccentricity (with the flag)is seen as perfectly normal and affirmative.’
I am currently awaiting in anticipation for the third part of the trilogy Ghosting Home whose publication is imminent and which I will review as soon as I’ve read it!
If we turn to Adult fiction I’d like to point you in the direction of my most recent ‘find’ (I’ve just found him – he was out there all the time!) and the book I’m most excited about at the moment.
Stuart Ayris’ Tollesbury Time Forever will challenge your perception of mental ‘illness’ and change the way you think about it. His style is vibrant, unique and very very readable. I was absolutely gripped from the very opening – the writing on the wall – right to the final riff! I’ll save more fulsome praise for my review, coming in July.
Stuart’s earlier novel A Cleansing of Souls also deals with mental health issues – and I am amazed that 20 years passed between the writing of these two novels. He should never have left it this long. But I suppose Stuart appreciates that ‘life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.’ Stuart works as a psychiatric nurse, and is working on a third novel due out this summer. I can’t wait to read it. His novels show that a) he’s a great psychiatric nurse and b) a great writer. I suggest this is a rare and powerful combination.
Linda Gillard has written about mental health and its impact on her life and writing. Mental health issues feature strongly in a couple of her novels.
Emotional Geology (to be reviewed here in July/August) is a tribute to the positive impact indie publishing can have. Linda writes about the ‘story behind the story’ here and says ‘ I wrote EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, for the 26% (according to a Depression Alliance survey) who don’t believe mental illness is a genuine illness.’ Her more recent novel UNTYING THE KNOT also deals with mental health issues. It features post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. You can find out more about it here.
And I suppose I should throw my own hat into the ring. A lot of my work has mental health issues embedded in it.
My first novel, The Threads of Time, written in 1996 and coming out as a revised ebook edition in June deals with mental health issues in perhaps a subtle way. Paul’s mental state and grip on ‘reality’ is certainly central to the story and it’s for the reader to decide what to believe. I like this sort of uncertainty in a novel – the ability for the reader to choose what way they engage.
Brand Loyalty while seemingly a ‘political’ novel, has undertones of dementia issues and one can read the whole work as the interior ‘world’ view of a woman with dementia. (I don’t think many people do read it this way, but it’s there as an option)
Another World is Possible which forms the backbone of a trilogy (and will be re-released as an ebook later this year/early next year) also looks at mental health from a number of perspectives, using narrative psychology in fictional form to consider who ‘makes’ the story of a life and what ‘truth’ is.
Most members of Authors Electric (many of whose work features here) are fiction writers but member Susan J Smith writes about mental health issues from the position of 20 years experience as a Psychotherapist. I’m fortunate enough to say that I’ve had no need for her specific help/advice and I haven’t read any of her work, but for anyone who is looking for a non fiction take on some specific mental health issues, check her out.
All the links are UK links. I appreciate that many of our readers are not UK based, so I apologise for the extra ‘clicks’ you may have to make to get to US versions of sites. It does, however, save me a lot of time by not duplicating all links – time I can spend finding more good books to review. And thus enhancing my own mental health!
I am interested in the relationship between creativity and mental health and am now planning a virtual ‘event’ for Mental Health Week in October. But for now, it’s ‘awareness’ week, so I’d like to make you ‘aware’ and ask that you make others ‘aware’ too through whatever means you can. Tweet, blog, download, read….. but do SOMETHING.
Cally Phillips (editor)