My novel “The Beauty of Broken Things” to be published on World Mental Health Day

I am thrilled to announce that assuming everything goes to plan, my novel The Beauty of Broken Things will be available on Amazon from 10th October 2018, which is also World Mental Health Day.

For those of you who don’t know, the novel is a contemporary love story and an exploration of how our mental health influences our lives, work and relationships. Its two protagonists are middle-aged, unemployed, and struggling with anxiety and depression. They meet as volunteers sorting through second hand goods in a charity shop in Manchester.

I first developed the idea for the book in October 2015, so it will have been a three-year process from start to finish. Although the story is fictional, it’s strongly informed by my own experience of mental health conditions.

The manuscript is close to finished now. It’s already been through several developmental edits and I’m awaiting further feedback on the revised version from a relative who is a published author. After that it will be ready for the final copy-editing and proofreading stages.

In the meantime I’m reading as much as I can about the self-publishing process. There really is so much help and advice out there. I’d like to mention one book in particular, Firefly Magic by Lauren Sapala, which radically differs from others in its genre. Lauren goes right to the heart of why so many creative people feel strong resistance to promoting their work, and she gently helps us to shift our perspective until the prospect is more exciting than daunting. I recommend it to anyone who hates the idea of “selling.”

I also went to the Self-Publishing Conference in Leicester last month, which was a fantastic experience. All the presentations on topics including cover design, marketing and print-on-demand were very informative and the whole atmosphere was so supportive and inspiring for independent authors.

At the conference I was lucky to meet Aki Schiltz, director of The Literary Consultancy. I approached them earlier in the year for a full report on my novel, which I found very useful and motivating. I felt that the editor I was assigned, Thalia Suzuma, really understood and appreciated the story and characters, and she gave me some great suggestions for improvement. The Literary Consultancy have also kindly provided me with further advice on self-publishing.

The next big thing once the manuscript is finished will be the cover design. All the marketing and advertising I plan to do relies on having strong visual branding in place, so this will be a crucial element to get right. I have some ideas already but will write more on this in another post.

Today marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week. One of the most powerful ways we can help to promote understanding of our own mental health and that of others is through sharing stories. I hope my novel will contribute to this.

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You weren’t to know

_mg_7776A post for anyone who ever felt different or struggled to accept themselves. I had this in mind as a performance piece.

YOU WEREN’T TO KNOW

You weren’t to know that there was no shame in having ginger hair or glasses or dyslexia or parents too poor to buy you trendy shoes. How could you have known, when the playground bullies singled out kids like you and called you names?

You weren’t to know that it was cool that you were interested in engines and robots and beetles and the stars. How could you have known that your scientific curiosity would help shape the future, when even your teachers regarded you as an anti-social nerd?

You weren’t to know that you hated sitting exams in stuffy classrooms because your passion was for rock music or performance art, and that it would be your unique gift to the world. How could you have known, when everyone judged you on the grades you achieved?

You weren’t to know that you could be bad at sports and love poetry and roses and cry when you were sad and still be a strong and courageous man. How could you have known, when the other boys hit you and called you a wimp?

You weren’t to know that you were worthy of respect regardless of your weight or the width of your hips or the thickness of your thighs. How could you have known, when the fashion magazines and the girls in the changing rooms told you otherwise?

You weren’t to know that hating yourself so much that you couldn’t say your own name out loud was a sign that your mental health was suffering. How could you have known, when no one told you your mind could get sick as well as your body?

You weren’t to know that the reason you did drugs or drank so much when you got to college was mainly to hide your insecurity and numb your pain. How could you have known, when it was considered a normal part of the student experience?

You weren’t to know that one day you’d stop struggling to be someone else and ask for help instead. How could you have known, when our culture still treats therapy as something shameful?

You weren’t to know that with support, you could learn to accept yourself for who you are. You weren’t to know, but now you do, perhaps you could let someone else know too.

Writing about anxiety and depression

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Mental illness is the theme of numerous memoirs and novels. The Bell Jar, Darkness Visible and Prozac Nation are just a few well-known examples. My personal favourite is Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, a painfully honest, yet inspiring account of recovery from anxiety and depression.

Despite this wealth of intimate first-hand accounts, mental health problems are still widely misunderstood. All too often, sufferers are stigmatised in the media and in popular culture. There remains a tendency to see mental ill-health as a character flaw or a choice. We need to continue talking and writing about mental health in order to increase empathy and reduce shame.

With extensive experience of anxiety and depression, I can bring my own  insights to the topic. But although I find confessional writing therapeutic, what I like most is using fiction to explore possibilities for change. In my current novel, and in my previous work, the central characters struggle with their mental health. But the book is not autobiographical or based on real people and events.

My characters are faced with conflicts, challenges and opportunities, many of which I’ve never experienced. By getting to know them and telling their stories, I learn how their responses to these situations shape their futures. Fiction allows me to live in someone else’s life, and to grow as a result.

Reading and creative writing have helped me in so many ways. When I decide to publish my story, I hope it’ll resonate with someone else.

Writing about depression or anxiety is not easy. There’s the challenge of keeping it real without descending into excessive introspection or gloom, making it too unpleasant for the reader. As an author, I have a responsibility not to perpetuate misconceptions and negative stereotypes. Nor do I wish to diminish or trivialise the impact of these conditions.

I know how it feels when the dark clouds of depression close in around you, or anxiety starts to burn in your throat and chest. Left untreated, it can be toxic to the quality of your life and relationships. In its severest forms, it can be disabling, and fatal.

I also believe that having a mental health problem doesn’t define you.

My fictional characters have mental health issues which affect their lives. They also have intelligence, wit, kindness, and passion. They’re interested in art, literature, photography, and volunteering (the story is set in a charity shop). In the course of the narrative, they make friends, fall in love, have arguments, and discover new skills and goals. They have quirks and bad habits unrelated to depression or anxiety.

If there’s one attitude I could change, it would be the labelling of people with mental health problems as weak. Yes, we can be emotional and highly sensitive. We suffer pain that’s hard for others to understand, and we’re often disadvantaged in society. But none of that means we are passive or powerless. Even if that’s how the illness and its stigma sometimes make us feel.

A quick search reveals an extensive list of leaders and innovators who battle with depression. Some of the world’s most successful artists have terrible anxiety attacks before going on stage to perform in front of crowds of thousands. I have friends with long-term mental health issues and a string of impressive achievements to their name. They’re amongst the most determined individuals you can imagine.

But acts of bravery don’t have to be spectacular, or even visible. We may be fighting the monster in our head every morning in order to get dressed or leave the house. To speak to a stranger or answer the phone. The fact that we’re making an effort to cope, that we’re seeking treatment or help, that we’re even aware of our problems and want to resolve them, shows our strength.

Having a diagnosis of anxiety or depression does not mean that you’re not also brave and strong. Because courage has never been about the absence of fear. And tenacity goes much deeper than what appears on the surface.

My aim is to write an emotionally involving novel, which in some small way helps reduce the stigma attached to mental health issues. A story which authentically explores what it’s like to feel low or afraid. But one which is also about resilience, new beginnings, and ultimately, the healing power of love.