Having recently been introduced to the concept of the indie novel, I have just written a review of an American indie novel which, when I have worked out the technicalities, will be published online in the NewYorkerTimes. Admittedly, the prospect of reading a novel about zombies awakened some of my literary prejudices. The prevalence of other worldly creatures within books, denoting in my closed mind, a concession to popularism, which I associated with “low art” and commercial exploitation.
As I read the novel, I realised the extent of my own hollowness. For the novel I was about to review, and others encompassing similar genres, consciously appropriates the notion of exploitation to satirise and thus, critique the society by which exploitation is generated; a symptom can, itself, be curative.
I inhabit a land whose soil is enriched by the works of Shakespeare, Shaw and Dickens. Standing upon this land today, are Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman and J. K. Rowling-lesser talents, perhaps, however recipients of worldwide acclaim. The alternate universes presented in their books tell us something about the people and the social realm of contemporary existence, which we call “reality.” Whilst aesthetic worth is measured in terms of style of presentation, interpretations of a book of or a work of art should, also, take into account its relationship with and impact upon the environment from which it arose.
American fiction has much to teach us stuffy Brits about the contemporary world and our own attitudes and belief systems. Thus, I have relinquished my inner, British snob and now embrace citizenship of an eclectic, literary world.
Yesterday, was my Mother’s 70th birthday. Some might argue that surviving seven decades of life on earth is a tribute to her resilience. I say, thanks Mum-without your love and support…I would not be here!
Glasgow City Centre is a beguiling place, over-powering in the heights of architectural splendour, it encompasses passers-by in heartfelt hugs and listens to the voice of difference. Self-expression is permitted, there; poverty and homelessness, however, are forever near. And, where economic destitution presents, depression often rears his head and roars, in fear. Mostly, however, Glaswegians smile and we all know that smiles are deadly in their contagiousness.
We visited Glasgow yesterday, cracking our lips with the force of a smile or a few. Mum and me, plodding the pavements like Les Dawson’s Cissy and Ada to a post-modern generation. “Ladies,” with baggage and noses looking for a bargain, appetites for pleasure and anxious to avoid the potential disaster of returning home with empty bags. Together, we browsed until my Mother, eventually chose a birthday present. She chose and I paid, happy to express my love for her and reduce my own bank balance.
Following our shopping we indulged in a taste of, “posh nosh,” fish and chips at, “The Chippy Doon the Lane,” a fish restaurant rendered aristocratic among the throng of Glasgow chippies. The meal did not merely fill a hole, but built a temple of contentment within my bruised persona. Like ointment, it soothed the inflammation and allowed me to rest my tired feet beneath a table.
Returning home in the evening, I collapsed upon the sofa. Last night, I slept well. Today, I am still smiling.
I learned a few days ago via The NewYorkerTimes on twitter that pop laureate of the welfare generation, Morrissey had cancelled his U.S. tour. Subject to bouts of ill health, he had been denied insurance to continue his onstage performances. It is not without irony that a music icon famed for his vegetarianism and anti-drug stance is confronting a physical demise, when other musicians, like the Rolling Stones, who have embraced a more traditional rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, are blossoming, even, into old age!
Before becoming immersed in the works of Woolf and Joyce, I discovered the lyrics of Morrissey and a human truth; that the pen is a sharper tool than the knife. In the Thatcherite 1980’s, when British popular culture was ruled by the escapism of the new romantics and the ideology of greed, Morrissey represented an attractive “other.” He was an anti-hero, whose counter-cultural credentials reached beyond his sartorial inelegance to the cultural references presented in his lyrics and “The Smiths” record covers. Like his shirt, his image did not quite fit. I was a teenage outsider with only my imagination and a record player for friends and, when I heard Morrissey sing I felt less alone.
I saw Morrissey perform in 1991 and although it was not a classic performance, the image of him trying to sing whilst drenched in the bodies of boy fans eager to touch genius, will always remain for me a definitive statement about the life I lived at that point; a symbol of willowy beauty destined to fade. Get well soon, Morrissey and I shall watch you perform again, zimmer-frames ready!
…scared! In accord with pussy-cat law, my faithful companion has woken me at four o’clock in the morning. Outside, the world is the colour of purity, snow illuminating the darkness, like a force of nature in the wake of human transgression disguised as progress. Even the house is shivering cold. Inside, a young, old lady feels older now, than before the snow had fallen. Her cat scratches the door hoping that she will open it; he is innocent of the horrors beyond and the potential hazards of snow. The wind screams in pain, embracing all with persistent lashes of its lustful tongue. There are screaming banshees, out there; I know, for I have seen them…in the eye of my mind, wearing sexy underwear and the pouts of witches. And windows vibrate like the bedevilled soul of Heathcliff caressed by Cathy’s ghostly presence. I imagine the wuthering heights of Kate Bush’s voice and am reassured by my knowledge that bush is enjoyed by nearly all. Currently defining the western world is a crisis of ideas. I think I shall go back to bed and pretend that it is summer.
My first published novel,”The General Paralysis of Sanity,” represents the summation and completion of twenty years experience as a mental health service-user. I wrote the novel during the aftermath of, and as a reaction to, the trauma I had experienced as an in-patient of a psychiatric hospital, prisoner of mental health day-centres and (dis)charge of nurses. Sub-textually, the novel is my story-a story whose full horror will never be told. The content, however, belongs to the creation of Cat-Hater, my anti-hero, whose consciousness unfolds in the text, like the fragile wing of a butterfly released from the cruelty and inevitability of fate.
I named my character Cat-Hater, not to, “moggy bash” (my own cat features on the cover!) but, as an allusion to a character created by Philip K. Dick’s gargantuan, creative brain; “Horseloverfat,” is the star of his fantastic and mind-blowing novel, “Valis.” Ending here, however, are comparisons to Phil Dick’s work, his preoccupation with the dichotomy between madness and sanity merely reflects my own and constitutes the central theme of my book.
The reader embarks upon a psychical but bumpy ride, during which s/he glimpses the mind of someone experiencing a relapse into psychosis. Frequent lapses into interior monologues merge with depictions of an outer realm which, condemns and sentences Cat-Hater to the imprisonment of hospital. It is, however, the content of the hospital scenes, which enliven the plot and flesh-out the characters I have created. For, at this point I portray the formation of relationships between Cat-Hater and the other patients and introduce the secondary character of the novel, Nurse Parry.
Although Nurse Parry possesses all the complexities of Cat-Hater and is necessarily all flesh and blood in terms of the qualities she brings to the book, I must confess, that she was brought to life to personify the unachievable nature of complete and pure reason and rationality. The reader enters her life and inner being and experiences the illusion of being sane.
Despite its thematic darkness and painful subject matter, my psychiatrist tells me that the book is, “very funny,” and I think many people who have spent time in psychiatric hospitals will recognise elements of themselves and others in the characters and situations I describe. If you have a spare moment you can order it online from amazon or chipmunkapublishing or even request that your local book shop stocks it. Why not indulge and release your pain. Will it all end happily or will life’s imprint linger and ache?
Having completed a regular shift at a charity bookshop, I, now, feel cold and tired. The wind on the west coast of Scotland is a savage beast which can almost knock even the sturdiest of citizens off their feet and bites into the very hearts of our resilience. In the Wintertime, when the pestilence of chill and rain consumes all, but those possessed of fur coats and an iron will, it is easy to let depression strike. I shall resist; when he raises his hand, I will retaliate with blows to the keys of my laptop. I laugh within, when I consider the change in my disposition.
Twenty years wasted as a mental health service-user. Twenty years in which I experienced a side of life many either do, or wish that they did, not understand. These twenty years have taught me many lessons, some of which I would like to share.
1. Medication helps ease the symptoms of mental distress, it does not cure. Uncovering the causes of distress is hard work but, not impossible. Although psychological interventions can be useful for many people, ultimately, one has to want to recover and master the skills of mental independence.
2. Psychiatrists are as fucked-up as the rest of the human race. They have merely learned the skills of presentation.
3. Mental health workers do not REALLY care (they are doing a job, some of them very well) but can be very useful to talk to and fill-in forms!
4. Most day-centres/hospitals operate a policy of containment. They exist to monitor service-users, ensuring that we do not cross those deadly lines of demarcation. In the short-term, they can open-up the possibility of peer support. However, in the long-term, they perpetuate apathy which, is often misinterpreted to be a consequence of negative symptomology.
5. Mental health service users often flock together, like birds with tarnished wings. This is because they are socially excluded. Many have little or no family support and the companionship of friends. They do not deserve your pity or ridicule, their group friendships are indicative of a truly human (and rational) need to counteract loneliness and be accepted.
6. Recovery from mental health issues is a relative concept. If you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, you are doing okay. You do not need to be earn 100,000 a year or train to run a marathon. The book which you have always planned to write, can be written tomorrow, next year or even…never. For, even possessing the wish to write, is suggestive of the will to live. LEARN TO EXIST AND YOU WILL START TO LIVE.
I have been humbled by the support for my blog and would like to thank my followers for reading and commenting. If you have been affected by anything I have written, please contact me. I am available on facebook and twitter or you could simply subscribe to my blog. I intend to write my next post on my novel and invite you all you to learn about its themes and contents.
There is a widely held conception that everybody, “has a book, in them.” Whilst this could not be more true, most people do not write that book. I have spent my life desirous to fulfil my ambition to become a writer. Never content to be a just a person who scribbled poems upon the backs of envelopes and delineated my thoughts in notebooks framed in psychedelic doodles, I yearned for the validation of my creative spirit and to see my name in print. Now, that I have achieved this, I know that I will do so many more times. This is the beginning of a new stage in my life, a life from which I used to hide, in shame.
My first novel, “The General Paralysis of Sanity,” started life as an exercise in catharsis. Years ago, after my last and particularly traumatic admission to a psychiatric hospital, I released my pain in literary productivity. Writing my novel became a forum for encoding my negative experiences in the guise of the creation of a character who was blatantly not myself. Although not autobiographical, my novel borrowed and reconstituted elements of myself. Writing it was not always easy but, after each session on my laptop I felt rewarded and more self-confident than before I had started.
Lifestyle changes meant that I moved location and ended up living across the borders in Scotland, where serendipity surfaced and I started to see a psychiatrist who was unusually literary in his interests. Not only was Dr H interested in my novel, he actually wanted to read it. Thus, began the tides of change…
He seemed genuinely surprised that someone with my history of psychiatric suffering should be capable of writing with lucid insight about the nature of mental distress. I have always believed that he suspected that cognitive impairment would undermine my literary ability but, I have been determined not to allow my “illness” to destroy, “the real me.” Dr H claimed that my work should be published and, subsequently, gave me the details of the foremost publisher of books by people who have experienced mental health problems. I emailed my book to Chipmunkapublishing and, the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, I not only await the imminent publication of my first collection of poetry, I am, also, engaged in writing another novel. In fact I am re-engaged with life.
Right now, at this moment when life seems too short for prostration, I do not feel happy. I am not ill or depressed, I have merely looked into my soul and perceived a gapping hole of unrest. My mind is uneasy with thoughts of failure and the ridiculousness of my vanity. As I write my blog, a platform for self-expression transforms into a confessional-an occasional table at which we all have sat. I ask myself, if we do this is in pursuit of redemption or merely as a cover for the desire for affirmation. For, I self-affirm daily and subsequently tear myself to pieces, like a piece of paper on which I have written a poem of bathos with allusions to my own feelings of distress.
Why do I blog? Because I was advised to. In these days when social networking is essential for all struggling writers I have entered the twenty-first century and, strangely, it feels good. However, goodness, lies in the hands of derision and darkness is forever near. Where there is good, bad threatens to invade. Thus, I have entered the blogging realm and uncovered an ego so fragile that it breaks in the wake of potential rejection. Does that render me any different from others? No. I am woman, if you do not like me, it is okay-I am not about to change.
Without boring you with the details, a simple memory lapse, last night, may have saved from me from unintentional electrocution. Had I carried out my usual bedtime routine, I might, now, be with former comrades of the psychiatric couch in the great asylum in the sky. Thus, I, subsequently, lay in bed, thanking the God(s) for smiling upon me, for projecting through my psyche the power of self-expression and creating for me a soma, with which to experience that which is concrete. Or, maybe, my survival had been attributable to coincidence. Either way, I am glad to be here tonight, writing my blog and speaking to beings I do not know, about matters which, only fools claim to understand. I am not a fool, but I like pretending to be! Why not join me and pretend that you understand, too.
Engaging in a conversation with a customer in the charity book shop in which I volunteer to work, I touched upon a subject which demanded further exploration. For, after mentioning that the central character in, and narrative voice of, the novel I have recently had published is male, he asked if I felt that I, as a woman, could accurately represent the male perspective? I replied that I had tried to and that it was, now, incumbent upon the reader to decide to what extent I had been successful.
Ruminating about the subject, reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s assertion in her essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” that the best writers possess a form of mental androgeny which transcends the restrictions of gender and penetrates the essential consciousness of the characters, whom they have created. Arguably, the actual representation of language in a text is as relatable to the author’s gender as the plot.
Virginia Woolf cited Dorothy Richardson as the originator of the, “women’s sentence.” Richardson’s rejection of traditional linguistic structure signifying, also, a rejection of the patriarchal order, by which the novel had previously been defined. Elaborating upon Richardson’s semiotic magicianship, Woolf ventured beyond the battleground of content into the arena of form. Her defining moment, the novel, Mrs Dalloway, whose action takes place during a single day, eschewed linear causality and embraced a form of elliptical progression which was at odds with the traditional male produced novel.
Although, at first glimpse the concept of the women’s sentence may appear to be contingent on a belief in biological determinism, Woolf did not propose that gender differences were inherent. Rather, she looked outwards into a society which not only produced, but reinforced difference. Thus, men and women were not born different, society reproduced our differences. Reflective of this was the pursuit of a women’s sentence; the pursuit of a woman’s voice.
AVAILABLE NOW ON AMAZON, MY DEBUT NOVEL, “THE GENERAL PARALYSIS OF SANITY,” BY LOUISE M. HART