As with many authors, I often get asked the biggest possible question about one of my novels; “Why?”
For each of my novels, I have decided to write a brief account of my rationale behind pursuing the project because I think it is important that authors have a valid reason for creating a work of fiction (not just making money). We can spend dozens, hundreds of hours committed to a single story so there should be a good reason for it!
I will start with the novel that is most personal to me, the contemporary drama ‘Demons Inside’ which I published way back in 2008. It is the story of two very different people with the same problem; dealing with mental health issues. They find that their common ground is the foundation for an unlikely friendship and the story follows their respective journeys battling the demons inside them. If you want to know more about the book, there is plenty of information elsewhere on the website.
You might think that the question of “why” is easy for this one given the semi-autobiographical nature of the main character, Josh. Yes, I was once a fifteen year old boy suffering from severe depression, driving myself to the brink of suicide. There are elements of the book that are lifted straight out of my own life story (you might find an old picture of me playing Fagin in the school production of ‘Oliver!’ somewhere on the internet).
But it is not that simple.
When I was first developing the concept of the book, I knew I wanted to write a contemporary drama. After all, contemporary life is full of drama and the challenge as a writer was to tackle a genre that is very real for people. At the same time, I knew the competition in this field was incredible and I did not want to compete to be the next Zadie Smith or Jonathan Franzen.
I wanted a personal story.
In my early twenties, I successfully completed a 15-month stint with a therapist that helped me to address some of my own demons. For me, the challenge was battling the voices inside my head telling me that I was not good enough to succeed in any form of my life. Those voices were constant, loud and persuasive. Thanks to the support of my family and friends, I was able to defeat my demons and I am proud of the person I am today; confident, in control and not afraid to talk about my own mental health experiences.
As the story of ‘Demons Inside’ started developing, I saw that there was more beyond my own personal war. I was writing characters like Greg (who embodied a different form of depression, fuelled by addiction) and Emma (who represented the concerned bystander who wanted desperately to help) that showed me a different perspective on my own difficulties. In particular, writing from the perspective of Josh’s mother (exploring her helplessness as she watched her son’s deterioration unable to fight his battles) helped to illustrate the impact that depression has on the people we love.
Editing the book was another journey as I revised the power of my words. I was trying to balance the harshness of the experience with the needs of my reader. There is only one instance of bad language in the book and it emphasised a turning point for Josh’s character. That was when I realised that my intended audience had become not the sufferers of depression but the loved ones of those who do suffer it. I wanted moments that jumped out of the book to make these people understand what Josh (and later, Greg) was feeling at that moment. That one word at that one moment hurt Josh more than anything and sometimes words can influence the direction our struggles are taking.
By the time I had completed and published the book, I was immensely proud and a little scared. This was a very personal story for me, about me (though I was lucky to have had more friends than Josh growing up). Getting it out into the world was a statement that it is okay to talk about these issues and explore them.
Through my recent work as a Mental Health Champion, I have witnessed people who have experienced ten times worse than I did showing a hundred times more courage than me. I am proud to stand up and talk about my own journey, even holding up this book to show that I reached a point where I could put it down in words and share it with the world. That is the best reason I can think of to write a novel; the courage to tell a hard story.