Please welcome Morgan Bell to my blog! I’ve posted recently about my own struggles with depressed feelings, especially as it relates to my writing. When Morgan contacted me about her book, which exams mental health issues, I knew I wanted to hear more from her! Her novel, Sniggerless Boundulations, is compilations of short stories. Read more from Morgan’s own words:
Writing about mental illness
For me, when writing about mental illness, I try to get the reader to emote with the character, get them to share an experience. I do not name the mental illness in the story, or dwell on treatment or medications, or even have the characters admit they suffer from a mental illness, I just paint a picture and hope you can relate.
When I was a teenager at high school I read “Cosi” by Louis Nowra. It is a play set in a mental health facility. The protagonist, Lewis, learns from seeing extreme cases of obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, pyromania, drug addiction, selective mutism, limerence, and suicidal tendencies, that we are all a little bit mentally unbalanced and we all have the traits of these disorders to a certain degree, its just a matter of proportion.
In my book Sniggerless Boundulations, a collection of fifteen short stories, I approach mental illness more metaphorically, but with the same intention.
In Garsdale the cavern represents the depths of depression and the struggle between the broken part of you that wants to stay hidden and the highly-functional part of you that is frustrated because it has to spend so much energy battling the lost and frightened broken part. It is a reflection of the splintered psyche we all have.
In Mrs Jackson I essentially retell a common anxiety dream, I have these dreams often, trying to ward off something bad, and being responsible for something that you are unable to take care of. In real life that “something” is yourself, but in a dream you may be herding cats or literally attempting to hold back a tide.
In Shark Fin Soup I examine grief. That story came about as an entry into the Hunter Writers Centre Grief Awareness Month short story competition. I was a speaker at the Live Reading night and presented one of the prizes. I highly recommend this ebook of the shortlisted stories http://www.amazon.com.au/Grieve-Short-stories-Grief-Awareness-ebook/dp/B00H5CQQBI to get an understanding of how complex and diverse grief is. The competition is open again this year http://www.hunterwriterscentre.org/grieve-writing-comp.html (500word entries, comp closes 4 July 2014). The piece I read, by author Gabrielle Clover, was the winner, and consisted of a dot point list in a letter to her friends of what not to do when someone is in grief after the loss of a loved one.
In The Dermoid Cyst I look at hypochondria and its causes and consequences, through a simple conversation between three people and a bottle of wine. I am fascinated by how dismissive our culture is towards “attention seeking”, and they tendency many people have towards negative attention seeking rather than positive attention seeking. Where is the line between genuine hypochondria and pathological lying? And are both the bastion of the lonely, to liven up the few opportunities they get for conversation because they fear their day-to-day lives are not entertaining enough? This and the brave new world of medical hysteria from google self-diagnosis. Never ever google common medical symptoms, it will push the most sane person to the brink of madness.
In Tiptoe Through The Tulip I delve into old-school psychological horror via vengeful flora to drive home the message that paradise is not a place, it is a state of mind. This story is similar to “The Day of The Triffids” by John Wyndham, or films like The Happening, with a little nod to Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and its message about respecting your environment. Agoraphobia is brought on in a central character as a consequence of unknowingly plucking the forbidden fruit (or flower) from the garden of knowledge. Beyond the biblical imagery, I am also reminded of the Romantic poets like Coleridge with “This Lime Tree Bower My Prison” or Frost with “After Apple Picking”, where it is the characters attitudes and ambitions that affect how they relate to their environment and contribute towards their own misery and anxiety.
In my story Telfer Speck the title character suffers blackouts and becomes embroiled in a self-fulfilling prophecy. He, once again, is very connected to nature, and the introduction of a pipe-smoking cop puts a fly in the ointment of his environment. Telfer faces the inner turmoil of second-guessing his own nature. This happens to most of us, when something bad happens we reassess our lives and who we are as people, and for some it can lead to a nervous breakdown.
With all of these stories I endeavour to show and not tell, and I hope that readers empathising with these characters leads to reflection, maybe drawing some parallels and feeling a little more understood. As we lead less and less connected lives, with smaller families, and more stressful jobs, it is reassuring to know that fear is universal and fear levels are fluid. It is that universality that writers aim for, and including a dash of mental illness into your characters makes them more like you and me.
For more information, check out this link: Snigs-leaflet