Having spent the bulk of my wage-earning life in mental health care, it’s not surprising that the theme crops up in my writing. But, as a reader, my professional experience can make me more picky. For World Mental Health Day this week, I’m asking for your favourite novels about mental health, sharing some of my own reading recommendations and illustrating how I’ve drawn on the theme in my fiction. Continue reading also for news of how to be in with the chance of winning a signed copy of my next novel, which is set in a psychiatric hospital in the process of closing down.
Tracey Emerson’s She Chose Me pits a disturbed and disturbing, yet nevertheless sympathetic, young woman with an impressive capacity to bend reality in her determination to fill the mother-shaped hole inside herself, alongside a middle-aged woman summoned back from her globetrotting life by her mother’s failing health.
Set in a superficially serene Icelandic fishing village, And the Wind Sees All by Guðmundur Andri Thorsson translated by Bjørg Arnadottir and Andrew Cauthery, is about the darkness beneath the surface and our collective reluctance to acknowledge it exists.
With themes of incarceration, hunger, and the location of madness, Dark Water by Elizabeth Lowry is a multi-layered historical novel set in an asylum near Boston, on the island of Nantucket and a US naval ship.
Middle-aged psychology lecturer, Diana Dodsworth has sacrificed her career prospects, and the opportunity for intimate relationships, in order to keep her past identity a secret. When she meets Simon at a dinner party, their connection over a shared interest in Cairo brings the promise of something more. Yet the conversation triggers unwelcome memories for Diana of the teenage decision that radically changed her life. As the relationship develops,
For most of his adult life, Steve has been a drifter, but now he’s decided to settle down. He buys a house, gets a job and persuades a gorgeous woman to move in with him. Life‘s perfect until she wants to start a family, and threatens to leave him if he won’t agree. He has an unusual and alarming idea about how to resolve the relationship crisis – and he happens to live in a house with a cellar.
Identity is the overarching theme of my short story collection, with a mixture of thought-provoking, playful and poignant perspectives on what it is to be. They explore how our minds and bodies, our relationships with friends and family, our work roles, culture, religion, nationality and much more, shape the someone we become.
Mental health is a major theme in my next novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, set against the backdrop of the longstay psychiatric hospital closures in the late 1980s and early 1990s, partly influenced by my own experience as a newly-qualified clinical psychologist. Here’s a taster – AKA the trouble with blurbs – and I’d welcome your feedback.
Henry was six when he waved goodbye to his glamorous grown-up sister; he’s put his life on hold awaiting her return.
Never mind what others say, Matty knows she’s a society hostess in a stately home.
Janice wants to put the world to rights, but she needs to sort herself out first.
As the asylums prepare for closure, their paths intersect. Will Henry be reunited with his sister? Or will the buried secret of their childhood push them further apart?
When do high hopes become delusion? Can we ever rectify the injustice of the past?