Sunday, 10 January 2016

Why is it so dark? Because nobody gives you a manual when your parents break.

This week sees the release of 'When Sorrows Come', which is categorised as a Contemporary Romance but wears it like an ill-fitting coat.

The reaction from Beta Readers has been incredible, almost every single one has told me how it moved them not just to tears but turned them into an emotional wreck - as much as I am distressed about this in some ways, there was a sweetness to the idea that it was job well done.

You seen, When Sorrows Come deals with some pretty major issues in it's small 52k wordcount; the death of parents, the remarriage, emerging sexuality, sexual abuse, recreational drug abuse, self-destructive behaviours, parental mental illness, obsession, academic pressures, murder, suicide. It's heavy going but there is a tremendous amount of hope and light too.

As a result of this somewhat gruelling journey I have taken readers on, there is the recurring theme of a question - why is it so dark? My answer is, it's not dark, it's real.

In this post I'm sharing with you some of the personal background that informed, influenced and inspired this story - they are sadly not unique experiences, but they are extraordinary, and I already anticipate some readers will find it hard to understand the events portrayed are not wildly unrealistic.

When Sorrows Come narrates the intense, passionate, twisted and unhealthy relationship of Ophelia and Malachi, but their relationship is the product of their own inner demons and desire to defeat them, rather than any kind of indulgence.
These are just some of the reasons that 'When Sorrows Come' has been one of the most emotionally draining things I have written; why every single god-damned read through has reduced me to a tearful wreck; but I know there is truth in it - and it's a truth that needs to be shared because nobody gives you a manual when one (or both) of your folks break.

Both characters in the novel are dealing with massive emotional issues. Malachi has lost his father, an eminent intellectual; a giant of  a man who Malachi feels the pressure to live up to. His mother's emerging sexuality and her hasty marriage to her late husband's brother, leaves Malachi in a maelstrom of emotions; anger, grief, resentment, disgust, humiliation, fear of failure. Added to this melting pot of fears and confusions, he begins to believe that his uncle is abusing Malachi's fourteen year old sister, who he feels he must save.

Ophelia's mother is bi-polar, her father a working-class shift worker who works hard not just because they need the money but because it offers him a valid escape from the situation of home. Ophelia's mother's bi-polar manifests in extreme highs and lows, which result in regular suicide attempts and committals to the psychiatric unit at the hospital. Ophelia is an only child, who has increasingly travelled inwards in order to survive.

Some readers will read Ophelia's character and story and believe it is too far fetched, too dark, too extreme in its representation of bi-polar, but it isn't - it really isn't, and the reason I know this is that I lived much of what is represented in the novel.

My father, a wonderful father in so many ways through my early childhood was diagnosed with serious bi-polar disorder when I was just 13 years old after a series of psychotic episodes. The ins and outs of that story, of how and why are not mine to tell, but what I feel I can tell is the experience of being a teenager living in a home where the mental illness of one parent threatens to consume the whole notion of what life is.

At seventeen years old, as an only child, I was making regular trips to an outdated and underfunded 'provincial' psychiatric unit in the local hospital. I had witnessed several 'sectioning' processes, several suicide attempts and other elements of psychotic periods. I was attending Consultant Reviews, panels and boards, fighting - literally- for the appropriate care of my father. My bedtime reading was The UK Mental Health Act so that I could go into reviews and panels armed and informed, citing and challenging the 'professionals', who were somewhat bemused and rather resistant to a 17 year old feisty, articulate girl challenging their years of medical practice. Although I was fighting for the rights of my father, more importantly (because it wasn't recognised that carers had rights at this time) I was fighting for the rights of my mother.

(Side Note in reference to some points in the novel) In the mid-nineties, the psychiatric  hospital ward my father was admitted to did still have a safe room (A padded cell) and did still use a 'modern' equivalent of a straight jacket (which looked very much like the traditional type). These details are not fanciful imagination.

At seventeen, I was also undertaking the study of 5 A-Levels, applying for Cambridge University, (which didn't happen due to a 1 grade slip; the result of a particularly harrowing month which had involved several high drama moments of police, GPs and the psych ward; there was no one to fight my corner on that one) working evenings and weekends at a local supermarket, and I was also a very committed member of a Youth Theatre; I had also started a relationship with a boy from college, who went onto be (and still is, 15 years later) my wonderful hubby.

Looking back, I can't fathom how all these multi-faceted sides of my seventeen year old self existed in the same place, time and space of my life - but they did. Despite the literal horrors I witnessed during that time, I still partied (a lot), had a fun and wide social circle, studied, played in theatre productions, started a positive romantic relationship, worked - and experienced many of the scenes which occur in 'When Sorrows Come'.

There were moments of extraordinary darkness. There were times I wished I ceased to exist - but there were other times that I felt the full force of life in all its adolescent glory. That's why the representation of Opehlia and her mother's relationship will confuse some readers; it will challenge everything they think they know about such a situation - they may find it callus in places, dismissive in others, disconnected and unreal, but it isn't that - it's that when you're in it, living it, along with all the other facets of your life, sometimes it just isn't a priority - and that's a survival mechanism.

These are just some of the reasons why, 'When Sorrows Come' has been one of the most emotionally draining things I have written; why every single god-damned read through has reduced me to a tearful wreck; but I know there is truth in it - and it's a truth that needs to be shared because nobody gives you a manual when one (or both) of your folks break.

'When Sorrows Come' is out THIS THURSDAY on all eBook platforms, Amazon Worldwide, Smashwords, Kobo, NOOK, iBOOKS, Scribd. Just type in When Sorrows Come. Katie M John and it will flag up.

It is also available in paperback from Createspace, Amazon worldwide and direct from me from February 21st.