I've always had a strained relationship with my second novel and now I know why.
10 May 2021
The main character, Dan, has a range of mental health diagnoses, starting with bulimia through to (but not limited to) depersonalisation disorder. This is all before he begins hearing a voice – Joe – in his head.
In short, he has *a lot* going on.
I took the mental health aspects of the novel incredibly seriously. I did a lot of research. One of the main things I found was there is definitely not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to mental health. It’s quite personal, and often (not always) there is more than one thing going on at once.
While writing, I was terrified of getting it wrong, being offensive or the character not being realistic. Equally, it was a character-driven story. Dan had his own approach to his mental health and his treatment. Some of his decisions and opinions are controversial and he had issues with his medication.
Dan sometimes felt violated by his treatment, sidelined and ignored by his father and doctor. Not everyone will like all of Dan’s decisions (for the record, I don’t either) but they’re right for him in the novel and I hope I did him justice.
All of this got me thinking about my own relationship with this novel – it’s an odd one.
I found writing it VERY challenging. When I was doing final edits before sending it to my publisher, I can remember my partner standing in the doorway to the bedroom as I sat on the edge of the bed, scribbling manically in the manuscript, saying:
You need to stop. I’m really worried about you now. You need to stop.
Two weeks. I know I’m not mentally in the room, I get that you’re worried, but I need another two weeks. Then I’ll stop. Promise.
I’m lucky I have a supportive family. Writing the book nearly broke me and after publication, I could hardly bear to pick it up. I still can’t, truth be told. I’ve found it hard to feel proud of this novel in the way I do about my debut Beat The Rain and I’ve never known how to market it.
But not because it’s not a good book, I now realise. With a three year distance between now and its publication, I can see things a little more clearly.
I’m hugely proud of The Pursuit of Ordinary. It’s not a book for everyone. It’s challenging, covers homelessness, mental health and sexual consent.
Half of the book is written from the perspective of the voice inside a man’s mind, with all the limitations that brings as an author but I really think I pulled it off – I’ve never been able to acknowledge that before.
I hope readers have been able to read about Dan and Natalie without judgement and perhaps view the world a little differently after they’ve finished the book.
Dan and Natalie aren’t perfect, their decisions aren’t perfect, their viewpoints aren’t perfect. Neither is the book. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking ‘if only I’d done this’ or ‘if I could just change that’ but I’ve come to realise, that’s exactly the point of this book.
The novel is about imperfections. Or, more accurately, perceived imperfections. But on whose judgement?
I’ve spent a lot of time worried readers will think the characters reflects *my* views or experience. Would friends and family think I had mentally health struggles for writing it? What about the mums and dads at the school gate? The ones who read it and now look at me strangely?
I now realise the answer to all of those things is: so what.
All the things that have unsettled me about this novel and the exact reasons I wrote it. I should feel the way I do about it, it’s exactly the point. It’s exactly the novel it was supposed to be.
Goodreads Choice Awards nominee, Best Debut Author, Bestselling JHP Fiction title 2016
Can Louise move on from the loss of her lover Tom? Can she and Tom's twin brother Adam really find a way to love one another? Or are they trapped on a path of self-destruction, moving towards a tragedy neither can avoid?
Finalist, The People's Book Prize for Fiction, Longlisted The Guardian's Not The Booker Prize, 2018.
After witnessing a fatal car accident, a homeless man wanders the streets of Brighton, trying to ignore the new, incessant voice inside his head. Is Dan ill or has he really been possessed? Finding the dead man's wife is the only way he'll know for sure.