Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Writing About Imperfect People: The inspiration behind The Mind’s Eye

If there was ever an embodiment of the idea of the ‘troubled teen’, then it was me, but probably not in the way you’d think.

I wasn’t, for example, a smoker or a boozer; I didn’t stay out late or smuggle anything (or anyone) untoward into my room at home. In fact, I stayed in. A lot. I would come home from high school aged 15 and find myself crawling straight into my bed at four o’clock, out cold until gone six and still in my uniform with Mum calling me down for dinner. My entire life was a pattern of eat, sleep, school, sleep, eat and so on; not a scrap of energy or enthusiasm for life, waiting desperately for the time when I could throw off the shackles of the 9-to-4 school day and finally use what little pep I had to do something better with my life. A myriad of doctors and therapists told me that I was depressed and filled me up with drugs, packing me back off to school like that was the answer to my problems.

It took me a further four years to work out what was really going on.

At age 13 I developed what I now know to be called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.), a debilitating physical condition that attacks every major system in your body from the nervous and digestive systems to the musculoskeletal, hormonal and beyond. Between the ages of 13 and 16 (what some would call the best years of your life) I went from being a spritely, bright child to a surly, aching, exhausted teen who saw every morning as just one more day of pain coming her way. I dropped out of school and spent eighteen months trying to recover from what I was still being told was depression and anxiety, but no matter what I tried I just couldn’t get better. I knew that there had to be another explanation; I just had to find a way to prove it.

For my 18th birthday I was taken away for a week’s holiday. I deliberately didn’t pack my anti-depressants, suffering a week of cold-turkey withdrawal in order to flush them out of my system once and for all. This is not a practice recommended by doctors and I don’t advocate it, but it was the only thing I felt able to do at the time. Coming home from that holiday I had a fresh perspective on my physical health, realising that I was never mentally depressed, but that my body was the one letting me down. I had an illness and it took me another whole year before I met a doctor who could put the label M.E. to my symptoms.

Armed with this knowledge I returned to college and then went on to university, all the while making my way through different doctors and different treatments until I could find one who would push to get the diagnosis I so desperately needed. I was 22 years old when the letter finally came to tell me what I had been suffering from for the last nine years. It was a relief, but also a sadness, the final confirmation that I am living with a condition that has no known cure and will be likely to affect me for the rest of my life. At the point when I received that letter in November 2011, I felt as though the life I had been wading through suddenly needed a new purpose and a proper direction, something I would still be able to achieve if and when my condition worsened.

So I started to write.

I have written several self-published books in the last twelve months and it has been pointed out to me repeatedly that each one of them contains characters that are physically limited, pained and/or mentally scarred in some way. This is no co-incidence, but it is something that was creeping into my work without a definite conscious knowledge; I think I simply found it more engaging personally to write about imperfect people. That was until I sat down to write my first novel for Clean Teen Publishing, entitled The Mind’s Eye. In this book my central character suffers from Juvenile Systemic Arthritis, a severe and debilitating condition that presents many of the same musculoskeletal symptoms that I face every day. Whilst I am not always bound to a wheelchair, the immobility that my character Kit faces isn’t just about her legs not working. The Mind’s Eye is an exciting wartime adventure with paranormal fun, but at its heart it is also a story about a girl just like me, struggling to work out how to find a place in the world where she can feel valued and still be useful to the people she cares about.

Scenes within The Mind’s Eye are a mixture of Kit’s psychic visions of the Second World War interspersed with her own struggles in her home life. I have a feeling that some people might consider those latter scenes to be the ‘boring bits’, the ‘filler’ that has to happen between the tense, exciting action moments. To me, however, I could take or leave the incredible and heart breaking scenes of war, because the real struggle that touches my heart is that of a lonely young girl quite literally trying to stand on her own two feet in a world where all the odds are stacked against her. When you read The Mind’s Eye, spare a thought for Kit and the life she has to lead every day, because her fictional creation represents countless other people out there who face physical and emotional struggles that ordinary folk can barely comprehend.

The real story of The Mind’s Eye isn’t that of the glorious Allies beating back Jerry, but of Kit Cavendish beating back the sentence that life has handed her with the newfound love and support of the people around her. It is a story that is very important to me and I sincerely hope it will find a place in your hearts too.
The Mind's Eye will be released on April 1st 2014 by Clean Teen Publishing, followed by other books in the Synsk series.

Read the synopsis here.

For more information on the condition:
please visit Action For M.E

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