I'm so excited to have Lydia Ruffles, UKYA author of The Taste of Blue Light and upcoming Colour Me In, stopping by today to talk about why she writes about mental health in her novels.
A Tale of Two Lists
I said an enthusiastic and, as it turns out, complacent 'yes, please' when Jo invited me to do a guest blog on why I write about mental health for her Mental Illness in YA month. It seemed like the question was made for me. This'lll be easy, I thought.
(Spoiler alert: it wasn't.)
The main characters in my two books - 17-year-old art student Lux Langley in The Taste of Blue Light and 19-year-old actor Arlo Thomas in Colour Me In – both have a mental illness. (They also have friends, family, first love, adventures, goals, agency, etc – more on this later.)
As well as writing about brains a lot, I'm a trained Mental Health First Aider and am about to start an MSc in Creative Arts & Mental Health. I also have various diagnoses myself. Basically, I'm super here for any conversation about minds and what they get up to, and couldn't wait to get blogging.
I started by jotting down a list to answer the question.
Here it is:
- To help reduce stigma and dismantle stereotypes
- Because people with mental illness, even fictional ones, deserve empathy, love, great stories, and all good things
- A sense of responsibility
- To show recovery is possible but that it isn't always linear and that getting 'better' doesn't always mean going back to how things were before
- To connect with readers who need these types of stories
- Because it can make great fiction
- Because everyone has a mind.
Then I binge-watched Queer Eye, which is all about vulnerability, honesty and connection (and how to make great guacamole), and thought, 'OMG, my guest blog is a web of deceit and I must tell the good readers of Once Upon a Bookcase the truth.'
Really the first version was fine but the list it was based on could have belonged to anyone and the question was 'Why do you, Lydia, write novels about mental health?'.
So, I made a new one:
- It's easier for me to be honest in fiction
- Writing is a way of feeling control over my mind
- I like it when people read things I've written and say 'I think/feel/do that too sometimes' or 'I didn't know that, thank you.'
- My 'thing' is brains and arts
- When my mood is manic, it doesn't feel like a choice
- I prefer writing to talking (my therapist would confirm this)
- Putting stuff on a page, whether with words or paint, gets it out of my head.
I'm on every page
It's because of the things on this second list that there's a lot of me in both my books, from feelings I've had to situations I've been in. I figured out a lot of stuff through writing and, later, reading them.
In Colour Me In, Arlo flees to the other side of the world to try to escape the things going on his mind – creeping depression, grief, insomnia. A few weeks before his 20 th birthday, he meets a young woman called Mizuki Gray and they set out to get as lost as possible together. I started writing it while I was travelling in Japan so it's a story full of neon, ruins, art, adventure, and plenty of other distractions. As he gets farther away from home, Arlo has to figure out whether he can ever outrun himself.
In my experience, there's nothing like being alone with a blank page to force you to confront yourself. For me, that page is the best place to tell the truth. You can also give characters your secret vulnerabilities, make them braver than you sometimes feel. Occasionally, they go feral but generally characters do what you tell them to, which is fun when you don't always feel in control of your own brain.
My debut, The Taste of Blue Light, tells the story Lux. Her life unravels after she blacks out and wakes up in hospital with memories missing on what should be her last day of a summer internship at an art gallery. She returns to her arts boarding school for her final year but has to fall apart before she can put herself back together. It's about post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD.
The first line of the book is "I will find the old Lux and when I do I will climb back into her skin so I never get lost again." This sentiment was born of years of trying to figure out what was 'wrong' with me.
Though my characters are **slightly** younger than me, I'm on every page.
How we tell our stories
I'm not the first person to find that writing or making other art is a way of closing the gap between their experience and others' perceptions of it. For me, that's what makes writing and reading stories about connection rather than escape.
I absolutely believe that people should feel safe to talk about their mental health, that stigma is dangerous, and that often the way to get better is to ask for help. I also think that none of us owe anyone our stories nor are we obligated to tell them in a particular way. Writing is the way I choose to share mine.
Author Deborah Levy once said, 'The novel is a good home for the reach of the human mind – don't apologise for the fragile, strange parts.' The more I think about this, the more truth I find in it.
Lydia Ruffles is the author The Taste of Blue Light (out now) and Colour Me In (out 9 August). She also writes and speaks on creativity, mental health, synaesthesia, and migraine for media ranging from Buzzfeed to the Guardian and Wellcome Collection to BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @lydiaruffles.
Thank you so much, Lydia, for such an honest and personal guest post! Oh, wasn't it brilliant?! Be sure to visit Lydia's website, follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and check out The Taste of Blue Light now and Colour Me In when it comes out on 9th August! And you can read my review of Colour Me In from earlier today.
And now for the giveaway to win a proof of Colour Me In!
- Enter to win a proof copy of Colour Me In by Lydia Ruffles by filling in the Rafflecopter form below.
- Open to UK entrants only.
- Giveaway will close on 1st August at 12.00am.
- The winner will be chosen by Rafflecopter and will be announced in this post.
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