When I was a young writer working with my first editor she told me I couldn’t possibly write about characters with mental health issues because romance readers wouldn’t relate to it. Now if she had told me I lacked the experience to pull it off, I might have taken more notice but I didn’t believe her so I ploughed on. But in terms of mainstream publishing at the time, she was right. The vast majority of my rejections started ‘you write well but’.
But The Missing Pieces of Us was a book I had to write. I’d become an advocate for bringing mental health issues out into the open when a close friend suffered a devastating breakdown made worse because it wasn’t possible to do just that. When I think about the ‘help’ I tried to give as they sunk lower and lower, now I cringe. Passing on snippets of NLP based advice, saying “this too will pass”, advising to eat bananas for energy – all with the best of intentions, but way off beam because back in 2008 I simply didn’t recognise what was happening.
As my regular readers will know, The Missing Pieces of Us began life as my indie novel The Faerie Tree. At the start of the book, when Izzie finds Robin again, he is homeless and she is recently widowed. To some extent they are both broken people, and very soon we discover Robin has quite a history of mental health issues, so perhaps it isn’t surprising when they remember their brief affair of twenty years before completely differently.
Now that makes the book sound grim reading, but I promise you it’s not. And it isn’t just me saying so, it was a theme that came up in many of the reviews on Amazon for The Faerie Tree. It was only my second book, and conscious of my relatively rookie writer status, and the market, I didn’t want to delve too deep into their troubles, although I had researched carefully to make sure their responses to the issues they were facing were authentic. What I wanted more than anything was for the book to give hope – hope for recovery, for a future, a better life.
The Faerie Tree was published in 2015 and over the next five years we became far better at talking about mental health as a nation, in part due to the wonderful Time to Change campaign. Then in early 2020 came lockdown, and with the stresses and strains that put on people, it was finally OK to be not OK. The genie was out of the bottle and hopefully will stay that way.
And this was the point when I decided to submit The Missing Pieces of Us to One More Chapter. And it was accepted, on the proviso I examined and brought out more on recovery from mental health issues. Provided I dug deeper. It was a wonderful moment on so many levels but not least because it shows how much society has changed over the years.
Let’s keep talking!