'Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.'- Angela Carter

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Marcus Sedgwick Talks Mental Health

I can't quite believe I'm going to type this, but today MARCUS SEDGWICK is on the blog to chat to us about Mental Health Awareness. Thank you so much to Nina at Orion Books for making this possible and a huge thank you to Marcus himself for taking the time out to do this!

Hi Marcus and welcome to Uncorked Thoughts and I'm so happy to host you on my blog. Thanks so much for agreeing to take part in Mental Health Awareness Month! It’s something which is so important to me and I really hope this month helps raise a little awareness.

What was it that made you want to take part in this month? Is Mental Health something that is close to you?
Mental Health should be something we are all concerned about. The figures state that at least one in four adults will suffer from mental health problems at some point in their lives. So even if you’re not affected, someone in your family is likely to be. For people of a creative frame of mind, the figures are even more startling – I’ve heard it said that one in two writers suffers from depression at some point in their lives. I have been one of those writers, and the mere fact that I hesitated briefly before writing that shows the trouble we’re in. No one would hesitate to say that they had a broken leg once upon a time, or that they had had a heart attack. That’s why we need as many people as possible to talk as honestly as possible about the subject. There are still too many people who think mental health problems are ‘their fault’ or due to ‘weakness’ or self-indulgence. Most mental health problems are a combination of genetics and brain chemistry, neither of which you get to choose.

How important do you think it is to de-stigmatise mental health issues?
In the last four years, I have known two friends who committed suicide due to depression. Without going into details, I believe it was a combination of living in families who felt that matters of mental health just simply shouldn’t be admitted to, let alone discussed, plus the fact that doctors are all too ready to dish out anti-depressants that can, while the body is getting used to them, have exactly the opposite effect to what is desired, and cause greater imbalances of the mind. What is needed is more understanding and help through GOOD counselling. It does exist, and I was lucky to get excellent help through the NHS when I needed it.

Have any mental health experiences or topics inspired your novels?
Not directly. I have touched on the issue at times, but only in a very loose and fictional way. I have a book coming out later in the year, one quarter of which is set in what we would now call a psychiatric hospital, but, at the time and place the story is set (New York in the 1920s) was called an insane asylum. Researching such hospitals led me to get interested in how mental health care has changed over the years, from the earnest but often dark beginnings of men like Charcot, through Freud, to the brutality of the mid-20th century’s experiments with horrific drugs and techniques. We’re better than we were at this. We still have a long way to go.

The term mental health comes with a variety of different meanings to different people; from anxiety, depression and panic attacks, to anorexia, cerebral palsy and OCD. Do you think there’s enough coverage of mental health in literature, whether that’s YA or adult?
You’re right – saying mental health and thinking it means one thing would be like saying physical health and expecting that to mean anything useful. I think there could be much more done in literature. The trouble, as always, with writing about such things is how to avoid making it an ISSUE book – clumsy and didactic. It can be done, and YA fiction is a very good place to do it. There’s a massively important dynamic occurring in the relationship between the teenager, the parent, and the dark things in life. I am often asked why I write dark things in my books. The answer is because we all think them. And we tend to start thinking about dark things when we hit teenage-hood. It’s a matter of basic bio chemistry in the brain and the fact that we have become old enough to be properly aware of things like death. These thoughts can be frightening, but as a teenager, we may not be able to turn to our parents, or other adults, to seek reassurance.  And even if we can, we may find that our parents are so scared by seeing their children (who only ‘yesterday’ were running around as happy young things) contemplating the dark matters of life, that they refuse to admit it, and suppress their child’s desire to say ‘help me!’ So either way, books are a great and safe place to explore the dark corners of life, and that’s why we could do with more options for young readers to turn to.

What are your top recommended reads for readers which want to read more books that explore mental health issues?
A novel in verse that poignantly shows the pain of a girl whose family are in denial.
The classic novel of the 60s, an expression of freedom vs authoritarian health ‘care’.
Grace Williams Says It Loud – Emma Henderson
This is a troubling but very real depiction of a 1950s childhood suffering from mental health problems.
The Shock of the Fall  - Nathan Filer
- winner of the Costa First Book award, and based on the author’s experiences as a nurse.
The Moth Diaries – Rachel Klein
While not strictly about mental health issues, the book makes a cunning link between anorexia and vampirism, and powerfully captures the mental tortures that others inflict upon the sufferer.
Because not only is this a great book but Matthew Quick is a lovely human being.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions! 
You’re welcome – I wish you luck with your campaign.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Author Bio
Marcus Sedgwick was born and raised in East Kent in the South-east of England. He now divides his time between a small village near Cambridge and a remote house in the French Alps.

Alongside a 16 year career in publishing he established himself as a widely-admired writer of YA fiction; he is the winner of many prizes, most notably the Printz Award (Midwinterblood), the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Blue Peter Book Award. His books have been shortlisted for over thirty other awards, including the Carnegie Medal (five times), the Edgar Allan Poe Award (twice) and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize (four times). In 2011 Revolver was awarded a Printz Honor.


  1. Really, really enjoyed this interview. Excellent post, with some great thoughts and "one-liners" about MH. R x

  2. Such an awesome interview! It's really great when well known authors speak up about such topics and talk about their own experiences. Eye-opening, and helps to "normalise" metal illness, I think. This is awesome!

  3. Bravo! Well said. Thank you for speaking out!

  4. I'm really happy both of you picked up on the complexity of mental health! It's just like when people say 'cancer' and expect everything to be the same for everyone. It makes me so sad to realize how many people are living with their mental illnesses not being taken seriously! Great interview and great giveaway! :)

  5. Well done, a brilliant post and interview! Totally agree, books *are* a great and safe place to explore the dark corners of life - both for young readers who are just curious or experiencing such matters and need something to help them get through it and also for older readers to see it from different perspectives or to get the chance to understand things they weren't allowed to talk about from their past. Thanks and good luck with the campaign :)

  6. Brilliant ^^ a HUGE thank you to Marcus Sedgwick for speaking out for Mental Health Awareness. It's so sad that there is STILL stigma for mental health issues - especially when you consider that 1 in 4 statistic. It's not something people can control and it breaks my heart that there is still shame and guilt about living with these issues! I certainly agree 100% about the comment about Doctors being all too ready to dish out medication WITHOUT properly addressing the issue and educating their patients. It happened to me and I would not wish it on anyone. Thanks again so much for sharing & for the reading recs xxxx


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