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FIVE n FIVE

Sherry Ashworth has recently published a Young Adult novel about a young man's deepening psychotic depression exclusively available via ACHUKAbooks.

 

SHERRY ASHWORTH

author of



Most young people find going away to university an exciting and life-enhancing experience. What made you decide to write about a character, Luke, for whom this is not the case?

In fact I think most young people find the transition to university more testing than they might imagine. I know I did! I remember feeling as if I didn’t fit in for nearly all of the first term, and being terribly homesick. Sure, there were new friends and parties and late night coffees and the rest, but I also worried about how well I was doing, found independent learning was challenging in different ways, and I missed my mum! Now I lecture at a very popular university, and I have observed that my experiences are common. Most students have some sort of teething problems. So it was a small step to imagine that the first term at university might well trigger an episode of mental illness in a person who was already predisposed. Also, for plot reasons, I wanted Luke not to have support around him – it made for a better story!


The novel is told in the three distinctive voices of the main characters. Which voice did you find the most easy to adopt, and which one the most difficult?

Oddly enough, Jamie was the easiest of the three. Despite being female, and at some distance from my teenage years, I have quite a strong inner teenage boy! I really can’t imagine why. I enjoyed Jamie’s vanity, flip attitude and honesty – and I enjoyed even more his discovery about how important other people are. But because I gave him a wisecracking voice, it helped me to avoid a sentimental ending.

Less oddly, Luke was the most difficult. I had to try to imagine and then convey what it was like to experience a psychotic episode. In order to do this I had to research – I couldn’t rely on my own imagination. I visited several hospitals that offer mental health services, and spoke to sufferers too. A big thing I learned was that to the sufferer, a psychotic delusion is reality. I had to try to get that across – that Luke believed in everything that was happening to him, while at the same time the reader needed to see that it wasn’t happening to him. Hence my choice of a multi-voice novel.


Kate, Luke’s sister, is still at school, but with their mother out of the country it is she who has to take up a caring and responsible role towards her older brother. Is this something you were particularly keen to show.

Yes. I know - because I’ve seen it - that teenagers have a huge capacity for caring and shouldering responsibility. And also I thought it would be a better story if Kate and Luke had to manage by themselves. Writers like to test their characters. Kate was severely tested. A particular test for her was that she is naturally self-sufficient, the sort of person who pushes down a lot of her feelings, and doesn’t like to draw attention to herself. So she had to decide when to ask for help, fighting a tendency to want to make her brother better all by herself. Mind you, it isn’t only teenagers who have to learn when to ask for help. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that self-sufficiency is a virtue, but it’s not. We all need each other.


I think one of the great strengths of the book is the way you manage to make Jamie develop as a character. Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about the things he learns in the course of the story.?

That life isn’t all about scoring! That even though boys pretend that emotion is yukky and confining, boys need love too. That the best highs you get come from being there for other people – they don’t come from getting what you want for yourself – odd, but true. But, but, but! Jamie learns these things and develops without changing, without stopping being his essential self. He stays a joker, a bit of a lad – he has the gift of not taking himself too seriously – and that can be a life-saver.


This is a novel about depression, but it is never a depressing or an oppressive read. It is a pageturner with the three different voices advancing the story step by step from their different perspectives towards an exciting denouement. How carefully was the construction of the plot planned in advance?

Not that carefully! I find it impossible to plot in fine detail, and I wouldn’t want to. That would take away the fun of writing, which is to discover stuff as you go along. I had a rough road-map in my head – I knew that Luke’s breakdown would happen incrementally and that Kate would be preoccupied with her own affairs in the first instance. I suppose I did have to think very carefully how to dispose of the parents – yes – that took some forethought. But the development of the story between Luke, Kate and Jamie happened in the writing. I only I’d reached the end when I got there!


Your bibliography lists nearly 20 books published traditionally, and you have picked up a significant number of awards. What attracted you to publishing M|ENTAL as an exclusive ebook?

Because I think ebooks are the future. I have a Kindle and I prefer reading from it than a paper book. It’s lighter, more portable, quicker – and fun. But there’s a more important reason. I love writing for young adults, and think it’s important for them all to read – and to read fiction. Fiction teaches empathy, and empathy is as vital to us all as breathing. But teenagers don’t read as much as they should. They either have no time as they’re taking too many GCSEs, or they’re on their PlayStations – and – not many of them will spend their small disposable income on a book. A paperback novel is typically £6.99. But! A Kindle book is much, much cheaper and teenagers don’t even need a Kindle – they can just download a Kindle app on their smartphone or computer, and they’re off.


If, as I hope it does, reading MENTAL encourages people to seek out any of your previous novels, which one would you hope they picked up first, and why?

PARALYSED is similar to MENTAL both in being in several voices, and dealing with disability. But (and I’m being cheeky here!), BLINDED BY THE LIGHT is a novel about joining a religious cult, and also deals in abnormal starts of mind. And CLOSE-UP has a lead character somewhat like Jamie. No author can resist naming as many of her books as possible!

Do you have to have certain things around you or certain conditions to be in existence when you do your writing?

Nothing weird! Obviously a reasonable amount of silence – I wouldn’t respond well to my husband playing death metal in the next room. And I need to have a tidy desk. If there’s physical chaos around me, it makes my mind feel chaotic too. But I have no lucky objects or superstitions – I just crack on – it’s the only way!

When did you first begin to perceive yourself as an author?

Round about after my third novel had been published. And maybe, if I’m honest, not even now. I am most def a writer! Anyone who writes consistently and is prepared to work at their writing, is a writer. I find the word author rather odd. It kind of hints at a specialness and I don’t think writers are special – no more than anyone else with a talent or a set of skills. I can’t stand writers who take themselves too seriously or think the world owes them a living. Good writers have insights and can share them – which is a wonderful gift – but my mum had insight too, and shared it with me. She wasn’t an author, but I learned more from her than any author.

I’ve heard you (online) talking about characterization and advising aspiring writers to compile an imaginary questionnaire for each of their characters to answer. Is this still a method you recommend when teaching creative writing?

Oh yes!! Because it’s a lot of fun and you learn the oddest things about what’s in your subconscious. It’s relaxing too. Moreover, I use it for my own writing – used it just the other day, in fact. And what came out was immensely helpful. Writing is playing – and the more fun you make it, the better it’s going to be for you and your readers.


Recently, Sherry has been...

Reading... Watching... Listening to...

Claire Tomalin’s biography Charles Dickens – A Life
OMG I am such a Dickens’ fan! (hardback as it was a present)

 

The complete Frasier (so funny and well plotted)

Suede - Greatest Hits

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help – another multi-voice novel! (e-book)

 

The Wire

The Cribs

Kevin Brooks iBoy – so gritty and unputdownable (e-book)

The Sopranos

Elbow (our local band – the best blokes ever!)



Editor: Michael Thorn
Contact: 07803605045 or email
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