This is a guest blog post from Stephanie Cox, BookMachine contributor, events organiser for SYP North, Publishing Editor at Emerald Group Publishing and blogger at Words are my craft.
Last month I attended a fully-booked author event at Hull Central Library, featuring Matt Haig, author of numerous bestsellers, including The Humans and Reasons To Stay Alive (and who, by the way, is a fellow Hull University alumn and I had no idea!).
Matt spoke openly about mental illness and depression and how it has shaped his writing and reading habits over the years. It was an eye opener and something most of us can relate to. Here is a short summary of what was discussed:
1. Did you start writing novels expecting to be published?
“Of course not!” he giggled. “You don’t start writing with a view to getting published, only to start writing in the point of view of dogs and writing mild satires of Shakespearean plays! Initially when I started writing, it was a coping mechanism. Getting published was an added bonus.”
2. What was the background to The Radleys?
Haig’s book The Radleys is based on a family of vampires who attempt to curb their appetites and desires in order to fit in. They have to make compromises in order to appear normal to the outside world. Matt highlighted the parallels between the stigma of being a vampire in the novel and the stigma of mental illness in the real world. “I have always been very resistant to stigmatising and I fight against discrimination of people with depression and anxiety, because I’ve been on both sides myself.”
3. And The Humans. Why did you decide to write a novel from the point of view of an alien?
“When you’re writing, sometimes you need to take a big step back and look at the bigger picture, like when an artist is looking at a painting they’re working on,” Matt explained. “With The Humans, I was able to do that. I was able to write a narrator that looks at the human race from the outside in, and in this way I could easily show how alien the world can seem. I don’t have answers to the big questions in life, and so The Humans allowed me to ask the questions and ponder why we are the way we are. The alien is an outsider and that’s how I often felt when I was ill.
“On the other hand, I didn’t want it to be all doom and gloom. I injected humour and light-heartedness into the novel, because, let’s face it – the human race is pretty damn funny!”
4. In light of your occasionally fragile state of mind, how do you deal with negative criticism?
“Badly! As is to be expected, I loved praise, but hated criticism. That said, I don’t think the book blogging and book review world is critical enough! All of these bloggers who receive free copies left, right and centre – they’re too scared to look nasty or to give genuinely critical reviews. They want to be liked and to continue getting books but they need to know that it’s OK to criticise something. This fake culture isn’t healthy for the book world. We can’t evolve with fake praise.”
A big thank you to Head In A Book for making this event happen!