Ok World, here we go with P2 while you could read P1 if you missed that
3) The Writing
Did any books/memoirs influence your writing (style, presentation, content)? If yes, why?
Many books and writers inspired us! Although not a direct influence, the book most relevant to ours is Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston. The Stigma Fighters Anthology, edited by Sarah Fader, inspired and challenged us to keep things honest in our writing.
Did you have a writing mentor?
Not as such, but we had superb support throughout the writing process from many people. Without their help and guidance our book would not be what it is: indeed, it might never have been completed at all. Some people reviewed early drafts, others edited chapters, or suggested approaches to take with agents and publishers. It is hard to single out individuals (we recognise many in our Acknowledgements page) but we are especially grateful to Julie A. Fast and Rachel Kelly, who contributed so much, and gave generously of their time and expertise.
Which was the most difficult chapter to write in your book and why?
The most challenging to write was chapter 2, “The Illness Experience: Understanding Your Friend’s Diagnosis and Symptoms.” I’d imagined it would be pretty straightforward to describe the illnesses Fran has to deal with (bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia). In fact, it involved a lot of research and editing to describe these complex conditions succinctly but accurately, and in a way relevant to our readers.
Which if any was your favourite chapter to write and why?
Our favourite is chapter 7, “The ‘S’ Word: Being There When Your Friend Is Suicidal.” That might seem an odd choice, but it’s a topic we feel passionate about and wanted to cover as honestly and thoroughly as possible. We hope we have contributed to a wider conversation about suicide and suicidal thinking.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and if yes, what was it?
Martin: I learned that writing a book and getting it published is hard work! Joking aside, our four year journey taught me a great deal on many different levels. I learned how to plan, write, and edit a book, and how to query literary agents and publishers. I took courses including Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). I read widely, focusing on personal accounts of mental illness. I also learned to listen. To Fran, yes, but also to other people. Meditation, NVC (Non-Violent Communication) and other techniques helped with that. I gained hugely in confidence. I learned I had a voice, and something worth speaking out about.
Fran: Absolutely! Writing this book I really opened myself up from a vulnerability standpoint, to share everything with the world. That was really scary but there was also a freedom that I gained from doing that. It also helps us in a practical way. Just the other day when I was in depression, Marty read to me from our chapter on depression and it helped remind me what we can do to shift out of it.
How long did it take you to write and get the book published and why?
High Tide, Low Tide was published almost exactly four years after Fran first suggested the idea to me. That included planning, drafting, writing, researching, editing (and re-editing and re-editing!) the manuscript itself. It also included writing a full book proposal (which took far longer than I imagined it would), as well as querying literary agents and publishers. The later chapters draw heavily on our personal correspondence. It took a lot of time and effort to locate, organise and select from the many thousands of lines of our Skype, Facebook and text (SMS) messages, as well as letters, emails, and my personal journal. By the time we found our publisher (Nordland Publishing) our book was completely written and edited. Things moved ahead swiftly from there: High Tide, Low Tide was published within three months.
4) The Message
Do you have any advice for other writers especially on challenging subjects like mental health?
My main advice is to keep it real. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to include everything but it does mean being honest about what you put in there. Can readers tell the difference? I think so. We are very open about how things are for us, both individually and as friends. We cover some challenging subjects including stigma, discrimination, rejection, mania, depression and suicidal thinking. We include transcripts of many of our conversations, so people can see first-hand how our friendship works under these kinds of challenge. We also include times when things didn’t go so well. That’s important because it would be wrong to give the impression I always know what to do, or handle things perfectly. We get things wrong all the time! Real life is messy. How you handle the messy bits and get back on track is what matters most.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Fran expressed it really well at the end of our book, highlighting the difference we can make if we are there for those we care about:
“There are many like me who live in invisible institutions of stigma, shame, and silence, the walls built by others from without, or by ourselves from within. Dismantling these walls invites connection. Be the gum on someone’s shoe who has one foot inside and one foot outside. Stick around. It may not be easy but you can help someone make a life worth living. Maybe even save a life. One little bit by one little bit. A smile, a wink, a hello, a listening ear, a helping hand, a friendship all work together to interrupt the grasp of illness. Be open and honest, with your friend and others you meet. Judge not, for misunderstandings abound. Acceptance, understanding, and kindness can pave another way. Let’s.”
One reader wrote to us and said, “Your journey as friends reminds us that mental illness doesn’t change what friendship is all about: being there for those we love.” That’s a great answer too!
Any other writing projects, blogging etc?
We blog regularly at www.gumonmyshoe.com and elsewhere, including The Good Men Project, The Mighty, Time to Change, Men Tell Health, I’m NOT Disordered, and Julie A. Fast’s blog at bipolarhappens.com. Fran has written for the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram. An open letter to her psychiatrist was published in The Maine Review. We love having guests on our blog, so if you’d like to write for us, check out our guidelines (www.gumonmyshoe.com/p/contact.html) and drop us a line!
Where can your book be found?
High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and a wide range of other retailers. You can find further details and links on our website (www.gumonmyshoe.com/p/book.html).
Thank you very much Martin and Fran for answering my questions. I must admit your answers will genuinely help me write a comprehensive review of your epic book.