Category Archives: Relationships

Personal experiences and up-to-date information from reliable sources.

The role of mental health and the responsibility of the author in young adult fiction

The role of mental health and the responsibility of the author in young adult fiction

I recently attended a workshop hosted by Tom Harris, author of The Amber Room, The Amber Antidote and the forthcoming Wings, Wands and Weird Worlds series, and Hannah Morton, ambassador for Time To Change campaign which took place on Wednesday 7th June at The Spring, Havant. Both Tom and Hannah work for The University of Portsmouth’s Student Union and as such have become increasingly aware of the importance of the student voice for everything. This led them to feeling it necessary to address issues surrounding mental health in literature for young people. As a researcher at the University’s School of Education and Childhood studies, I am also very aware of the importance of this and especially the role it plays in the protection of mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.

This translates to the use of language for the YA author. To quote Hannah’s opening slide: “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.” As someone who is researching the development of mental health from the Victorian era to the present day, I find this both fascinating and alarming. Books being written that begin to deal with the turmoil of mental health in childhood and education are becoming ever more prevalent and popular in modern young adult literature but do they deal with the issues sensitively and sympathetically? There are certainly many authors that do but I still feel there are several examples of authors who do not necessarily focus on mental health and wellbeing that can carelessly use language that can cause internalisations that have a serious impact on children’s and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. I am not going to ‘name and shame’ as it were, but a few examples are as follows:

“You’re mental”

“Cheer up, it might never happen,”

“I need my room to be clean, I’m so OCD,”

“Why do you look so depressed, have you forgotten how to smile?”

As expressed by Tom and Hannah, I think it is really important to bear in mind the way words and language are used to convey certain ideologies and expressions. Terminology is especially important as we try to work towards greater acceptance and equality in this world. Children may, for example, come across terminology used by authors that they wouldn’t necessarily encounter and then translate this in to their own everyday use of language thinking this is OK, when in fact, it is exacerbating the situation of inappropriate use of language, this in turn could impact the reader and/or their peers in terms of their self-perception, confidence and overall wellbeing. The initiation of unhealthy thought processes and responses could be triggered by simply not feeling enough, when that was not necessarily intended. For example, “you’re so gay,” used in a negative connotation, or, “You’re far too sensitive,” such seemingly innocent phrases have a plethora of connotations that indicate to the young person that there is something “wrong” with them and that they will be judged for this.

What is interesting is that many of these phrases were originally coined as medical terminology; for example, idiot, imbecile and lunatic were used during the late 1800s to describe people expressing particular behavioural traits. The word spastic was first used in a medical context to describe people with the condition, cereberal palsy. It was only later that these words were adopted as insults as language evolved, as its nature. For that reason, it is essential to ensure that we, as authors, evolve with it so that our use of language parallels the generation(s) that we are writing for. Some suggestions for swapping some of the following expressions and phrases to more ‘mental health promoting’ ones could be as follows:

“s/he was feeling down/sad/upset” instead of depressed.

“Oh that’s alarming!” instead of mental/crazy

“S/he is a psycho,” instead say, “this person suffers with [the illness].” Or, “s/he has been diagnosed with [the condition].

“You’re so bi-polar,” or, “s/he’s got such a split personality,” or, “s/he’s such a moody . . .” these phrases should not be used to describe someone who is indecisive, of two minds or experiencing severe mood swings. If someone you know is exhibiting such symptoms, do not be off with them, instead ask them, “Are you OK?” You may perceive them as being ‘moody’ or ‘off’ towards you when they are in fact experiencing severe inner turmoil and require support or someone to ‘lend an ear’ to listen.


Film Review: The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

Film Review: The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

Introduction: As I have already written up the book review, I’m not going to bore us all by repeating what’s already been said. To find out the background of the story, you can read the post here:

The Fault In Our Stars – Book Review

But as far as being true to the story goes. I was pretty impressed with this. I’d only finished the book a few days before watching it and I got what I was expecting. My only disappointment was the lack of confetti in in Amsterdam! I was a little concerned about the authenticity in relation to this beautiful city, but I think they did a fairly good job.

The Actors:

I have to admit, this is not how I envisaged the characters in my mind at all, especially Willem DeFoe as Peter van Houten! But I went along with it as I think they did stay pretty true to the voice that came through in the book. Also, I did struggle a bit to get my head round the fact that I’d just watched the divergent series in which the actors who play Hazel and Augustus were brother and sister as Tris and Caleb and were now lovers!

Hazel: Looked far too healthy to pass as a girl terminally ill with this type of cancer, though I suppose this hits a lot of moral nerves and perhaps tackles some much needed addressing of stereotypes. Came across as more annoying and at times, unnecessarily sarcastic, than I imagined. Quite withdrawn and sometimes the words and the feelings being portrayed didn’t quite add up for me.

Augustus: Definitely not how I envisaged him, I would not have picked this actor to play him. I find him a bit too cutesy and preppy boy looking rather than ‘athlete with sex appeal’ which is what I had in my head. I despised the cigarette thing even more than in the book – it and he, I found very irritating to watch. I think the arrogance came across well. I think some aspects of the reality of Gus’s deterioration were missed.

Peter van Houten: Not what I imagined at all, this actor would have been among the last I would have picked to play this character, for one he is very slim and I had visions of a swollen, bloated, red-faced drunk and this actor is quite the opposite. Also, I couldn’t get over his ‘Americanness’ his attempt at playing a Dutchman I just didn’t feel was authentic at all. However, he is a very good actor and what I did find authentic about him, which came across even more so than in the book, was the genuineness of the tragedy he’d suffered from regards to his daughters’ death, also of cancer. Here there was some genuine indication of the impact that bereavement can have if one doesn’t grieve and the long-lasting trauma it can cause.

As an aspiring YA author with a particular interest and focus on mental health in young adult fiction I felt that in both the book and the film, this issue was somewhat overlooked. Yes – Green and the directors tackled the ‘in your face’ heartbreak of the impending doom of the situation Gus and Hazel face and completely romanticised the teenage dream in to a heartfelt love story, this I get, but I think that ultimately opportunities to address some hard-hitting truths about the impact of terminal illness on the sufferer, carers, and loved ones were missed. I am yet to read them but I have heard there are a few YA fiction authors who have nailed mental health issues. And yes, I understand this book is not about mental health, it’s about terminal illness – cancer to be exact, but I think that fundamentally mental health is always going to be an issue that needs to be addressed where terminal cancer is concerned.





It’s funny, it can come from all places, from all times and all walks of life; but it is most often found amongst the deluge of depression and tragedy. Like a glimmer of hope in the form of a shining light of realisation that all of a sudden seems so obvious. And indeed it is where I find myself once again. I find mine in the form of a young aspiring artist called Emma Haines. Something about the visit to her gallery in Ilfracombe, North Devon really resonated with me. A fellow horse enthusiast, many of her works were horse based and vibrant and alive with colour, a trait I love. My wonderful partner very kindly purchased two of them as a birthday present.

I had been asking him to take me to the Woolacombe Bay Hotel for ages, years in fact. It was where he would stay with work. When he first told me he had finally booked a night for my birthday I felt so excited. I spent weeks looking forward to it despite the looming tragedy I have now endured. As we wound our way down the hill to the beautiful setting below my heart raced with anticipation. The dark sandy beach surrounded by the peaks and rolling lucid green hills were what dreams are made of. The sunlight glinted off the swells of the crashing waves as they lurched over the shore. As we pulled into the car park he pointed to the room in the tower on the 2nd floor and told me that is where we would spend the night. I couldn’t wait to get inside and see where we would be staying. When I opened the charming antique and slightly wonky wooden door to our room I gasped and smiled. The view from our room could only be described as spectacular.

The whole experience was so romantic, the only disappointment was that time robbed us of prolonging our enjoyment further. We strolled along the beach barefoot, hand in hand as the sea crashed around our soft and sensitive skin and we waded through enjoying the refreshing chill that lingered as we felt the strength of the pull on our toes and the sand was taken from beneath us. The waves crashed around us in a powerful yet peaceful and soothing roar. We glanced at the pristine picture of the blue sea meeting the green hills of the countryside surrounding us, the rocks etched like little reminders of landscapes once passed. It was simply glorious. A scene so serene I could gaze upon it for hours, I worked hard to capture it in my mind, locking it my memory for all eternity.

We navigated the windy country and coastal roads into Ilfracombe the following day, expecting a coastal walk and a look around the sleepy seaside town to be the hustle and bustle of our activities for the day. Feeling captivated by the wonderful views and feeling of peace and tranquility about the place, I almost passed Emma’s shop window without a second glance. It was my partner who spotted the beautiful colourful horse and marched me across the road and inside, and I’m so glad he did. What a wonderful experience. I’ve never seen use of colour so vivid and captivating in the form of illustrative expressionism yet so technically accurate. Details were missed yet only added to the charm and enhanced the aesthetics of the work. As an artist there is clear illustrative brilliance. The character and personality of each animal and human are captured and immortalised. I longed to pick up a paintbrush again; to feel the pressure of a pencil glance the pages of textured paper and watch images come to life beneath it. I was inspired. I had to ask how she did it.

Emma was delightful to speak to and we all had a lovely conversation and it was wonderful to hear that she was local and had followed her dream and won an award for her work which was displayed and toured the country. She was more than happy to talk about how she had acquired the shop, her love of horses and her hopes for the future. As I listened with delight to the enjoyment her work and life brought her I felt a warmth rise within me. A creative fire igniting that I haven’t rekindled for many years. A fire that had been all but extinguished in the years I had dedicated to education. For all these years and in the absence of my horse fix I felt something was missing. I was beginning to put the pieces of the puzzle together once again as the embers burned.

I realise that your passions cannot be ignored, whether you have one or one hundred, it is equally important to make time to nurture each and every one one of them as best as you can. I have already promised myself a horse when I am able to support it financially; and I am pleased to say within a day I dug out my sketch book and once again picked up a pencil and put it to paper, I re-discovered my novel and the joys of reading for pleasure. I have reached out to my long neglected creative folk friends. I have decided to let go of my anxiety surrounding unemployment and to use this valuable time and energy to pursue my passion, for art, for literature, for creativity, for healing and therapy for me.

The Present of the Moment

The Present of the Moment

Wow. Was it really that long ago since I thought about you? Since I took the time and used the energy to commit myself to getting to know you? Yes, I believe it was. How time will pass us by, no matter what we do and how we do it. It doesn’t matter how we live our lives, time will always remain the same. Consistent. Reliable. Cruel. Real.

How many of us can honestly say that we take the time to just be. To live and breathe and emerge ourselves in the present moment. To let go of time itself and just observe ourselves, our surroundings, the world, for what it is. To let go of conscious thoughts of the past and present, what was, what might have been, what might be, and just focus on what is. Here. In the here and now.

I know I haven’t. I find it far too easy to become wrapped up in what I haven’t done, what I needed to do, the should haves, the could haves, the would haves and the if only’s. Oh the bain of the if only’s. If only I had studied psychology instead of biochemistry, if only I hadn’t moved back to Kent, if only I had stuck it out, said this, did that, didn’t do that! What a waste of time and energy. But what if I could release myself from the grip of ruminating in the past, the anxiety of the unknown in the future, dwelling on things beyond my control?

I am referring to the practice of mindfulness. The guidance required to learn to let-go of reflecting and ruminating and to just live in the now. To stop doing and start being, now, in this moment. This is a powerful tool when it comes to coping with debilitating conditions such as depression and anxiety. With the help of apps like headspace you can take back control and learn to live life how you want to, even if only for a few minutes, to gain perspective of the reality of what is really going on. To prevent catastrophising and see things as they really are. This is the power time has over us. Mindfulness takes the power of time and returned it to you. So you are able to function in the present. Believe yourself better.

Limitations and Expectations


Be honest with yourself, people say, but what does this actually entail? I believe that to be able to be honest with yourself, you first need to know yourself, deeply and intricately. How many of us can honestly say that we have taken the time to get to really know ourselves at this level?

This leads me to the main part of this post. How can we make realistic expectations and understand our limitations without first getting to know ourselves and second, being honest with ourselves. This level of understanding requires deep exploration of our psyche, in a nutshell, what makes us tick at a deeper level.

Once we have got this far, the next part is to then interpret this and work out how this impacts on what is in and outside of our comfort zone. I wanted to discuss this is I am currently exploring my own limitations and expectations of myself. Which has required taking the time to really get to know myself through asking a lot of questions. These include:

What can I afford to sacrifice with compromising who I am?

What am I truly passionate about?

What do I want from life?

What do I need?

How can I take steps to improve and grow as a person?

What are my 1, 5 and 10 year life goals?

How can I achieve them?

What are my fundamental life values and how can I work towards keeping them?

I’d be really interested to know what other people’s thoughts are on the above questions, and if anyone thinks I have missed any fundamentally important questions from this list. This will really help me with this part of my journey. Thank you for taking the time to read.

Turn Back Time


I start this post, well over due, with yet another cheesy pop song spoof. However, its appropriateness is unquestionable. I have spent considerable time during the first part of the Summer holidays reflecting on what I would do if I could turn back time. Asking myself, why is my first completed novel still sat on my laptop unfinished? Why have I not done . . . Why didn’t I do . . . What if I had  . . . and then it dawns on me. It’s not turning back the time that is the issue, life is never as simple as that. When I really think about the reasons why I haven’t yet done X, Y & Z yet . . . the answer is simple, because I haven’t made it a must-do priority. There are so many things on my list of to-dos that are NOT must do’s and I have Michael Heppell to thank for this realisation.

I have now read ‘Flip It’ and am making my way through ‘How To Be Brilliant’ and feeling like there is something, several things, that are still missing from this ‘magic formula’ of brilliance through ‘Flip-It’ thinking. For me it is the need for more time. I know there is a book, which I am getting to and will save for another post . . . but right now I understand that my distinct ‘lack of time’ is a combination of needing to plan and take appropriate action now!

The time I’ve spent reflecting on what I ‘could, should, would’ have done previously had I had it IS the time to spend, ‘am doing it now’. It is so easy to forget all the time and energy that is spent thinking about not having enough of it and working out how to prioritise and organise so that you can get it. If you just do it, how much extra time would you have?

It is also important to bear in mind that life just throws those little unexpected things at you that have to jump the queue to the top of your must-do list, perhaps displacing other previous ‘must-dos’ in to the ‘to-dos’ and that life doesn’t always go to plan. I believe that a little self-forgiveness and faith that it will all work out in the end is needed to get through these times. So when I reflect on why, five years after starting, I still haven’t published a world best-seller, I must stop the over analysing and start the editing!

Interview Expectations: Attitude and Enthusiasm


I have now been employed as a marketing assistant for two whole weeks and I’d just like to share a bit about my journey getting there. The role is based at a large, UK wide company who have been established for over 20 years and run direct response marketing campaigns.

I’ve been searching for a permanent role  in marketing since the beginning of last year, after developing an interest during one of the modules I was studying as part of my Creative Writing degree. I’ve been invited to many interviews and even secured a role with a start-up digital agency for a couple of months at the end of March last year. I thoroughly enjoyed it my time there and hoped it would develop in to something more, but as with a lot of start-ups these days, the role didn’t last for very long due to funding issues.

This left me in a bit of a predicament as I’d just moved to Portsmouth and needed a job, any job, immediately to earn enough to pay the bills, so that’s what I did back in June 2011. It’s taken from then until now to secure my most current role.

I didn’t have any issues getting interviews, and the feedback back I got interview after interview was the same, “interviewed well, but not enough experience,” it became a broken record to my ears. OK, so I didn’t have traditional industry experience, but I had demonstrated a genuine interest and commitment to the field, surely? It’s not like I was going for megabucks, in fact, I felt I had rather modest expectations considering my qualifications. I mean, how am I supposed to get the experience if I’m not given the chance to prove myself in the first place?

Then I got it, my ‘big’ break! And in doing so I discovered the truth. My new manager is a very upfront and honest personality, no sugar coating and very frank about absolutely everything – just the way I like it. One of our first conversations was about why she had decided to give me this opportunity. It wasn’t because of my qualifications, knowledge,or experience; in fact, she admitted to me that all of the previous interviewees had more to offer on paper than me. The reason that she decided to give me the opportunity is because, having come from a paperless background, she started from the bottom and worked her way up and feels that attitude and commitment are more important than qualifications and experience. And she felt during my interview that I really wanted the role, showed the right amount of enthusiasm and would give 100%.

To be honest, this was a bit of a blow to me at first because I felt so transparent. She had sussed my situation almost immediately and had just admitted that on paper I was probably the weakest candidate if measured by qualifications and experience alone, a harsh reality to digest when you’ve got two very good degrees under your belt and spent a lot of your personal time attempting to build your knowledge base around a subject. But I accepted this reality and appreciated her honesty.


As such she has now taken it upon herself to train me as her intern and I can’t thank her enough for this opportunity. OK, so it’s not a permanent role, I’m getting minimum wage and have taken on a lot of the jobs nobody else wants to do (reports, photocopying, printing and the like) but it doesn’t matter. For the first time I am doing something because I WANT to do it, not because I NEED to (well there is that as well, unfortunately we can’t escape the fact that these days money does make the World go round just a tiny bit). I finally have a job that I want to become permanent and stay long-term, where the days fly by,  that motivates me to get out of bed in the morning and best of all, where I feel appreciated and rewarded. That’s something that qualifications and experience will never be able to buy.

Silent Support


For the past few weeks I have been feeling rather disconnected from my partner, emotionally. The other night something happened that drew us closer together; it felt like magic, but it was so simple, it was silence. For so long I have been trying so hard to make things better, doing things I hope will help the situation when he’s stressed, tired, or just having a bad day. I feel so helpless when I can’t make him, or myself, feel better. It’s my natural instinct to do and take action. If it doesn’t work I end up feeling resentful and irritable, anxious and useless. I am sure most of us can relate to this to some degree, but last night I learnt something. Instead of jumping to my natural instinct to try and make him feel better when he told me he’d had a stressful day, I just leant over and gave him a hug, and let him hold me in his arms. It felt really good to just be present with him, feel his warmth and support and show him he has mine, words weren’t necessary, the feeling of closeness was enough, I took the time to take a step back and really savour his touch, the different textures of his skin, clothes, hair, and the brush of his lips on mine as he kissed me. It felt wonderful to let go and just be with him, as me, everything that I am.

He leant back and complimented my funky dress sense, something I am renowned for, and  instead of doing my usual and brushing it aside, I smiled and accepted it, really appreciating how much it meant, that he accepts and loves me, just the way I am, as I do him.

Now I feel reconnected and comfortable, with myself and in his presence, without saying a word. I feel supported and I feel sure that he knows he has mine. An unspoken conversation passed between us in that moment and now the energy has shifted to being very positive.

It wasn’t long after that a conversation passed between myself and his best friend, who he has lived with for over nine months now. We were discussing my partner’s funny ways and how we are quite an eccentric couple, with particular reference to the unusual balance of our masculine and feminine energies, his best friend then commented that this is one of the reasons why we make a good couple.

A couple of weeks after that, whilst organising for his Mum’s 60th birthday party – which was a great success I am pleased to add! (more of that in a later post), his sister told me, in a roundabout way, that she approved of me. After being warned by my partner that his sister is very protective and had taken a disliking to some of his previous girlfriends, which she openly admitted, I am feeling rather chuffed. It feels comforting to know that two of the people he is closest to have accepted me for who I am and feel that we are well suited and good for each other.

In fact, this is a notion that is shred by both parties, all of my friends and family only have good things to say about my partner and our relationship and I couldn’t agree more. Having had my fair share of car crashes, it’s good to finally know how great it feels to just be me and be loved and accepted for who I am and be able to share this with someone so openly. And to know that being open doesn’t mean sharing every little thought or feeling that passes, that being open and honest includes silent support through everything, that just being there is enough.

And now for a bit of cheese – in the words of Ronan Keating – please note, I am not a fan, just believe these lyrics ring true “you say it best, when you say nothing at all.” 🙂