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Book Spotlight & Giveaway (US/Int): Glitterland author Alexis Hall on dealing with depression, beating stereotypes, & talking like a Brit

 

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Posted October 9, 2013 by

Please help us give a HUGE warm welcome to Alexis Hall, author of the exquisite contemporary romance Glitterland…

As a quick note, you’ll notice this post is considerably longer than what we usually feature. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read through it in its entirety. Alexis has some insightful thoughts on mental illness and common social judgement, and this post will give you a very good idea of his writing style. I imagine if you’ve already read Glitterland, I don’t need to encourage to soak it all up, because you already know how addicting his writing is. *smile* I’m not exaggerating when I say that Glitterland is one of my most memorable and enjoyable reads of 2013.  Check out my full featured review here, complete with glitter pirate quotage.

<3 DVK

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

Thank you so much to GraveTells for hosting me today. And, to you, dear reader, for stopping by. I hope you enjoy the time we spend together.

You know, publishing a book is really weird. I don’t think anything quite prepares you for just how weird it is. I mean, I love the writing part. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do it. At the risk of sounding unforgivably pretentious, it’s like this whole enclosed, ever-changing world that can still never expand beyond the boundaries of itself. Like Koch’s snowflake. But then your part is done and the book is released, and readers come into it with their own ideas and perceptions and responses, and suddenly, it just … bursts its banks. And you’re left standing there with no more insight into what you’ve written than anybody else. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a beautiful one. An important one. I believe that books are, and should be, these fluid, interpretative spaces, shared equally by those who read them and those who write them. But it does mean that Glittlerland now is not really the same as the Glitterland I was writing almost exactly a year ago, and I’m not sure how to even begin thinking about it anymore.

I only really read reviews if someone actively draws my attention to them – it’s partly for my sanity and partly because I really do believe reviews are for readers, and having the writer peering over your shoulder and breathing down your neck would be like having a creepy guy turn up at your party and then refuse to leave – but people do write to me and talk to me, so I am aware of the sort of things people think about the book, what’s contentious and what isn’t, what some people like, and what some don’t. And I know the two big things are the phonetic Essex and the portrayal of the main character, Ash, and his bipolar depression.

And that’s really difficult because I don’t know how to engage with choices that I’ve already made. I occasionally pick up the book, skim a bit, get embarrassed like I’ve been caught masturbating in public, and put it down again. When I think about the Essex, I ask myself “is this annoying? Am I annoyed by this?” and, sometimes, I think it is and I am (but then there’s nothing I can do about it), so I try to imagine it written in standard English. Except that just means it’s Ash-Ash-Ash up to the eyeballs, and I end up coming to the same conclusion all over again: that I want Darian to have his voice. In England, the standard way of speaking English (what we called Received Pronunciation) is so unthinkingly and uncritically accepted as “right” that regional variation is literally treated like an aberration or, at best, like a charming decorative flourish. So it was really important to me to find a way to represent the reality of Darian’s speech patterns. Whether I’ve done it well or badly is down to individual judgement now, but, looking back, I don’t regret it.

Which brings me, I guess, to the depression thing. Needless to say, I’m not trying to present myself as any sort of expert on this subject. Mental illness is very complicated and very personal, and what works for someone, might just annoy someone else or, worse, come across as appropriative or dismissive. So there’s no generalised messages here, just personal choices again. I’ve always been fascinated by first person narration, especially when its unreliable, and Glitterland is kind of relentlessly limited in its perspective and Ash is hopelessly unreliable. Not, I hasten to add, because he’s mentally ill – although, obviously, the fact he’s clinically depressed does affect his worldview – but he’s deceptive and self-deceiving in the way he presents things and hides things. He basically spends the whole book trying to squeeze Darian out of the narrative – just like he’s trying to, well, squeeze him out of his heart. And, by the same token, because he’s so profoundly alienated from himself he has this really contradictory attitude to Darian where he simultaneously over-values him (because he’s in love with him) and can’t/won’t acknowledge that value, because he’s so utterly terrified of caring for something (someone) that might be taken away from him.

At the same time, because of his illness and his experiences and the way he’s chosen to deal with both of those things, he’s so riddled with self-loathing that he persistently presents himself as negatively as possible. First person narrators have complicated relationships with their readers – whether they’re acknowledged or not – and I think there’s almost a sense in which Ash won’t court the reader’s affection any more than he’ll court Darian’s. Partially because he feels he doesn’t deserve it, but mainly because being unlikeable is kind of the last choice he feels he has left to him.

So I honestly have no idea how a reader is supposed to navigate that. Frankly, I’ve no idea how I did. But just to disentangle myself from Ash for a moment, part of the reason I essentially surrendered complete control of the narrative to him – even to the extent of letting him be a dick to basically everyone – was because I thought perhaps the only way to actually see past, or through, all his shame and despair, was to understand him. And in order to do that you kind of have to live in his world, of which his mental illness is a part, although only a part.

I think quite a few people have had, um, shall we say, difficulty with how unpleasant Ash is, but, for me, I felt his right to be an arse was very important. One of the problems with the way the world treats mental illness – or disability in general – is that it simultaneously sanctifies and demonises it. A while ago, I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile or Die, which is subtitled How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World. In it, she talks about her experience with breast cancer and how off-putting and alienating she found a lot of the rhetoric surrounding the whole thing. There is, according to Ehrenreich, a relentless pressure on people with cancer to maintain this positive, upbeat, fighting-and-surviving image, so much so that she felt unable to admit to anyone that having cancer kind of sucked. I think there’s a very similar thing going on with mental illness.

At the risk of causing death by reference, I remember listening to a radio interview a few years ago with the writer of Some Voices, a play, and now I think a film, about a man with schizophrenia. What I remember most from this interview is the writer talking about pitching the concept to whoever it is you pitch these concepts to. “So,” says he, “the thing about this script is that the main character is schizophrenic.” “Great,” say the Being Pitched To People, “but what’s his gift.” There’s this notion in popular culture that if there’s something “wrong” with you then the only appropriate reaction is to rise above it with Jedi-like serenity, and that this will necessarily manifest in your becoming more wise or more insightful or more caring than “ordinary” people. And if this fails to happen, the alternative is that you become a serial killer. Of course, neither of these things are true. I mean, obviously there are plenty of wise, lovely people with mental illnesses, just as there are plenty of wise, lovely people who do not have mental illnesses. But people with mental illness are essentially just people, and they can make the same choices and the same mistakes as everyone else.

I also think part of it is that there is a belief that people with mental illness (or with a disability or with cancer) are somehow morally obliged to behave in a particular, pre-approved way in order to minimise the distress they cause other people. And don’t get me wrong, not causing distress to other people is a perfectly laudable goal, but the idea that other people get to tell you how to react to your own life because they will be sad if you don’t react the way they want you to would be laughable if it weren’t so prevalent.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean Ash has any more right to be a dick than the rest of us, but he doesn’t have any less right either. Essentially, from Ash’s point of view, society presents him with two choices: take personal responsibility for the fact that other people are upset by your illness, or don’t care about people’s feelings. We catch little glimpses of this in his interactions with Niall and his memories of his mother. I think (I hope) that Ash really does care about both of them but they both take his illness so personally that he can’t invest in their happiness because they’ve made it so clear that they can’t be happy while he’s ill. And he can’t just stop being ill to please his loved ones. Part of the reason it takes him so long to accept that Darian really loves him is because, at first, he doesn’t recognise that it isn’t his illness that makes Darian upset, it’s his behaviour.

I said above that I very rarely read reviews unless people bring them to my attention, but I did read a particularly heart-breaking one in which the reviewer said she too suffered from depression and didn’t believe in the happy ending because she felt Ash would inevitably drive Darian away. Obviously I entirely support this reviewer’s right to read the book however she reads it, and I think she has a point because the ending is uncertain, particularly by romance standards. But, for me, that uncertainty is what it’s about. Ash has spent so long convinced that there was nothing he could have that he wanted, that even the possibility of something is, for him, as important as a happy ever after. Truthfully, for me, even without mental illness in the picture, relationships don’t come with guarantees. They’re about trust and hope and simply being willing to try. The entirety of Glitterland is about getting Ash to this place. So, I guess, in a way, we leave him and Darian not at the end of their story, but at the beginning of it.

 

Glitterland_400x600

Once the golden boy of the English literary scene, now a clinically depressed writer of pulp crime fiction, Ash Winters has given up on love, hope, happiness, and—most of all—himself. He lives his life between the cycles of his illness, haunted by the ghosts of other people’s expectations.

Then a chance encounter at a stag party throws him into the arms of Essex boy Darian Taylor, an aspiring model who lives in a world of hair gel, fake tans, and fashion shows. By his own admission, Darian isn’t the crispest lettuce in the fridge, but he cooks a mean cottage pie and makes Ash laugh, reminding him of what it’s like to step beyond the boundaries of anxiety.

But Ash has been living in his own shadow for so long that he can’t see past the glitter to the light. Can a man who doesn’t trust himself ever trust in happiness? And how can a man who doesn’t believe in happiness ever fight for his own?

 Read our review of Glitterland here!

Read an excerpt

My heart is beating so fast it’s going to trip over itself and stop. Everything is hot and dark. I’ve been buried alive. I’m already dead.

I have just enough grip on reality to discard these notions, but it doesn’t quell my horror. My mouth is dry, strange and sour, my tongue thick as carpet. Alcohol-heavy breath drags itself out of my throat, the scent of it churning my stomach. I’m pickled in sweat. And there’s an arm across my chest, a leg across my legs. I am manacled in flesh.

god, god, fuck, god, fuck

My body is far too loud. Blood roaring, heart thundering, breath screaming, stomach raging, head pounding.

I’m going to have a full-blown panic attack.

The first in a long time. Not much consolation.

Where am I? What have I . . .

out, fuck, have to get out

I twist away from the arm and the leg, rolling off a bare mattress onto the bare floorboards. Maybe my first instinct was right. I am dead and this is hell. The darkness scrapes against my eyes. Where are the rest of my clothes?

And breathe, I need to breathe more. Or breathe less. Stop the light show in my head. My vision sheets red and black, like a roulette wheel spinning too fast, never stopping.

god, fuck, clothes

Scattered somewhere in the void. Trousers, shirt, waistcoat, jacket, a single sock. My fingers close over my phone. A cool, calming talisman.

Half-dressed, everything else bundled in my arms, I ease open the door, dark spilling into dark and, like Orpheus, I’m looking back. The shadows move across his face, but he doesn’t stir. He sleeps the perfect, heedless sleep of children, drunkards, and fools.

My footsteps creak along a narrow hallway of peeling paintwork and I let myself out onto a wholly unfamiliar street.

Buy it on… Amazon paperback | Amazon Kindle | Riptide Publishing

About the author

Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret. He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car. He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.

Connect with Alexis at… Website | Twitter | Goodreads

Giveaway

Because I <3 this book so much, I’m personally sponsoring a giveaway of an e-copy of Glitterland (gifted via Amazon) to one commenter on this post. Leave a question or comment for Alexis with something relevant to either the book or his editorial above.  If you’ve read this, shout out your thoughts on it!  Good luck!

<3 DaVinciKittie

a Rafflecopter giveaway


davincikittie

 
Sue "DaVinciKittie" Brown-Moore is a veteran romance blogger and reviewer and the primary voice for GraveTells.com. Sue and GraveTells have won several blogging awards, and GraveTells recently celebrated its five-year anniversary! Sue is also a freelance Developmental Editor passionate about helping authors bring out the best in their stories. She loves reading romance, fantasy, and sci-fi and edits any genre she reads for pleasure. You can follow Sue's editing blog, with tips and tricks for authors, at DaVinciKittie.com.


25 Comments


  1.  
    Sarah

    Thank you -this was really interesting to read and I really appreciate your views on mental illness – I’ve had depression for years now, and the general perception of mental illness gets to be very frustrating. It’s okay for me to be sad/unhappy etc but angry? Not so much. And yet depression does include being angry and hurt and lashing out. I’m incredibly grateful for the family and friends that have stuck with me and continue to help – and who have gone looking for information on depression so they understand what’s going on.
    Glitterland is one of those books I’d like to read; but I need to work up to it – anything which deals with mental illness that well tends to feel very personal and triggering(?) But I would like to read it one day 🙂




    •  
      AJH

      Thank you for the comment 🙂

      Honestly, I’ve had very mixed reactions to the book from people with experience of depression – some people find it very authentic, others just find it,well, depressing, and I’ve made some people pretty angry by portraying mental illness in what seems to them a stereotypically negative light.

      It’s obviously a very personal, very emotive topic – it’s also one that interests me, and affects me, as you can probably tell from my extensive ramblings on the subject 😉 So, yes, in short, I can see why the book could be pretty triggering – and why you’d have to be in the right sort of mood to read it. I like to think it’s a moderately cheerful book about bipolar depression but it’s still a book about bipolar depression 😉




  2.  
    Liz S

    You made several excellent points. Many people think you can overcome depression just by having a positive attitude and pulling up your boot straps. No one chooses to stay depressed. Depressed people may be able to function in their jobs and families, but they have no joy in their hearts and feel isolated. Thanks for the giveaway.




    •  
      AJH

      Thank you for the comment 🙂 This is something I think about a lot – so I got me some opinions on the subject 😉

      I think you’re right that mental illness in general can be very isolating, simply because the world you move in and perceive may not be the world other people are expecting you to move in and perceive – as you say, by assuming that Depression can be “cured” if you just try a little harder to be happy.

      I tried to explore this a bit in the book, albeit somewhat obliquely through Ash’s friends and family.




  3.  
    AJH

    And now I feel weird commenting on my own guest post – but I just wanted to say thank you to DVK for hosting me, and letting me babble on for what feels like forever. I’d say I’m not usually this verbose but that would be an utter lie. Also it’s the first thing I’ve written about Glitterland since release, and will probably be the last since there’s only so much people want to hear you talk about your own book, so I guess I was in a strangely meditative humour 🙂




    •  

      No no, thank you! Authors don’t always stop in to chat and I much prefer it when they do. Thanks for taking the time to put together such a well thought post for us. I also tend to be verbose so I totally get it. :p

      I read on your site that you may have another contemporary romance similar (you referred to it it as almost a companion piece but different) that you’re working on. Can you tell us what you’ve got in the pipeline?




      •  
        AJH

        I’m always chuffed to bits when someone is kind enough to let me splash words over their blog 🙂

        I’m also really wary about talking about on-going projects in case, well, in case I cock them up or nobody wants to publish them. But ideally I’m hoping to make a sort of triptych, which is a ridiculously over-inflated thing to call three books 😛 Obviously bipolar depressive and essex boy is done now, but I think I have things I want to keep exploring when it comes to some of the broader themes – like class and selfhood, and your place in the world. So I’m about halfway done of one of those, and a third done of the other one – one is highly unreliable first person narration again (though the character has a very different voice to Ash) and the other is deep third person, I think. One is an attempt to queer domestic romance, and it’s set in the NE of England, and the other is a sort of weird, dark heist type thingy (yes, that’s a genre now).

        No idea if either of them are going to work, or be publishable, to be honest. But I’m having fun and that’s the main thing 🙂




  4.  
    erinf1

    Thanks for the great post and congrats to Alexis on the new release! What was the inspiration for this book ?




    •  
      AJH

      Thank you for the kind words 🙂

      Oh, the inspiration for Glitterland is odd and diffuse. I’ve been vaguely intending to write something about depression for a while but I couldn’t really a find a context for it. And then, of all things, I was watching the UK X Factor in 2012 and they had a contestant called Rylan Clark, a very orange and sparkly Essex boy, who couldn’t sing so well but was incredibly charming in a whole range of ways.

      What really caught me about this, though, was the backlash against him. I mean, some of it was typical homophobic nonsense but, weirdly, some of it actually came from inside the queer community. I can remember sitting in the pub with some friends, and one of them actually describing this poor bloke as “a disgrace to gay men.” And that really upset me because, really, being orange and not very good at singing is “a disgrace to gay men?” Oh come on.

      But then I realised I would probably have thought something very similar myself when I was a bit younger – I was a bit uncomfortable with myself for lots of reasons, but queerness among them and, hey, I was in my early twenties, everyone is uncomfortable in their early twenties 😉 So I was quite down on camp in general. And then I realised that I was just supporting the idea that only certain “types” of gayness were acceptable.

      Gosh, this is getting long. I’m so sorry! But as a consequence of all that, I decided I wanted to write a book about the “wrong” kind of gay – someone flamboyant, and kind, and silly, and not conventional hero material. And because I wanted him to be taking seriously *as a hero* it made sense to put him a serious context – and so I came up with, Ash, the nasty biopolar depressive. And there we are 🙂




  5.  
    Carl

    Thanks Alexis I really enjoyed your insights into writing and releasing your book and into the character of Ash as well. I love the “unreliable narrator” . He makes us work while we read. The subject of depression strikes very close to home as well. This does sound like a great book, I’d love to win a copy.




    •  
      AJH

      I’m sorry to hear depression hits close to home – obviously, as I said above and in the post, it’s a very personal subject, and I approached it in a very stylised way. But just like wanted Darian to have his Essex voice, I wanted Ash to have his.

      I’m completely fascinated by unreliable first person narration in general. And I quite enjoy limited perspective romances as well, which I know makes me a bit of an alien since – from conversations I’ve had – the dominant community preference appears to be seeing both sides of the relationship. But I think it works really well for stories about love, since – for me at least – love is this uncertain blessing, and it’s not actually like you can peer into the brains of your loved ones to make sure they’re into you 🙂

      Not even slightly a romance, but one of my favourite books in the world is ONLY FORWARD – I mean the narrator actually *lies* to you in that. Yet you never feel betrayed by him, or the book. Deeply interesting stuff.




  6.  
    Mary Preston

    I haven’t read GLITTERLAND, but my curiosity is aroused.




  7.  
    Trix

    I think because mental illness is still so stigmatized and misunderstood, having a romantic MC struggle with it is groundbreaking in itself. At the same time, Ash shouldn’t have to be a symbol of dealing with depression one way or the other…after all, it’s the story of a relationship, and every one is different.




    •  
      AJH

      Yes, exactly. That was one of the things I was trying to keep in mind while I was writing. I didn’t want it to come across as any sort of textbook, or a love-cures-all type narrative. Obviously, Ash as a mental illness and that effects him a lot, and that affects how the world treats and judges him, but I really wanted to show that was just an aspect of who he was, and that he had the same rights to be awful and fuck up, and lose love, and find love as everyone else. Of course, whether I succeeded in doing that is down to the individual reader to judge 🙂




  8.  
    Jbst

    Interesting and good points in your points about people with mental illness, e.g. are just people and can be unpleasant and make mistakes, just like anybody else without the illness. As you said, the HEA gives hope, but there is never any guarantees in any relationship.




    •  
      AJH

      Thank you – it was something I was trying to put across in the book, but obviously whether or not it works is likely to be pretty personal. I was deeply saddened by the reviewer who felt HEA was impossible because of the mental illness – or because of the way I portrayed it – but interpretation is, of course, any reader’s privilege. In my head, I like they think they make it, or at least have as much chance as any other couple 🙂 But I’m pretty sentimental 😉




  9.  
    Jennifer

    Thank you for the insights you provided in this blog. I love reading books that provide a look into someone else’s perspective/experience that is different from my own and often teach me things. And I enjoy the “unreliable narrator” aspect you discuss. Glitterland is on my TBR list.




    •  
      AJH

      Oh, thank you – I very much hope you enjoy it. I wouldn’t really see myself as teaching anybody anything, but I hope it provides an interesting perspective at least, albeit it a very personal one 🙂 I hope the unreliable narrator device works for you – Ash is more than very slightly unbearable but, as I said in the post, I was hoping understanding him would mitigate that a little bit. Also I will confess I enjoyed writing him – it’s not often you get to say chiaroscuro in cold blood 😉




  10.  
    Crystal Guidroz
    10

    Thanks for the great post and giveaway. Having to deal with depression and currently overcoming it I can say it is not always visible, no one knew I was depressed from my family to my friends. It is also a struggle everyday to deal with it and not to let it win. Thanks for bringing to light a topic that needs way more understanding and press than it gets!




    •  
      AJH

      Thank you for the kind words and the comment. I don’t know how successful Glitterland is in … well … light bringing, since its approach to the topic is highly personalised and I know some people are troubled by how negative it seems to be (because Ash is such an unpleasant person). Obviously he hasn’t been able to hide his illness from the family and friends who were there when it really hit him (though I always assumed he was previously undiagnosed) but a lot of his behaviour his motivated by making sure people people can’t guess, or don’t find out, fearful of judgement or pity I think.




  11.  
    Maria Malaveci

    I have not yet read it, but it certainly has sparked my interest. Thank you so much for the chance!





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