Through a Lens Brightly: January update

In November last year I was thrilled to learn I had won a PicFair Mind The Lens £2,000 award. I applied for the award because my project fitted the brief of exploring the link between photography and mental health, but I never expected to win, so I was very honoured to be among the finalists. The funding will be used to fund the research and production costs of my new book.

Through a Lens Brightly will examine the impact of photography on mood and wellbeing. It will investigate which aspects of photography convey the most significant mental health benefits, to whom, and why.

The first stage of the project was to carry out an anonymous survey of UK photographers, which consisted of a series of multiple-choice questions, followed by free text answers. The participants were asked about their own mental health and how much different photography-related activities improved their mood and wellbeing (or in a few cases, had a negative impact on it). The survey is now complete with over 600 responses from photographers of all ages and levels of skill. I also recorded a few in-depth interviews with those who kindly volunteered their time to take part.

In particular, the free text narratives are fascinating. I am very grateful to everyone who provided these detailed, honest, sometimes raw and emotional accounts of how photography helped them through times of trauma or crisis, supported meaningful life changes, or simply enhanced their existing quality of life.

The next stage is to analyse the data, which I have started to do. Since I don’t have a background in statistics, I have enlisted the help of a psychology PhD student who is helping me to make sense of the numbers and we are hoping to collaborate on a journal article based on the findings.

The book itself will present the results of the survey and will explore a series of themes relating to photography and wellbeing, supported by the individual narratives of the respondents.  It will also draw on my personal experiences as an amateur photographer with a long-term mental health condition.

Taking up photography helped me to challenge my negative thoughts: that I was rubbish at art, too old to learn, and would be hopeless at anything that required technical skill. It also helped me to overcome my internalised belief that you have to excel at something in order to enjoy it. In celebration of this, I want to include my own photographs to illustrate the theme of each chapter.

I’ll look forward to updating you each month as the book progresses. In the meantime, the image above is of Llandudno Pier on a cold winter afternoon. I like the depth and darkness of the blues and the reminder that beauty is all around us regardless of the weather.


“Through a Lens Brightly”: my latest book project

A huge thank you to those of you still following this much-neglected blog. After a long break, I’m finally ready to update you on my latest project.

Over the last year I’ve been working on a new, non-fiction book that explores the impact of photography on mood, mental health and wellbeing. As well as writing about my personal experiences, I wanted to include the views of photographers from across the UK, so I put together a survey, which has had over 500 responses to date.

The replies have illustrated just how incredible an effect photography can have on people’s mental wellbeing, as an avenue for creative expression, as a form of mindfulness or stress relief, and as a way to appreciate and truly see the world around us. In some cases it has been transformational and a powerful aid to recovery from trauma.

I will be concluding the research phase at the end of October and after that I’ll be writing the book itself. I’ll be including my own images and a few from other photographers (with their permission obviously).

If you are an active photographer (any level of skill) and would like to take the survey, please do contact me. It is completely anonymous and takes around 15 minutes to complete. Thank you.


Publication day: The Beauty of Broken Things

And here it is… the novel I began in October 2015 is finally released today to coincide with World Mental Health Day.

This isn’t the first novel I’ve written which focuses on mental health. It’s been a recurring theme in my writing, usually from a personal perspective. This time, however, I’ve addressed the question of what happens when two people who both have mental health conditions meet and fall in love. What might be the tensions and problems in their relationship? And how might their friends and family feel about them getting involved with another vulnerable soul?

The main characters, Kerry and Alex, presented themselves to me almost immediately. I knew at once there was great passion and chemistry between them, as well as significant barriers to them being together. I also knew they were older than the norm for romantic fiction, and that they would meet as volunteers in a charity shop while both were unemployed and financially struggling.

What I couldn’t see at all was how the narrative would play out. The only way to find out was to start writing scenes and see where it went. Along the way a host of other characters joined in, each with their own desires and conflicts and reasons for volunteering in the shop. You can read a synopsis here.

My main aim was to tell Kerry and Alex’s story as authentically as possible. I wanted to convey the hell of living with severe anxiety or depression, especially with regards to stigma and the difficulty of finding employment. I didn’t want to depict an unrealistic scenario where the characters emerge from a couple of therapy sessions with their self-worth issues miraculously fixed.

At the same time, I didn’t want to dismiss the possibility of hope and healing either. Most of all I wanted to show the inner strength to navigate life that people with mental health conditions can develop, as well as a heightened sense of empathy.

The Beauty of Broken Things is available on Amazon in paperback or as an e-book.

I hope you enjoy the story and would be really grateful if you were able to leave a review.

Thank you.


A cover story: developing the design for my book

Book front cover 4-8-18One of the most exciting aspects of being a self-published author is having control over the design, branding and marketing of your book. I’d been looking forward to the cover design for ages, but before I got started I spent some time browsing around Waterstones to get a feel for trends. I also read a lot of information about self-published book covers.

While there was disagreement over what made a good cover, one piece of advice was consistent: that the book should fit in with what is expected of its genre. This, I imagine, is why authors and publishers often fall out over covers, because the author is committed to their artistic vision of their story, while the publisher and bookseller want to position it visually in the marketplace so that the right readers are drawn to it.

My novel sits broadly within the contemporary women’s fiction genre, since it’s written in an accessible style with a central female character who is dealing with relationships and other relatable women’s issues. However, it’s also gritty in parts. My two middle-aged characters are facing unemployment, poverty and mental ill-health. It’s set in a charity shop in Manchester, so not the most obviously glamorous location. If my choice of fonts and images on the cover were to suggest a sexy romance or high heels and shopping, it would no doubt come as a massive disappointment to the reader who downloaded it to their Kindle to take on holiday.

I needed a design that would give a prospective buyer a reasonable indication of what kind of book it was, and that felt right for the tone and mood of the story. I also wanted it to be eye-catching and have artistic merit.

My initial idea was inspired by a friend’s comment on my title, The Beauty of Broken Things. She said it reminded her of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold or silver. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

It suited the core message of my book, which is that people who have suffered adversity or struggled with their mental health can also possess amazing strength and beauty of character, not just in spite of their difficulties or imperfections, but as a result of them.

As I was searching through stock photo libraries for Kintsugi images, I came across other art forms that incorporated the concept of brokenness, including the mosaics designed by Antoni Gaudi at Parc Guell in Barcelona, which use the Trencadis technique of creating stunning new patterns out of waste pieces of ceramics. At once I was sure their rich intense colours would make for a striking book cover, as well as being thematically representative.

Book cover 4-8-18.jpgMy husband came up with the idea of cutting out the spaces within the mosaic for the title text, and I immediately loved it. Once we’d sourced the perfect image he got started on the artwork. We also bought a license to use the font, because once I’d seen it I knew I wasn’t going to be happy with any other.

Although Tony isn’t a graphic designer by profession, he produces a variety of marketing materials for his own business and he is a natural artist, so I was confident he’d do a good job. His attention to detail was great, right down to using Photoshop to line the edges of the cut-out areas with the same cement that was used in the mosaic.  I am delighted with the results, and hope my readers will be too.

Of course there can be pitfalls when embarking on a creative project with a partner or friend. Most self-publishing experts advise against using a non-professional to do your cover. All I can say is that in my case, it was the right choice for me. I found it easier to communicate what I wanted and to be assertive about what wasn’t working than I would have done with a stranger. Another benefit was that Tony had read the whole book, while cover designers typically rely on a synopsis or extract.

One of the many advantages of self-publishing is that a cover can easily be changed if it’s not working, or can be tested against a new version to measure performance.  I’d be sorry to say goodbye to the mosaic though, as I love its colourful jumbled beauty. Hopefully I’ll visit Barcelona one day and see the real thing.

The Beauty of Broken Things will be published on 10th October 2018, which is World Mental Health Day.

Image: Sandra Veronica/Shutterstock.com



My novel, The Beauty of Broken Things, to be published on World Mental Health Day

I am thrilled to announce that my novel The Beauty of Broken Things will be available on Amazon from 10 October 2018, which is also World Mental Health Day.

The novel is a contemporary love story and an exploration of how our mental health influences our lives, work and relationships. Its two protagonists are middle-aged, unemployed, and struggling with anxiety and depression. They meet as volunteers sorting through second hand goods in a charity shop in Manchester.

I first developed the idea for the book in October 2015, so it will have been a three-year process from start to finish. Although the story is fictional, it’s strongly informed by my own experience of mental health conditions.

The manuscript is close to finished now. It’s already been through several developmental edits and I’m awaiting further feedback on the revised version from a relative who is a published author. After that it will be ready for the final copy-editing and proofreading stages.

In the meantime I’m reading as much as I can about the self-publishing process. There really is so much help and advice out there. I’d like to mention one book in particular, Firefly Magic by Lauren Sapala, which radically differs from others in its genre. Lauren goes right to the heart of why so many creative people feel strong resistance to promoting their work, and she gently helps us to shift our perspective until the prospect is more exciting than daunting. I recommend it to anyone who hates the idea of “selling.”

I also went to the Self-Publishing Conference in Leicester last month, which was a fantastic experience. All the presentations on topics including cover design, marketing and print-on-demand were very informative and the whole atmosphere was so supportive and inspiring for independent authors.

At the conference I was lucky to meet Aki Schiltz, director of The Literary Consultancy. I approached them earlier in the year for a full report on my novel, which I found very useful and motivating. I felt that the editor I was assigned, Thalia Suzuma, really understood and appreciated the story and characters, and she gave me some great suggestions for improvement. The Literary Consultancy have also kindly provided me with further advice on self-publishing.

The next big thing once the manuscript is finished will be the cover design. All the marketing and advertising I plan to do relies on having strong visual branding in place, so this will be a crucial element to get right. I have some ideas already but will write more on this in another post.

Today marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week. One of the most powerful ways we can help to promote understanding of our own mental health and that of others is through sharing stories. I hope my novel will contribute to this.

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