Editing the Doctor

This time last year I was promoting Bisection, a comic memoir of living and parenting with bipolar disorder. Those of you who read it (as well as any of you who know me) will know that my love of all things Doctor Who is one of the very few constants in what has been an… interesting life. Indeed, my first movie featured Colin Baker as a narrator, as a treat for both myself and the audience.

So, when my publishers, Chinbeard Books asked me if I would first, like to contribute to a new, for charity, Who anthology and two, if I’d like to edit said volume, I said, “Yes, sir. How high?”

Obviously, that made no sense but, sue me, I was excited.

On August 3rd, the result is published – Regenerations. A story of the War Doctor, the Time War and the effect it has on the past lives and adventures of the Doctor.

I’m extremely proud of how it has turned out. A great team of writers, taking on Doctors 2 – 8, while I handled the original himself and the War Doctor story that ties it all together.

It felt like being the showrunner for a fun, funny and occasionally heartbreaking series of literary Doctor Who.

Stories are courtesy of

Dan Barratt

Simon A Brett

Barnaby Eaton- Jones

Christine Grit

Kenton Hall (him? again?)

Steven Horry

Andrew Lawston

Nick Mellish

Lee Rawlings

Alan Ronald

All proceeds from the book go to Invest in ME, something of which I think the Doctor would approve.

And check out the cover by Steven Horry (and coloured by Chiara Lowe Bonacini). It’s very pretty.

Editing a volume like this is a long and brain-bending job, but so rewarding. And I think we’ve got something special on our hands.

It’s a limited edition, so if you fancy a copy act quickly – or get yourself a TARDIS. Available to pre-order from Chinbeard Books and released on August 3rd.

A Kenton Hall, Not THE Kenton Hall

The creative arts can be a trifle masturbatory, as we all know.

So, for a chance of pace, here are some reviews and commentary about OTHER Kentons Hall.

I’m 99 percent sure they aren’t about me, although 2000 to 2010 is a bit hazy. Either way, I hope it puts a few rumours to bed. (Although they still won’t sleep through the night.)

“Kenton Hall is a magnificent venue, originally built in the early 1900’s as a sports pavilion.”

I was built in the late 70’s, as a model for flared trousers.

“Kenton Hall is a grade II listed house, located on a working farm with livestock. Unfortunately we are unable to allow wish lanterns or fireworks.”

I’m unlisted and grade IV at best. I do, however, allow wish lanterns, the occasional sparkler and public displays of affection, subject to board approval.

“Kenton Hall is sited away from the main road and surrounded by green playing fields, with free car parking.”

I do charge for parking, but only to cover expenses.

“Kenton Hall is truly magical, although it sounds cliched.”

This one could be me.

“Kenton Hall is a 60 bed care home that provides nursing and personal care to older people.”

I am a older person and often in need of nursing and personal care.

“Kenton Hall is a perfect space for our expert floral designers to work their magic on, as it is a blank canvas.”

This one is also ambiguous.

“When officers arrived on scene, Kenton Hall was armed with a knife.”

I take the fifth.

***

Bisection, by Kenton Hall is available as a book, an e-book, an audiobook and a set of charcoal sketches.

UK:
https://amzn.to/33kLnwK

Canada:
https://amzn.to/2WNVlUI

US:
https://amzn.to/2JSnKnF

Book Review – Bring Me to Light – Eleanor Segall

Before I begin this review, there are a few things I need to get off of my chest. One is this lead waistcoat, which was a terrible idea and it’s certainly the last time I take fashion advice from an X-Ray technician.

Secondly, despite my own diagnosis with bipolar disorder, I have tended, in the past, to avoid books about others’ experiences with the condition. I didn’t need, I felt, to be reminded of everything from which I was running at a feverish pace, usually while attempting to outpace a fever.

I was glad that people were sharing their journeys – god only knows, misconceptions about mental health abound – but I was busy dealing with my own and preferred to read stories outside of my experience, perhaps about someoneone struggling with flu, or elbow pain.

Thirdly, there was a brief moment, when I stumbled across Bring Me to Light, as someone has also just published a book about my experiences with bipolar, where I had the same feeling as the makers of Antz and A Bug’s Life must have felt during my childhood. Which can be best summed up as, “Oh, come on!” Especially as, from what I could tell, it was written by an engaging and talented human being who has survived more than anyone ought to have had to and, goddamn it, writes wonderfully.

In any case, a sense of solidarity – not to mention a deep weariness with thinking of nothing of my own work – won the day, and the book plonked on my hall carpet with the swiftness of an Amazon.

It was worth the mental effort.

I often wonder what it’s like for other people, those without direct experience of mental health issues, to read stories like ours. I’ve always hoped that they foster understanding and inspire much needed moments of connection between human beings of different backgrounds.

In truth, I mention coming to Eleanor’s story with mild misgivings because honesty is both something I value and something that Bring Me to Light delivers in lorryloads.

What struck me most about reading the book were, expectedly, the similarities between our journeys and our symptoms and, reassuringly, the differences. We both had parents that also struggled with mental health conditions, we’ve both suffered from anxieties and stress points that are in no way helped by the demands of our chosen professions. But both our tragedies and our successes have been stridently individual.

And that’s possibly the most inspirational element that works like Eleanor’s book offer. Not simply a tale of surviving, but a reminder of the personhood of those who survive – so often the first thing stripped away by stereotyping, prejudgement and ignorance.

It’s a beautiful book and it should be read. I felt less alone for reading it, which is the highest compliment I can pay to any work of art.

***

Bring Me to Light by Eleanor Segall is available now in paperback and Kindle format from Trigger Publishing.

***

Bisection by, well, me is available now from Chinbeard Books and Spiteful Puppet.

This site uses Amazon Affiliate Links that do, occasionally, lead to being paid a commission. Which is always nice.

The Art of Advocacy

One of the things I hadn’t considered fully when I wrote Bisection was that I would be adding my voice to an often combative conversation.

No, that’s not strictly true. I knew that there were factions – I thought about it a fair bit during the months of actual writing. But I relied on the fact that the book was transparently based on my experience and only my experience to plot a relatively stable course through the seas of dissent.

Most of my arguments, as you’ll discover, rely on “this is how it felt for me and this is what I feel worked and didn’t work” and that ought to be difficult to naysay. Also, I’m a humourist, so I’m kind of hoping people aren’t coming to me for serious medical advice. I’ve watched all eight seasons of House, so if you want someone to tell it’s not lupus, I’m your guy, but other than that, I’m just a man with a mood disorder and a predilection for reading.

However, there are some very determined people out there, with some entrenched and fiercely defended positions who seem to feel the need to declare their intentions – Pro-medication, anti-medication, pro-diagnosis, anti-diagnosis, pro-identification, anti-identification, pro-rata and, I don’t know, Aunt Sally – there is a war of words being waged across social media channels, academic journals and, I’m assuming, notes shoved into bottles and hurled out to sea.

Some people believe that the presence of commerce in the mental health mix precludes the possibility of Big Pharma doing anything short of eating our babies. Others maintain that anyone with a cipher of a doubt about pharmaceutical solutions may as well be the revivified corpse of Pol Pot.

Personally, I’m only concerned with suffering and the mitigation thereof. I have my own opinions and I’ll share them – but I have little interest in arguing a stance with my boots planted in the nearest pool of cement. That said, I remain firm on my inkling that more almonds and less fluoride are not the solution for me.

I’m pro-medication, for instance, which I’m sure makes me the natural enemy of some. But that doesn’t mean I’ve shut my ears to the rest of the discussion, nor that I overlook the (oft-fulfilled) potential for harm when medication is misdiagnosed. I’ve read all the research, and lived my own version and I’ve come to the conclusion, intellectually and anecdotally, that I’m better off taking the pills. That I’m better than I was.

But I don’t think it helps to proclaim myself protector of the faith on that score.

Never mind that no one’s heartfelt beliefs have ever been shifted through shouting, clinging to a single point of view to the exclusion of all others is a symptom of bipolar disorder. As is believing yourself to be on a crusade to educate the masses. And the only people who have ever declared themselves to be on a mission from God, without setting off alarm bells across my entire frontal lobe, have been the Blues Brothers.

To me, advocacy means speaking up, from your own experience. and offering any common ground at your disposal. For the purpose of offering information – hopefully leading naturally to increased understanding – and comfort. The latter interests me most, although the former is equally essential.

“You are not alone,” is a powerful message. And I say that not because I’ve chosen to repeat it, but because I benefited from hearing it.  “You can help,” for those on the periphery, or sharing the eye of the storm is the other key phrase.

But I have literally no desire to bring anyone around to my way of thinking. From time to time, I may feel compelled to challenge an idea I find reductive, dangerous or ill-informed, but even then there’s a way to do so without attack. If I ever give anyone something to think about, I’m delighted.

But I’ll also be hoping that I prised a couple of decent laughs out of the same encounter.

Because that’s me. Just me.

And any advocacy I do is designed to present me and my own experiences, like rack of dresses, and say, quite simply:

“See anything you’re like?”

***

Bisection by Kenton Hall is available now – as an e-Book, Audiobook, Book book, and Shepherd Book from Chinbeard Books and Spiteful Puppet.

That Good Ol’ Kenton Sound

Considering how little I actually enjoy the sound of my own voice – my work life has required me to listen to it far more frequently than is enjoyable for me.

On the flipside, I dislike my body sufficiently that its absence when singing, or radioing or, now, reading aloud does make it seem like a small mercy.

Which is the weirdest possible way to start off a plug for the audiobook version of Bisection which is available now from Audible, Amazon and, soonish, iTunes.

If you’ve never tried Audible before, now would be a lovely time to do so. Especially as you can get Bisection FREE (yes, FREE) with your free trial and keep me rabbiting on at you, even if you cancel. If you DO already have Audible, feel free to get in touch for a gift copy by other means.

Even taking ALL the subjectivity in the world into account, it’s definitely worth that much. I promise. 🙂

So, if you’re in the UK:

https://amzn.to/2WJ6dU6

Canada:

https://amzn.to/2WNVlUI

or the US:

https://amzn.to/2JSnKnF

Have an audiobook on us.

The above are Amazon Associates links and I do get paid a commission on qualifying purchases.

(But as I wrote the thing, I don’t feel overly bad about that.)

The Liar – Stephen Fry

Before we start, I must stress that this is not a review and I am not a critic. I’ve spent too much of my life hyperventilating and peering at reviews for my own work, through invariably half-shut eyes, to join the other team.

This is not to say that I have not, in my time, been an inveterate snob. I absolutely have – about books, music, film, art and once, while intoxicated, balsa wood airplane construction. But, in my dotage, I have come to realise that my limited span is better served talking about things I like, rather than lambasting those things I don’t but which may well bring pleasure to others.

Today, I am sitting in the writer-on-a-budget’s natural home – a coffee shop – killing time until I head to the launch event for my own book “Bisection“. If you haven’t already been bombarded by my or my bank manager’s pleas for you to purchase it, it is the story of my life with my children and my bipolar disorder. And so, tonight, I’m headlining a mental health cabaret of music, comedy and spoken word, to raise money for MIND.

However, as any other writers or artists out there know, promotion of one’s wares can be incredibly isolating. You pivot between desperate, flailing attempts to convince strangers to fork out their hard-earned and a deep and abiding sense that it doesn’t really matter as you have now forgotten entirely how to write and any follow-up you do produce will consist of crayon drawings of a kitten.

I am edgy, nervous and skint, in other words, and none of those things do my miswired mind any good at all. So, to break the cycle, I thought I would tell you about a book I love, one that, quite honestly, changed the course of my life.

I was raised in a cult – which I’m aware is burying the headline somewhat – and my childhood and adolescence were spent confused, conflicted and in despair. My voracious reading had suggested to me that my parents’ homophobic, patriarchal, isolationist views were not simpatico with my own feelings. I loved words; I was attracted to the other – the eccentric, the lost and the forlorn. Having grappled with both my mental health and my upbringing for so many years, I felt apart from the world at large – and even more so from the fantasy world in which I’d been raised.

I loved music that riled my father, comedy that ruffled my ruthlessly inculcated sensibilities and films with bewilderingly adult themes. By which I mean, being brutally honest, frequent nudity. I was, after all, 15. I felt guilty about it all, yes, but I also felt a more religious reaction to art than I ever had to God. I put the mass in masturbation, as it were.

Everything you’ve ever known, however, is a hefty millstone to cast off. My first rebellions were internal, rather than external. I had tied myself up in a knot of believing the universe to be arranged as I had been taught and wishing that it were not so.

But I had an older friend who was, unbeknownst to my self-absorbed teen self, going through a similar process – and he had taken it upon himself to educate me in the world of the weird. He pointed me at music and comic books and literature I would not have experienced otherwise. And he tolerated my tagging around after him through second-hand bookstores and other dens of arty iniquity.

It was in one of these, that the bookstore owner – all bookstore owners are magic – overheard me parroting a line or two of Blackadder, as is the wont of young iconoclasts. This was more unusual in Canada than it would be here and he sensed a kindred spirit.

He immediately produced from beneath the counter a paperback copy of Stephen Fry’s debut novel, The Liar, and “lent” it to me.

Now I am aware that there are those who do not hold with Mr Fry’s comic stylings or find his verbosity off-putting, or in some way smug. To those people, I say… well, I say unkind things. Mostly in my head, but I wouldn’t catch me on the wrong day. I’m sure he is comprised of good and bad qualities in the same ever-shifting quantities as anyone else, but I love his work dearly.

(He also spoke, in an early sketch, the line that makes me laugh more than anything else on Earth, for reasons I cannot adequately explain: “The man was either mad or both.”)

The Liar is ripe with often filthy jokes, an arguably labyrinthine narrative about the lies and loves of schoolboy Adrian Healey and, if you compare and contrast with Mr Fry’s memoirs, a healthy dollop of the traditional autobiographical notes common to first novels.

And it unsettled me. I didn’t know if I should be reading it. I’d read Forster and Wilde and countless others but this was the first time I’d really been exposed to openly LGBTQ+ fiction. By which I mean, the thoughts, fears and emotions of an openly gay character. Homosexuality was one of the big old sins in my parents’ household, with words like “unnatural” thrown around with abandon, suggesting both a lack of biological knowledge and any shred of self-awareness.

My father, like many of his type, worried that I was gay. Usually when I cried, with which there is more wrong than a blogpost could hope to tackle.

And whether it was my emerging struggles with my own sexual self (in different but, at times, complementary ways) or a sense of our similar mental health conditions shining through the prose, I came away from the book changed.

I felt I recognised the author’s pain and I knew that, however individual we both were, I had more in common with Stephen Fry than I had with the people surrounding me.

Basically, thought I, fuck those guys.

And that was the beginning for me, a rebirth to the real world. It would take time and I would tell my own lies along the way, but I was no longer alone.

So, yeah, five out of five stars. Highly recommended. Will help you shed years of abuse and oppression and convince you to become a writer.

You don’t get that in the LRB, now do you?

Stephen Fry – The Liar

This is an Amazon Associates Link, through which I – hypothetically – do receive a percentage.

Official Author Type Person

Seeing yourself in print brings with it a wave of emotions.

  1. Knowing that the words over which you toiled are now out there in the world, being read, is both exciting and terrifying
  2. Worrying that they may be out there in the world NOT being read is both terrifying and also terrifying.
  3. Realising that the work has really only just begun and now you need to flog the damned thing within an inch of its life is… well, they haven’t quite invented a word that sums up the magnitude of that emotion.

 

Anyway, that’s my shifty way of pasting in my first official Amazon Affiliates Link, with an eye on both this book and everything thereafter – more books, more music, possibly a set of ornate candlesticks.

Note: The above is an Amazon Affiliates link through which I do make money.

Bisection E-Book now Available

A promotional post, I’m afraid, this one. Partially because I have grown fond of eating over the past forty-three years and my daughters keep sending me Amazon links accompanied by the word “WANT” (always all-caps, and often prefaced by the phrase “You know how you love me?”)

But also because I am incredibly proud of the work and I have pleased to hear, from those kind folks who pre-ordered the paperback, that it fulfils at least one of its remits, which is to help people to understand bipolar disorder – at least in terms of how it has manifested for me.

I cannot claim to speak for anyone else as you always see my lips move.

Hopefully, it is also funny. It was intended to be, but it’s not for me to judge.

It is available worldwide and here are some links to prove it. Please consider picking up a copy and leaving a review. It make me smile, as well as go to the shop and buy soup.

You get the idea. The audiobook will also be live soon, for those of you who wish to drift off to sleep to the sound of a ranting Canadian.
It can also be found, reviewed and recommended on Goodreads.
Thanks as always to my publishers Chinbeard Books and Spiteful Puppet.

A Towelling Tale

The autumn I turned 19, I left home.

Quite a common rite of passage, I should imagine. There comes a certain time in a young person’s life when they need to fly the nest and strike out on their own in the big, wide world.

I travelled further than most, but the shape of it stands.

I was reminded of this today, in fact, when I was nursing my depression with some literary therapy – by which I mean, going to a charity shop and seeing how many books I could get for a fiver.

As I was scanning the shelves, a conversation struck up behind me. On the one side, the two kindly women on shift in the shop. On the other, a young man in search of a towel.

He was a student, you see, and had arrived back in his University with little but the clothes on his back – his Mum unable – he said – to get there with further provisions for a couple of days.  He had been to the pound shop and bought an umbrella, and now he was in search of a single towel to tide him over until the maternal rescue party arrived.

The shop did not currently have any towels in stock, but the women in charge investigated the mysterious back room and found one that was clean enough for student purposes, but not quite unsullied enough for general sale.

He went on his way, freshly towelled, and they said, “Bless”.

And I thought, “What a good story”.

I’m telling it now, but I do wonder if he will tell it himself in the future, when he’s older and the weight of years and disappointment is causing his past to worry at him like a small, livid dog that has taken against a trouser cuff.

Because as he was in the charity shop, covering his bases dampness-wise, I was remembering the year I was 19, alone in a new country, ensconced in a cheap and threadbare bedsit – its walls bordered by divorced men who worked shifts and therefore took heavily against afternoon guitar practice.

So I read that year, perhaps more than any other, because a library card was all I could afford. I borrowed my limit and consumed them at pace, to balance a diet that otherwise consisted of own brand spaghetti hoops and tinned peaches. I must have read 500 books that year, of every stripe, outpacing even my usual rapaciousness for the written word.

500 books is a lot, I’m assured. I lose track. And 19 is an age when you are still forming, especially if you have arrived at it broken, abused and positioned at a left angle to reality.  Those books – and I couldn’t name all of them, but I remember many more vividly than some of my real life activities – undoubtedly lay some of the foundation for my thought processes and worldview.

And in the midst of it all, someone I loved lent me some towels. And a small black and white TV, despite it being 1995 and muddling the theme.

Printer’s ink and rescue.

I fear that may be my measure.

But I do know where my towel is.  And that’s not nothing.

***

Purchases of Kenton Hall’s book Bisection do not entitle to you to a free towel and we don’t know where you got that idea.

Bare Cares

I appear to have gone to war with myself again. I’m not entirely sure why, although I suspect it has a lot to do with the seismic shifts in my schedule, the alternate hope/despair axis of loosing a project into the world and my increasing awareness that my term as care-taking parent is rapidly coming to a close.

“I just don’t,” as Burt and Hal so aptly put it, “know what to do with myself.”

Once upon a time, this is where mania would have come screeching into frame, waving its banners and doing its little semi-clad dance. Madness would beckon and I’d go scurrying.

I don’t do that anymore. So what do I do instead?

In an effort to ensure that I don’t do anything other people will regret, I can feel myself retreating into my original baseline self.

I want to read and I want to be left alone. Everything else feels like noise. The world is angry and ill-informed and I want no part of it. I want positivity, togetherness, hope – but I haven’t the energy to ford the shit river that lies between.

I’m inspired by one half of the news and deflated by the other two thirds. And livid at how poorly I’ve kept up my numerical skills.

Experience and a whole book’s worth of self-examination tells me that this moment will pass, that I know well enough how to catch a passing log and cling on. That eventually I will reach the shore again and figure out yet another way to be, to live, to laugh.

I feel, today, surplus to requirements. And yet too much in demand. It’s the kind of contradiction in terms in which I have always specialised, but I’m bored of it now.

I feel like I’m forever breaking out the defibrillators to resuscitate a goldfish.

This is the nature of mental illness – the nature of existence, really. The task is to survive until you don’t have to anymore. Which, sure, accounts for the entire history of everything but there are days when it doesn’t feel like much of a motivation.

But even in the midst of it, I’m thinking about a book I’m quite enjoying, that I’d like to get back to. I’m thinking about a book I’d like to write. A trip I’d like to take.

I’m thinking about what to feed the kids that will weary me least to hear rejected. I’m pondering how I folded an entire load of laundry last night which contained only one item of clothing that belonged to me – and that was a sock with a hole in it, which I then threw away.

Life, in other words, goes on.

I also know that the most difficult part is that I’ve, painstakingly, taught myself not to scream. And that’s what I truly fancy doing right now. Having a good old scream.

I wish I could care less. I wish I didn’t have to win this one.

But I do.

So, the pain is a good sign. It means I’m still healing.

***

Previously on Kenton Hall:

Bisection is out now.