Failed by the system

My blogs are almost like buses: you don’t see one for ages, and then two come along at once. In truth, this is a subject I’ve wanted to cover for months, but for one reason or another, I haven’t found the time. The holidays have forced the issue to the forefront of my mind, however.

Christmas is always a bitter-sweet time in the Kenyon household. Sweet because of the extra time we spend together as a family and the joy of Christmas morning; bitter because of the added anxieties faced by my autistic son, Max. His school term finishes a few days short of the 25th, and by this time, he’s glad to be at home. During the run-up to Christmas, his schooldays are disrupted by parties, plays and rehearsals for said plays. His routine, which he prefers to be rigid, is ruined, and he spends the whole of December confused and frustrated. Then, when he’s at home, the turmoil continues, with visits to family members and a host of new toys with which to contend (though we do try not to overwhelm him by giving him fewer gifts than his sister). Inevitably, the days are punctuated by meltdowns, and the last week or so has been a very challenging time for Max and his family.

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Over the last couple of years, these outbursts have become more violent, and as he grows larger, his aggression is becoming more of a problem. Perhaps the impending onset of puberty is to blame. Most worrying is the fact that much of his ire is directed at himself; he has a tendency, when upset, to bang his head against walls and windows. Of course, we try to thwart his self-abuse, but sometimes he’s too quick, and he refuses to wear the headguard that some of his peers sport. Nowadays he has a permanent bump on his forehead, and I fear that as well as risking his short term health, he will suffer long-term problems.

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Max’s perma-bump

With this in mind, we approached his paediatrician and asked to be referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS). Our contention was thus: although Max’s autism was partly to blame for the triggers which ignited his meltdowns, his extreme anxiety exacerbated his condition. We resolved, after years of resisting the prospect, that medication should be prescribed to reduce his anxiety and prevent, or at least temper, the meltdowns.

We were met, however, by a brick wall of disinterest and apathy. Having battled for a referral to CAHMS for over a year, we were told that they couldn’t help us. In their opinion, Max’s challenging behaviour was caused only by his autism, not by a mental health issue. We argued that if Max wasn’t non-verbal, and he could tell them that sometimes he becomes so upset that he wants to harm himself, they would have no option but to act. His inability to talk means he’s being denied the help he needs, and we can only pray that he doesn’t hurt himself too badly. After a meeting with CAHMS, we were sent away with no solution to our problem. Their attitude verged on callous, their reluctance to listen as maddening as it was disappointing.

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Since Max was discharged, we’ve been told that CAHMS support varies in efficacy depending on location, as does provision for NHS care in general. In short, if we lived in neighbouring Warrington, for example, Max would be better treated. Budgetary constraints are undoubtedly to blame, but therein lies the rub. If the situation becomes too difficult for us to manage, Max will have to go into a residential home. Apart from breaking the hearts of all concerned, this would cost the taxpayer far more than any help we might be offered now. Sadly, this reactive, only-take-action-when-the-horse-has-already-bolted, no matter what the cost to the vulnerable, approach is all too common. We don’t have the means to relocate or seek private health care, or we would do so. I’ve attempted to contact my local Member of Parliament, the Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham MP, but he didn’t respond. It would appear that we’ve reached an impasse. Over the last year my wife has been ill, and she needs more assistance than ever before, but we can’t afford for me to reduce my hours at work. We’re at breaking point.

Mental health is a subject close to my heart, as mentioned in my last blog. Max isn’t the person failed by the system, and as austerity continues in the UK and funding plummets, he certainly won’t be the last. Which seamlessly leads me to my conclusion – my new book, SWIFTLY SHARPENS THE FANG, which tells the tale of an impressionable young man with mental health issues, is now available to pre-order. Like my son, and a lot of people with these conditions, protagonist Joe Travis is failed by the system, and he’s vulnerable to the predatory. SWIFTLY publishes 30th January 2017, and for a limited time it will cost just 99c/99p. If it’s a commercial success, we’ll be obtaining private health care for Max!

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Writing away the blues!

Greetings, one and all! I trust you’re well and are surviving the build up to Christmas.
Firstly, regarding my recent silence. I’ve been reliably informed that there is no point saying sorry for something if there’s a chance you might do it again; nevertheless, I apologise.

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However, I have an excuse. Over the last few months, I’ve been writing, editing and marketing my fourth novel, Swiftly Sharpens the Fang (see synopsis at the bottom of the page). It tells the dystopian tale of an impressionable young British man with personal problems, who is targetted for radicalisation. It is, in my opinion, my best work to date. Whilst working, I’ve been consumed by a focus the likes of which I’ve never before experienced. The first draft, which is approximately 73,000 words, took ten weeks to complete. Compare this to Postnormal (SUBNORMAL Book 3) at 96,000 words, which was six months in the making. Therefore, I wrote Swiftly Sharpens the Fang at nearly double the speed, and this had an impact on my other authorly pursuits, like blogging. And why? I asked myself. How come I was so driven this time around? The answer is a simple one: the lead character, Joe Travis.

 

Of course, I’ve made no secret of the fact that some of Paul (SUBNORMAL protagonist) Kelly’s traits are based on my own. But if Paul Kelly is similar to me in his thoughts, Joe Travis, of fictional Manchester suburb Grangeheath, is more like me in his heart. At times, particularly in the early stages of the book, Swiftly Sharpens the Fang is almost semi-autobiographical. Like young Joe, I’ve suffered with depression over the years. In fact, until I started writing in 2014, I’d found no solution to my mental health issues, much to the detriment of my marriage and the emotional well-being of my wife. Until I found writing.

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The imagining of worlds; the creation of fictional characters; the endless plotting – these began to dominate my mind. I no longer had time to dwell on the thoughts which made me feel low. And once I’d finished my first novel, any remaining head-space was occupied by marketing – social media, website-building and the like. Being an author has, in my opinion, preserved my marriage and has probably added a few years to my life. Not that I don’t still struggle at times, and I am far from the perfect husband, but I’m a lot healthier in my mind. As a result, I’m treating those around me with more patience and consideration. Writing has succeeded where numerous pills have failed, and the dependence upon drugs is another theme I explore in Swiftly, as it was in my SUBNORMAL trilogy. The downside to my medication of choice is that I have a tendency to becoming too motivated, spending my days with my head in the clouds as I mentally tinker with narrative arcs and twists. But it beats the alternative!

Writing has now become a compulsion. Due to my full time job and hectic home life, I practice my art on public transport, on the commutes to and from work. Using a laptop is impractical on crowded buses, so I pen every word on my smartphone. Last year, when circumstances meant I had to drive the car to the office, I dictated my work to my phone, and typed the transcripts on my lunch hour. Nothing gets in the way. Why? I’m not sure. As mentioned in my inaugural blog, I was tested for Asperger’s a few years ago; perhaps this might explain my obsession. But it’s a healthy obsession.

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The £25 phone I used to write Swiftly

Unfortunately, Joe, the anti-hero at the heart of Swiftly, has just one coping mechanism: alcohol. Unlike me, his depression is caused by a life-changing event – the death of his father at the hands of jihadist terrorists – which means he’s vulnerable when Uncle Steve, the leader of a fascist gang, begins to pour poison in his ear. Joe is a tragic figure; he’s not a particularly likable chap, but he does, I hope, inspire sympathy. Depression and other mental illnesses are a worsening problem in the UK, with suicide the number one killer of young males. And I hope my readers will enjoy reading about Joe’s descent into a world of vice, villainy and vengeance.

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Originally, I was inspired to write Swiftly by the Brexit result, and the implicit rightwards lurch in British socio-political ideology. Racism – a subject I’ve discussed before – has, to my mind, been legitimatised by the Out vote (before anyone shoots me down, I’m not accusing Brexiteers of prejudice; see my previous blog for a full explanation), and I fear that the same is happening stateside. My SUBNORMAL books had a strong political message, too. As I wrote, though, I realised that my smart-arsed pseudo-intellectualism had taken a backseat to Joe’s story, as was the case with Paul Kelly and company in Subnormal, Supernormal and Postnormal. I am a better storyteller than I am a theorist, and this is supported by the numerous positive reviews I’ve received over the last couple of years. If you don’t believe me, feel free to check out free samples of my SUBNORMAL books.

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Swiftly Sharpens the Fang will be published on the 30th of January next year, and it will be available for pre-order soon. Subscribe to my mailing list, and you’ll be informed as soon as pre-order begins. In the meantime, if you’d like to be in with a chance of receiving an advance preview copy, please contact me. I’m always happy to talk to readers.

I wish you all the best for the holiday season!

 

SWIFTLY SHARPENS THE FANG

Some monsters are born… Others are created

Following the death of his father at the hands of terrorists, 22 year-old Joe suffers from depression. Using drink to kill the pain, he abuses himself and alienates his loved ones. His life in post-Brexit Britain is a chaos of binges and fights, while his dreams are haunted by repressed childhood memories.

When the black sheep of the family, Uncle Steve, takes Joe under his wing, the young man enters an ugly world of vice and fascism. Although gang membership means glory, fame and money, it comes at a cost to his soul.

Battling against his own conscience, Joe makes as many foes as friends. And soon, there is no escape from his uncle’s organisation and their racist violence.

Unlike Steve, Joe wasn’t born a monster. But his fangs are getting sharper every day.

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