English author Amanda Prowse may be enjoying bestseller status, having written 23 books translated into 22 languages, and selling millions of copies, but her journey has been worthy of that hackneyed phrase ‘rags to riches.’
A single-parent juggling three jobs - cleaner, call centre employee, and working for a recruitment firm - she met Simeon, a soldier who was the father of a friend of her son, Josh. They married, and while life seemed to be heading on an even keel again, aged 49 she was diagnosed with cancer and had to give up work. In a scenario familiar to millions up and down the country, Simeon’s basic take-home pay wasn’t enough to keep them above water and they relied on credit cards to paper the increasing cracks. By 2012 they were down to their last £20.
According to Amanda, their lowest point came when "we’d been visiting my parents in London and we didn’t even have enough petrol money to get home. I knew it was time to go back to work." But three days later came the fork in her path. Amanda had started writing while recovering from cancer, and a journalist had forwarded a copy of her book, 'Poppy Day’ to an agent. This led to a £5,000 advance. By the following year, with two or three bestsellers under her belt, she received her first sizeable cheque, of around £60,000.
Amanda’s latest publication, 'The Boy Between: A Mother and Son’s Journey From a World Gone Grey' is no work of fiction, and its subject will resonate with many. It is a factual account of her son Josiah’s mental health. A new university student, his deteriorating condition found her desperately grasping for a solution, watching his struggle with no clear idea of the best way to help, and fearing the worst case scenario based on the awful statistic – suicide is the greatest cause of death amongst men under 40 in the UK.
This is a fascinating look into how mental health is experienced, from the inside and the outside, as Amanda and Josiah take turn about to deal with how his depression affected himself, and his loved ones. Josiah’s account is often bleak, but also humorous; Amanda’s input is, understandably, a heartbreaking account of a mother coping with her son’s illness.
Amanda and her son Josiah’s courage in sharing their story will help to shine a light on the way mental health can devastate families, but also reveal how these heart-rending situations can be resolved.
This two-pronged approach is novel but rewarding, giving insight to mental illness from different perspectives. When I was going through severe depression back in the 1980s, my family had access to far less in the way of support. In those pre-Internet, pre-helpline days, they were lucky if they received a pamphlet from our GP. When my mental state disintegrated to the extent that bizarre delusions completely replaced rational thought, my parents couldn’t have averted my being sectioned any more than they could’ve used a sticking plaster to fix the broken finger I once received playing football. Thanks to the professional staff at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, anti-psychotic medication, and above all, my family’s support, I managed to step back from a dark place.
After seeing Amanda discussing her poignant story on the Jeremy Vine Show I sent a brief message to her website, praising her openness about her family crisis, and mentioning how I had also written about my experiences. I received a courteous reply within a couple of days.
The greatest accolade I can give to this book is that if it had been available at the time I was suffering from my first bout of severe depression, my late mother would have gained huge inspiration from its subject matter. It might even have helped pre-empt my situation from unravelling as quickly as it did. In 1987 mental illness was even more stigmatised, and examples of such personal accounts far rarer.
'The Boy Between: A Mother and Son’s Journey From a World Gone Grey,' is due for release on Thursday 1 October this year. Alarming but ultimately life-affirming, this will be an important book. Amanda and her son Josiah’s courage in sharing their story will help to shine a light on the way mental health can devastate families, but also reveal how these heart-rending situations can be resolved.
Further information about Amanda's diverse writing is available on her website.
When anyone chooses to end their life it’s a tragedy. The people they leave behind - loved ones, family, friends, colleagues - are always left with the same, unanswerable questions. Why did this happen? Could this have been prevented? Were there signs the person’s mental state was unbalanced? What could I have done to change their mind? These questions will always arise afterwards. But the crucial period for anyone in mental distress is beforehand. When someone is going through a challenging time they need support as soon as possible, in whatever form anyone near to them thinks might help, whether that’s a discreet chat, or steering them towards helplines, websites, or professional intervention.
Caroline Flack’s death earlier this year was testament to the way someone experiencing inner turmoil under the remorseless scrutiny of the British tabloid press can find themselves in an especially vulnerable place. Caroline, who had presented X-Factor, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Strictly Come Dancing and Love Island, was used to her name appearing in headlines. An attractive TV presenter, her exes have included Prince Harry and teenage pop idol Harry Styles. Press coverage went with the territory. But when news broke about her facing domestic assault charges, the redtops began circling like sharks around chum.
What exacerbated Caroline’s predicament was her fragile mental condition. Close friends have divulged she had confided about ‘battling her demons’ for years. More recently, she had gone on record to discuss the pain behind the apparently successful public façade. She opened up about her issues in the most public way possible, posting to her 2.6 million Instagram followers: “People see the celebrity lifestyle and assume everything is perfect, but we’re just like everyone else. Everyone is battling something emotional behind closed doors — that’s life. Fame doesn’t make you happy.” She also urged her fans to try and be more vocal about their mental health struggles.
Caroline had admitted hitting her boyfriend, tennis player Lewis Burton, after discovering his infidelity. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) originally decided on a caution, but the police had asked them to revisit this decision. The thought of a court case being reported in every salacious detail pushed Caroline over the edge.
A leading barrister, Chris Daw QC, accused the police and CPS of ‘over-scrutinising’ the case, stating Caroline should have been offered the chance to accept a police caution. “Almost everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. She became a victim of her own celebrity. Were she not famous I have little doubt the CPS’s position on a caution would have been accepted by the police. I have little doubt that her celebrity was a factor in the eventual changing of the decision by the CPS which ultimately led to all of the publicity and led to the consequences that we know about.”
Friends divulged she had confided about ‘battling her demons’ for years. She opened up about her issues in the most public way possible, posting to her 2.6 million Instagram followers: Fame doesn't make you happy. Everyone is battling something emotional behind closed doors.
Justification for the CPS decision to press ahead with the charges was made by former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal. “Last year there were three-quarters of a million reports to police and only 10 percent were prosecuted. We have an epidemic of domestic abuse. They (the CPS) have been geared up to be more robust when dealing with these cases and prosecutors, we have to remember, are independent. They don’t operate for the victim, they operate for the public. The public have said, we want domestic abuse taken seriously.”
Lewis Burton asked for the charges to be dropped, posting on Instagram: “Caroline is the most lovely girl. Loyal and kind. She doesn’t deserve any of this.” But even when a victim of alleged domestic violence drops the charges, it is the police or CPS who decide whether to proceed.
The problem is that following the letter of the law fails to take individual circumstances into account. As Daw stated, "There was no consideration of the mental health of Flack and the significant emotional and psychological risk of her trial." He added he had ‘little doubt’ if she had not been famous she would have been offered and accepted a caution – preventing further publicity and the terrible consequences of her being charged.
At the Inquest into Caroline’s death, her mother Christine told the police officer who appealed for the prosecution to go ahead, "You should be disgusted with yourself. Did you take into account that Mr Burton was intoxicated, and had been drinking all day? In the phone call, his account was unreliable due to his state, while Caroline was consistent the whole way through her story." The officer replied: "I don’t believe I recall that, I can’t remember."
The Inquest heard Caroline cut her own arm after striking Burton having discovered texts on his phone indicating he was cheating on her. Burton was accused of taking pictures of blood-soaked sheets after Caroline had been taken away by police, then passing them on to friends, including an ex-girlfriend. These images then appeared in The Sun, no doubt with an appropriate sum of money changing hands. Literally, blood money.
What is plain to see is that Caroline, a much-loved daughter and sister, who had clearly been struggling with mental health issues, deserved so much better.
75 years ago today, a USAAF Boeing B-29 Superfortress, named 'Enola Gay' after the mother of its pilot, Paul Tibbets, dropped a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. In moments, this one weapon, ironically-titled 'Little Boy,' had incinerated upwards of 80,000 of the city’s inhabitants. Thousands more died as a result of radiation sickness and other injuries long after the detonation. 90% of the casualties were civilians.
A less well-known aspect of the bombing were its Korean victims. 35 years before, Japan has annexed the Korean peninsula, embarking on a period of intense colonisation. The Japanese imposed punitive economic burdens on the Koreans, meaning many were drawn to mines and factories around the Japanese home islands where wages were higher. This meant that by 1935 over 600,000 Koreans were permanent residents of Japan.
After Japan invaded China in 1937, the colonial exploitation of the Korean people intensified, with the military taking over exclusive control of labour conscription. Entire Korean villages were surrounded, the inhabitants imprisoned or enslaved. Three-quarters of a million Koreans were conscripted for work in Japan, and a further quarter of a million into forced labour in China or the Japanese-occupied South Pacific; 85,000 were drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army. Additionally, tens of thousands of Korean women and girls were incarcerated in military brothels, euphemistically described as ‘comfort women.’ At the time of USAAF assault, around 8,000 Korean slaves were living in Hiroshima, accounting for 10% of the victims.
12 American POWs, the crews from three bombers shot down over the city earlier, also perished in surely the most extreme example of a 'blue on blue' attack.
The crew of the Enola Gay, pilot Paul Tibbets centre-most
A postcard signed by Tibbets, showing the utter devastation caused by the US nuclear bomb
John Hume, a son of Derry, a founder of Northern Ireland's Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and veteran campaigner for peace, justice and civil rights, died this morning, aged 83.
SDLP leader from 1979 until 2001, he is regarded as one of the most important figures in recent political history on the island of Ireland, and will be remembered as a key architect of the Northern Ireland peace process that consigned the senseless horrors of 'The Troubles' to the past. His participation in talks between Westminster and Sinn Féin in the 1980s are widely speculated at having persuaded the latter to follow the route to embracing the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and ultimately the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement.
Throughout his political career, he was passionate about bringing the north's communities together, and his tireless work to promote peace and pursue non-violent political change was rewarded with receipt of the Martin Luther King Award and the Gandhi Peace Prize. Upon his retirement from political life in 2004 he received plaudits from all sides of Irish and British politics, including longtime opponent Rev Ian Paisley.
Fittingly, in a 2010 poll organised by national broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann, he was voted the greatest person in Ireland's history.
"Today, we mourn the passing of one of Ireland’s greatest ever sons. He ranks alongside O’Connell and Parnell in the pantheon of Ireland’s great leaders. He was a patriot, a peacemaker, a democrat, and a great, great Derryman. RIP John Hume."
Leo Varadkar, Leader of Fine Gael
Denise Johnson, the gifted singer who collaborated with Manchester post-punk/funk band A Certain Ratio for 30 years, and added vocals to Primal Scream's seminal 'Screamadelica' album, has passed away, aged 56. According to her family, she 'died suddenly, after an illness.'
Tributes to the respected and much-loved performer have been flooding in, and longtime ACR colleague Martin Moscrop stated, “Even though she was younger than us, she always looked after us at gigs. She’d always have treats in the van on the way to the gig, and afterwards she’d always pour extremely large rum and cokes and make sure everyone was OK. In the studio she was something else. We were never ever worried about her delivering the goods. It would take her a few minutes to learn her lines and then she’d deliver an amazing vocal in one take."
I was fortunate enough to catch ACR twice over the past year, at Edinburgh's Voodoo Rooms, and Glasgow's King Tut's, where as ever, her strident and soulful voice complimented the bass-heavy funk vibes. Ross Galloway, the bassist in my own band, Noniconic, caught ACR several times during the band's 40th anniversary celebrations, in Scotland, England and Germany. Here's a montage of his video and photos capturing Denise in full flow.
Condolences to Denise's family and friends/bandmates.
Denise performing with A Certain Ratio, Georgian Theatre, Stockton-on-Tees, 6/12/19