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.