The Boy Between : A Mother and Son’s Journey from a World Gone Grey
Amanda Prowse has long since been known in the publishing industry for her highly affecting, emotional, and gripping fiction.
Over the last 10 years, Amanda has published more than 25 novels and 7 novellas, but this year, Amanda took on a challenge she never saw coming.
Although the idea of writing a book with her son, Josiah, may have at some point brought a smile to her face, this was not the book she ever imagined writing. The Boy Between is the first of Amanda’s non-fiction books and has been co-written by her son Josiah Hartley.
When we were asked to take part in this Blog Tour, I was, as always, happy to help. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the book myself that the reality of dealing with suicide hit a little too close to home. I felt it was more important to write an article about the importance of this book, rather than focus on a review. So, for the blog tour this time, we have invited Amanda and Josh to talk to us about the behind-the-scenes details; why the book came about, and how they hope to help people in the future.
Amanda Prowse is an International Bestselling author whose twenty-three novels and six novellas have been published in dozens of languages around the world. Amanda is the most prolific writer of bestselling contemporary fiction in the UK today; her titles also consistently score the highest online review approval ratings across several genres. Her books have sold millions of copies across the globe.
Josiah (Josh) Hartley is 22 and lives in an isolated farmhouse in the West Country, but close enough to Bristol to enjoy its music scene. He is an animal lover and servant to two French Bulldogs. Equally happy at a music festival or watching rugby with his mates, he likes the outdoor life and with Devon only a short drive away often heads to the sea to surf and sit on the beach watching the sun go down. After two stints at The University of Southampton and The University of Bristol and one unsuccessful suicide attempt, Josh decided to write about his descent into mental illness and the depression that has held him in its grip for the past few years.
For those readers who may not have heard about The Boy Between, can you give us a short explanation of the themes explored in the book?
Amanda: The Boy Between is a book about Josh’s journey through depression to the point where he not only considered, but also planned when and how he would end his life. Written by us both, it’s the first time either Josh or myself, has spoken about the monster he carries on his back and how it nearly took my son from me. We speak honestly and openly about what it’s like to live with depression in the house and how his illness sledgehammered all that we took for granted, hijacking every thought or enjoyable activity with a deep-seated worry of what our world might look like if and when he took his life.
This book has obviously been born out of a place of pain, suffering, and huge growth for both of you. When did you decide that it was important to have this story out in the world?
Amanda: It was when Josh and I started emailing each other, starting the frank and difficult dialogue, that we first considered that what we were writing might be useful to others. As proud as I am of this book, it’s one I hoped I would not have to write.
I wish Joshy did not, like so many young men, suffer with a debilitating depression that lead to him to try and take his own life while a student at university.
That said, I know it’s the book I wanted to reach for when I struggled not only to find ways to help him, but also to understand what had turned my outgoing son with the whole world at his feet into a sleeping shell of himself.
We hope this book brings comfort to the millions of people all over the world suffering from depression as well as those who care for them.
Ours had been a tough, lonely, and devastating journey, but we can finally, finally see small glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel. It’s certainly the book I would’ve liked to read at the lowest points on our journey. It would have been good to know that I wasn’t alone: that many other families were going through this terrible thing and also to glean insights from someone suffering because all I wanted to know was how to help him best.
The process of writing this book must have been difficult. Did you sit down and write the book together? Did you have a plan to stick to or was it something that grew quite organically as you walked through the journey together?
Amanda: It was certainly not without its challenges writing with my son! I am used to working on my own. I am a lone pyjama-clad wolf that tip taps away without regard for anyone else’s input. And in truth – I have learned that this is how I like to work!
The fact that Josh is severely dyslexic was another challenge. We had to figure out how we were going to get his words down on the page in a way that didn’t cause his anxiety to spike.
He started by dictating his chapters to me and I would literally write every syllable, every pause and then send that to Josh to edit and re-edit until he was happy with it. It took time!
On a more serious note, I feel very privileged to have had an insight into Josh’s experience with depression and his attempt at suicide. It was at times harrowing for me to hear the desperate detail. It’s fair to say we didn’t hold back, knowing that no matter how raw, we needed to be open in order to make the book the very best it could be.
Ultimately it has helped me understand the debilitating nature of depression and if anything has made me even more determined to do my utmost to keep him here. Because at the end of the day, we might be co-authors, colleagues, peers… but first and foremost Josh is my son, my heart and the thought of living on a planet without him on it is something I can’t begin to think about.
…there is still a long, long way to go and I hope the book helps in raising awareness… – Josiah Hartley
At a time when socially, we are starting to see a shift in public opinion towards mental health, how important do you feel it is to be honest and open about men’s mental health?
Josh: I might be a British boy, but sadly young male depression and suicide is a universal problem and for each man like me suffering, there is a family, like ours, trying to make sense of it all.
The dialogue on depression and mental health, in general, is opening up, especially with so many prominent campaigns from some fantastic charities and organisations with backing from well-known people who are willing to put their head above the parapet and say that they have struggled.
It helps remove the stigma, which can only be a good thing. But there is still a long, long way to go and I hope the book helps in raising awareness that it can and does happen to everyone and that no matter how alone you feel, you are not. I thought no one could possibly know what I was going through and that only added to my feelings of isolation. It would have helped to know I was one of many and that it can and usually does get better.
Do you feel like the process of writing this book has been cathartic in some way for you? Do you feel the process of writing down your feelings and emotions helped you?
Josh: Most definitely. I thought dyslexia was going to be the biggest challenge when writing my first book, turns out it was actually spending eight hours a day with my mother.
It was nerve-wracking having to share for the first time, dark thoughts that I had previously kept to myself and seeing the effect they had on others. Mum has written over 25 books and this being my first, meant we approached the writing process very differently and this initially created tensions until we found our rhythm. Then the writing just flowed. Amanda’s style is to almost attack the keyboard whereas mine was slightly more considered; it took a few weeks for us to reach a balance.
The whole process of discussion and writing has been emotionally dredging but yes, ultimately cathartic. It has allowed me to view my illness and that period of my life from a different perspective, enabling me to reconfigure some of my darker moments into more manageable ones.
I’m immensely proud of The Boy Between and hope it gives insight to those who want to better understand what it’s like living with depression, but also offers hope to those that do.
Do you think this non-fiction title will now lead you down the path of writing more in the future?
Amanda: I am already writing more non-fiction to sit alongside my fiction. My stories will always be my first love! But I hope my non-fiction carries the same relatable aspects as my stories, looking at topics that I know have affected many of my readers. It’s an exciting new avenue for me and a challenge that I am revelling in.
Don’t wipe out what just might be a fantastic future. The world is big. The possibilities, infinite. Know that the world is better with you in it. It’s a shit hard struggle – probably the hardest you will ever face, but you can do it. – Josiah Hartley
Josh, this was obviously an incredibly difficult time for you, and as so many will agree, talking about mental health is hard – if you could give one message to readers out there who have been in your position, what would it be?
Josh: Do what you need to do to get through this. Read, paint, sleep, play sport, do yoga, sit in a chair, walk in a park! Do whatever you need to and wait it out until the demon is off your back and the darkness passes. Take a breath. Take a moment. As I say in the book, things can and often do get better. Don’t delete yourself.
DON’T DO THAT.
Don’t wipe out what just might be a fantastic future. The world is big. The possibilities, infinite. Know that the world is better with you in it. It’s a shit hard struggle – probably the hardest you will ever face, but you can do it.
Amanda, obviously, as a mother this must have been so difficult for you – with so many families around the world concerned about the mental health of their own loved ones, what would you say is the most important message you would like to pass on?
Amanda: I would like to quote directly from the book, “Know that when you cry tears of frustration, when you howl at the moon for want of direction, when the questions are many but the answers few and when your body aches at the end of another hard day spent with muscles coiled in tension, you are not alone. We are one of many even though loving those who suffer in this way can feel like the loneliest job in the world. We are one of many even though it often feels like no one can possibly understand how we live, and we are one of many even when it feels like no one cares. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!”
The Boy Between is such an emotional read, and an incredibly important book – do you have any plans to campaign further for mental health?
Amanda: Yes, absolutely. It’s something we both feel very strongly about. Josh is becoming an ambassador for Student Minds who are developing the Mental Health Charter that looks to standardize the level of care and procedures throughout universities and I will continue to campaign for better understanding and support for families of those who suffer with this illness. We are hoping to continue working with Jonny Benjamin and Frank Bruno who are both doing incredible things to raise awareness and smash the taboo.
If you would like to read more about The Boy Between, take a look at Twitter for some of these lovely Book Bloggers who have all contributed to this important blog tour.
Many thanks to Sarah Hardy at BooksOnTheBrightSide for including us on this tour, and of course to Amanda and Josh for opening up about such a difficult topic.