Novelist explores psychotic side in memoirs

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian author Will Elliott got tired of telling people that his first novel, about a schizophrenic clown, was not autobiographical, so he wrote about what it’s really like to deal with the illness in a memoir.

Filled with dark humour and honest insights, “Strange Places” details the 30-year-old’s journey through the drugs, delusions and insights that psychosis, and recovery, bring. The book was published in May.

Elliott, who has won several awards for his fiction, had to drop out of law school at the age of 20 after being diagnosed with schizophrenia.

He wrote his critically acclaimed debut novel, “The Pilo Family Circus,” which was published in Australia in 2006, while recovering from a psychotic episode.

Elliott says he hopes his memoir will help people newly diagnosed with schizophrenia and those who care for mentally ill patients. He spoke to Reuters recently about why writing is a form of therapy.

Q: Why did you chose to write about schizophrenia?

A: “Early on, when I was diagnosed and before I considered writing, it occurred to me that I would have enjoyed seeing what someone who had been there (would) say what it was like. The only people I was talking to were doctors and case workers, people who mean well, but put it into terms that are foreign and sound strange to someone just coming out of the chaos of a psychotic episode.”

Q: Have attitudes towards schizophrenia changed?

A: “I believe so, in a big way, especially as far as treatment goes. I think we understand the illness a lot more now than we did back in the days of electric shock. It’s still a very mysterious phenomenon.”

Q: Have you ever felt discriminated against?

A: “I actually haven’t. I might have been lucky in that I just had people around me that were very understanding. However, it’s not something I’m very comfortable talking about.

“It was always a fear of mine, if I was ever meeting parents of a potential girlfriend, that I would have to disclose this fact at some point, and that it would be a deal-breaker kind of thing. But I think I’ve been extremely lucky in that sense.”

Q: When you were writing “The Pilo Family Circus” you had just been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Do you think the psychotic episode influenced the characters in the book?

A: “I do think some of the more delirious aspects of psychotic symptoms probably did help attribute to aspects of the book.”

Q: Why did you write your memoirs so early in your life?

A: “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and not get a story out, and I think this one is more important than any fictional story. I wrote a lot of the content for this book before I became an author, but I thought people would take a lot more notice if there would be something to latch on to, otherwise I would just be some anonymous mental patient, and who cares.”

Editing by Miral Fahmy