The News

Tackling mental health issues with wit and imagination


In our stressful modern world, mental health problems are increasingly common. Anxiety, depression, panic attacks, OCD… these conditions affect so many of us, from the richest celebrities to the Average Joe, yet mental illness is still surrounded by ignorance, prejudice and fear. Author and nurse Beda Higgins believes – perhaps surprisingly – that one of the best ways to promote greater public understanding of mental health issues is by telling stories.

Little Crackers, her new collection of short stories published on November 6, delivers a startling, original portrayal of individuals living on the edge. The stories challenge our perception of normal, and question how we care for the most vulnerable members of our society.

In the book we find, for example, a new mum struggling to bond with her baby; a student obsessed about flies spreading their killer germs; and a loving father battling his all-consuming fear of death.

The stories are often humorous, and always as entertaining as they are informative. Obsession, dementia, psychosis and even murder all feature in this quirky, surprising Tales of the Unexpected for the 21st century. 

Beda says: “Little Crackers is inspired by my experiences as a nurse over the last thirty years. I came up with a world of strange characters – the paranoid, the isolated, the exploited and the wicked – to illuminate the everyday grief, poverty, neglect, fear and isolation that we all know exist and are common, but which are so often ignored.”

At 6pm on Thu 13 November, Beda will be launching Little Crackers at Blackwells, 141 Percy Street, Newcastle.

Glowing reviews for A Book of Death & Fish

A Book of Death and Fish, the groundbreaking new literary novel of the Scottish islands by Ian Stephen, has been published with some fantastic reviews, including from the literary writer, critic and journalist Robert Macfarlane, who describes it as 'bright book and a brilliant book, that surges with vigour'. Robert Macfarlane will be joining Ian Stephen at the Faclan Hebridean Book Festival in Stornoway on Thursday 30 October at a special event to celebrate the launch of A Book of Death and Fish.

Ian will also be appearing at the Orkney Storytelling Festival on Thursday 23 October and at the Edinburgh Storytelling Festival on Saturday 1 November.

A Book of Death and Fish tells the very individual life story of Peter MacAulay, a coastguard from the Isle of Lewis whose passions include history, engines and fish. Exeter artist Lesley Kerman says of the book: 'From the opening enigmatic account, the stories are interwoven and build an image of the rich and complex character of life seen from the outer Hebrides. The language, the sense of place, the understatement, the laconic style and the dry wit, bowl you along. You can't put it down.'

Writing in the Scotsman, Tom Adair argues that 'Stephen brings a contained concentration and intensity to his chapters that is mesmerising and true', before going on to say that 'here we have a novelist who has stayed his hand, has sifted and savoured his material – a life, no less – to be rendered into assembled precise particulars of the kind that evoke an era'.

Robert Morace, Professor of English at Daemen College, Amherst, NY, compares Ian Stephen to writers such as Herman Melville, Mark Twain and Alistair MacLeod. 'Like Moby-DickA Book of Death and Fish combines compelling narrative with densely detailed but no less compelling chapters. This novel about Peter is also about island life—or rather about life, past and present, on the island and how, like Peter, the island community both endures and evolves, existing apart from the mainland and the larger world but interacting with both.' 

Join J David Simons for The Land Agent launch


J David Simons is appearing at three different events in the next few days to mark the launch of his new novel The Land Agent, which is the conclusion to his epic Glasgow to Galilee trilogy.

The author will be giving readings, answering questions and signing copies of The Land Agent at the following locations:

Wed 22 October, 7pm: Giffnock Library. 

Thu 23 October, 7pm: Waterstones Argyle St, Glasgow. 

Wed 29 Oct, 6.30pm: Blackwells South Bridge, Edinburgh.

The Land Agent, published on 23 October, reconnects us with the stories of the award-winning The Credit Draper and The Liberation of Celia Kahn, both of which have recently been updated by Simons and published with new covers.

Set in 1920s Palestine, this latest novel follows the story of Polish-Jewish immigrant Lev Sela who, while working as a land agent for one of the richest men in the world, stumbles upon a strategic area of land that doesn’t exist on any map. The resultant struggle for ownership involves the Jews, the Arabs, the Zionists, the British, a Russian engineer with ambitions to build a hydro-electric power station and the tribe of Bedouin living there. The dispute also draws Lev into a relationship with Celia Kahn, a beautiful Scottish pioneer living on a nearby kibbutz. 

Extraordinarily, Simons pulls off the difficult task of explaining the historical context, the complex issues and the multiple players at work in the Middle East during the 1920s – all while telling a gripping tale of love and finding a home in the world. 

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