Challenging Stigmas with Deborah Malcolm

Today’s blog post comes from Deborah Malcolm, author/illustrator of Meh, a wordless picture book about depression. Deborah gives us an inside look into her experience presenting at Edinburgh Book Festival about challenging stigmas.

 

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Ticket to Deborah’s event (Photo credit Laura Malone)

Intro

I believe it was close to the end of last year that I received the news that I had been invited to speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2016. As a somewhat unknown novice author/illustrator, being invited to present at such a well renowned festival was both a great honor and fantastic opportunity for me. In a sense, it was as if the journey of Meh had come full circle. It was at this very festival that I was initially inspired to create a picture book (by my favorite author Neil Gaiman) and now it was my turn to potentially inspire others.

 

Preparation

I felt fairly confident of how I imagined the event would be structured as I had experience of telling the story of Meh to the public before. The most important points I wanted to cover were why I created the book, why I felt it was important to talk about mental health from a young age and also why I believed picture books were a useful tool to encourage this kind of discussion. In previous presentations I had used PowerPoint to share images of initial sketches and concept development, and felt using this technique again would be beneficial in getting my ideas across to the audience. In June I received the official festival programme in the post, and suddenly reality kicked in. I had a very important event to prepare myself for, and I desperately wanted it to be a success.announcement

Thankfully I was not alone in this journey. I always had the support of ThunderStone Books whenever I needed advice or reassurance, and the appointed chairperson for my event, Cat Anderson, quickly got in touch to go over the finer details. However it was during this time that I had discovered a potential problem. I hadn’t specified in my event information form that I would need a projector, screen and computer so that I could show a PowerPoint presentation. This resulted in my event being scheduled in a room where it wasn’t possible to use these pieces of equipment. Of course at the time I became very anxious, but over time I realized this wasn’t as big an issue as I felt it was. I had presented without the aid of computers and projectors before. I just had to revise my preparations a little to compensate. Cat and I decided that an informal discussion between us on stage (whilst covering the key points I mentioned) along with some audience participation would be the best solution.

Deborah at the Author’s Yurt (Photo credit Marcus Buchanan)

 

 

 

The Event
Finally the day of my event arrived, and I was eager to have it be over and done with. Although excited and delighted for having this opportunity, I had been so stressed about the event that I was exhausted before I had even done anything. This stress seemed to dissipate somewhat as soon as I entered the Author’s Yurt (a place for authors to relax and prepare). Cat and I sat and made final preparations whilst finding out a little more about each other.

 

 

 

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Deborah and Jonny Duddle (Photo credit Marcus Buchanan)

As we waited I was introduced to the glorious author/illustrator Jonny Duddle (the man behind J.K. Rowling’s latest Harry Potter book cover illustrations). He wished me luck and congratulated me on my work before taking off for his own event. Cat then introduced me to author/illustrator Chris Riddell (who’s work I know from his illustrations for some of Neil Gaiman’s books, such as Fortunately, The Milk and The Sleeper and The Spindle). I was thrilled to hear that he remembered Meh from when I showed it to him at a signing the year before. He mentioned that I appeared incredibly calm, and also congratulated me on my achievements. Unfortunately our chat was brief as he was quickly whisked away for press shots, but I was very grateful for his kind words. Soon it was my turn to be escorted from the Author’s Yurt to the Writer’s Retreat where an audience waited for my event to begin.

 

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Balloons and negative thoughts (Photo credit Laura Malone)

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The story of “Meh” (Photo credit Laura Malone)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Writer’s Retreat was a long red room that had glass doors to allow natural light in. This was perfect as the weather was lovely outside, but it also gave me other areas to occasionally glance to when I felt looking at the audience a little overwhelming. There were moments of distraction when children outside tried to open the doors to get in, but it wasn’t anything to stay concerned about. Cat guided the conversation with questions influenced by things I said and we ended the event with everyone blowing up balloons with their “negative thoughts” and releasing them into the air (and also creating an amusing noise).

 

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Signing copies of “Meh” (Photo credit Laura Malone)

The event was received well, and people in the audience had many questions and ideas to discuss. We then moved to the children’s book store where I signed a bundle of copies of Meh and had more time to have one on one discussions with some of the audience members. (I would also like to mention I was signing next to Axel Scheffler who has illustrated many of Julia Donaldson’s books, such as The Gruffalo, which was very exciting!). As soon as the book signing was over, so was my time at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. After a quick break back at the Author’s Yurt I reluctantly made my leave and travelled back home feeling relieved, exhausted, proud, a little sad, but most of all thankful for the experience.

I would like to thank the Edinburgh International Book Festival for the fantastic opportunity, to Cat Anderson who really helped me feel at ease and provided a lot of support throughout the event, to everyone who attended and purchased a book, to my friends and family who also showed a lot of love and support, and of course to ThunderStone Books who have been a fantastic publisher and without them this opportunity would not have been possible.

 

Interested in reading Deborah’s book? Buy a beautiful special, limited edition copy of Meh today!
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Mental Health Awareness Week – Relationships

A post from Deborah Malcom, author of Meh.

Disclaimer – I am not a mental health professional. This blog is based on personal experience, and not to be taken as medical advice.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, with this year’s theme focusing on relationships.  I decided I would write about my own thoughts and experience building and maintaining relationships between friends whilst suffering from long-term poor mental health.

Marcus and I (2)

For as long as I can remember I have suffered from social anxiety.  This has made it difficult for me to make and maintain strong friendships. There is a constant fear in my mind that friends that I make will soon realise how “boring” and “stupid” I am, and will do everything in their power to avoid me.  Even after socialising with friends I will quickly convince myself that I said something wrong, or acted awkwardly, and that those friends (who were more than happy to be in my presence) now despise me.

 

katy and I (2)Since I can’t rely on believing that just being myself is enough to retain friendships, I sometimes buy small gifts for them.  I understand that material goods are not the way to making and keeping friends, but when your mind tells you that you need to if you want people to like you, then you do it.  (If you have ever received random gifts from me, it’s my way of saying I really like you and enjoy your company!).  Of course, the positive feeling from random acts of kindness can only go so far if you don’t treat yourself as kindly as you do others.

This anxiety grows, and I begin to believe that sending a short text message or a message on social media will be an inconvenience to them; that I’ll appear desperate for their attention. So more often than not, I leave it to them to initiate conversation. You can probably imagine how well that decision goes…

Martin and I (2)

 

Every relationship is a two-way commitment. Most of the time it’s fairly straightforward, but when one or both of them have issues with their mental health it becomes a daily struggle.  Talking about how you feel is incredibly difficult, especially if you feel that revealing your problems will only burden those you care for. However in my experience it is far better to try than to keep your worries to yourself. You don’t have to announce it to the world, just to those you feel you can trust. In turn they may come to you when they are in need of someone to talk to, showing their trust in you.

 

 

Laura(sis),Kate(mum) and I-1 (2)Although I can’t provide any advice on how to maintain healthy relationships, I can make a “resolution” on what I feel may improve my own. My Relationships Resolution is to build on my current friendships by initiating conversations, arranging days to socialise and not to shy away when I’m invited out by others.

 

What’s your Relationship Resolution? You can make your “pledge” on the Mental Health Foundation website.

 

 

 


The Meh App: A Visual Storybook

Meh, the beloved wordless picture book about depression by Deborah Malcolm, is the inspiration for a new app. Using the same boy and white cat characters in an interactive storybook, the app allows the user to become part of the story.

 

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The app, like the book, is particularly appropriate for children but can be engaging for all ages. Objects in the visual storybook light up and when users tap those objects, the boy moves through the story and sounds of scribbling, tweeting birds, and cat “meows” can be heard.

 

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The app allows for scrolling to move side to side or upwards with the boy and discover what is lying just around the corner.

 

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One of our favorite parts of the app is when cracks begin to appear in the boy’s gray world. By tapping on the white cat (who is getting bigger and bigger) the cracks appear more frequently, and make sounds of the gray world crumbling. Tapping on the cat repeatedly, with the cracks appearing more and more often, is an empowering feeling as the user helps the boy to find his strength and return to the colorful world.

The app was created by a team of talented developers and animators from the Computer Arts Programme at Abertay University, Dundee. The team consists of Ewan Duncan, Michael Philp, Alan Hunter, Stephen O’donnell, and David Ferguson. We owe thanks to this team, to Lynn Parker (Computer Arts Programme Tutor at University of Abertay Dundee), and as always to Deborah Malcolm, who created this beautiful story in the first place.

 

Download the app for free for Android and don’t forget to leave a review!

 


The Wisdom of Wordless

Storytelling is an art to which I am in awe because of the difficulty in doing it right. There are certainly many plot-hole-ridden, flat-character driven, boring stories out there. But there are also some beautiful stories that pull it off, and do it well. And what is even more impressive to me, is when a story is told without using words! That is why the theme of today’s blog post is wordless picture books. Here are a few of my favorites:

 

Time Flies by Eric Rohmann

This was one of the well-worn books on my childhood bookshelf, read and reread. It follows the flight of a bird who travels through a museum of dinosaur bones but as the bird passes each display, the dinosaurs start to come to life and it is as if the bird is traveling back in time. It’s the kind of book that ignites childhood imagination and it was one that I liked to get lost in.

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Tuesday by David Wiesner

David Wiesner is one of the best and most prolific wordless picture book author/illustrators. Tuesday is about the strange happenings on Tuesday in which frogs magically fly on lilypads and travel through the town. If you are interested, you can check out some of Wiesner’s other wordless picture books such as The Three Pigs.

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The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg

This pick is a bit of a cheat because it is not completely wordless, but it does not have many words and it is by my absolute favorite children’s book author, Chris Van Allsburg, so I decided to include it here anyway. This book is a collection of random pictures and captions from the mysterious Harris Burdick. I remember looking through these as a child and writing short stories to go along with each mysterious and magical image. It’s great for igniting curiosity and sparking story ideas.

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Meh by Deborah Malcolm

Finally, one of my very favorite picture books is written and illustrated by our very own Deborah Malcolm. The wordless nature of Meh makes it a book that everyone can read it differently and see their own situation within its pages. The cat, the boy, the darkness … these are all elements that can be interpreted in various ways. To get your very own copy of Meh, buy it here.

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What do you love about wordless picture books? Let us know which wordless picture books are your favorites!


NOT the Eve 6 song

Why I Love Inside Out’s Take on Depression

[Disclaimer: the author’s opinions do not necessarily represent the views of ThunderStone Books. The author reserves the right to change his opinion for reasons up to and including further discussion, indigestion, or abduction of a loved one.]

NOT the Eve 6 song

Sadness and Joy in Pixar’s Inside Out

Everyone has been talking about the new Pixar film, Inside Out, so I’m going to add my own thoughts to this discussion. The opinions and insights are my own, and I welcome dialogue and debate regarding what you thought of the film.

Rachel and I recently saw Inside Out and though I went into the theatre expecting a few hours of fun, entertaining fluff, I came out amazed by how the film affected me.

Let me start by saying that not everything in the movie struck me like it did others (here’s looking at you, Bing Bong.) I loved most of it, thought a few things were weird, but as it ended, I kept thinking of one core idea, and probably my favorite thing about the film — how it shows depression.

We tend to think of depression as sadness. That’s not entirely inaccurate, but there’s a bit more to it. Remember, Joy and Sadness are both missing from headquarters when Riley falls into a slump. Traditional wisdom might tell us that depression occurs when Sadness is in charge, or outnumbers the other emotions somehow. But depression isn’t simply a lack of happiness, but a lack of sadness as well: the lack of emotion is exactly what makes depression so hard to escape from. As we see in the film, sadness can lead to actions that create joy. But when we quit feeling, we lose motivation to pull ourselves out. Everyone gets sad, but it’s not usually a problem when we can see a way out. But sometimes we can’t recognize an escape, and worse, don’t even care.

That’s why I love Inside Out. Sadness isn’t something to be feared or unduly avoided; it’s an essential part of the human experience. Apathy is the enemy.

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Meh by Deborah Malcolm

It’s tough to talk about depression without feeling preachy. In our latest book, Meh, author/illustrator Deborah Malcolm avoided this issue by not using words at all—showing, not telling, a story of a journey through depression. In a similar way, Inside Out succeeds where so many other attempts fall flat, by not telling us how to fix depression, but by showing us that there is a way out, and the importance of just feeling.

Let us know what you thought of the film below!


Spreading Awareness

We love Deborah!

We love Deborah!

 

Sunday, August 2, 2015 was the official launch of Meh at the Waterstones in Livingston, Scotland. Our lovely author/illustrator, Deborah Malcolm, pulled out all the stops for a fabulous presentation complete with balloons, colouring activities, and sweets for the kids, and for the adults, thought-provoking insight into discussing mental health from a young age.

 

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Deborah talked about how positive thinking is a technique to escape from a cycle of negativity that is often a part of depression. She had the children in the audience ‘fill’ their black balloons with negative thoughts and then release them into the air.  Next, they filled their heads with positive thoughts, drawing things that made them happy.

STV News was even there to document the event!

STV News was even there to document the event!

Missed the event? You can still get your very own copy of Meh to explore and discuss mental health awareness.