Tuesday, 26 August 2014

January First by Michael Schofield

Paperback:  As a newborn, January sleeps for only 20 minutes at a time.  As a one-year-old, she speaks in complete sentences.  At two, she asks about negative numbers.  By three, she has literally hundreds of imaginary friends.  All the signs suggest she's gifted.

At six years old, Michael Schofield's daughter, January, was diagnosed with one of the most severe cases of child-onset schizophrenia that doctors had ever seen.  In January's case, she is hallucinating 95 percent of the time that she is awake.  Potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her.

January, "Jani" to her family, has literally hundreds of imaginary friends.  They go by names like 400-the-Cat, 100 Degrees, and 24 Hours and live on an island called "Calalini," which she describes as existing "on the border of my world and your world."

Some of these friends are good, and some of them, such as 400, are very bad. They tell her to jump off buildings, attack her brother, and scream at strangers.

But when her baby brother Bodhi arrives, January's behaviour becomes increasingly violent, her never-ending delusions and hallucinations interspersed with paroxysms of rage that eventually force her parents to live in separate adjoining apartments.

This harrowing memoir is the desperate story of Michael's mission to find out what is wrong with his highly intelligent daughter.  As he does the rounds of child psychologists, doctors and locked hospital wards, the author provides an unflinchingly honest account of parenting, as well as an indictment of the lack of care for children with severe mental illness.

But above all, January First (2013) shows the passionate dedication of a father who refuses to give up on his little girl even as her behaviour becomes ever more alien.  It is the inspiring tale of their resolute determination and faith.

About the author:  Michael Schofield does not consider himself a writer.  He claims he is more of a story teller.  January First is his first book.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England by Sarah Wise

Paperback:  The nineteenth century saw repeated panics about sane individuals being locked away in lunatic asylums.

With the rise of the 'mad-doctor' profession, English liberty seemed to be threatened by a new generation of medical men willing to incarcerate difficult family members in return for the high fees paid by an unscrupulous spouse or friend.

But who were the victims of this trade? And to what extent was it carried on? Why was it a problem for the wealthy and less so for the poor?

Sarah Wise uncovers twelve shocking lunacy cases - ranging from the 1820s to the 1890s - in Inconvenient People (2012), some untold for over a century, which reveal the darker side of the Victorian upper and middle classes - their sexuality, fears of inherited madness, financial greed and fraud, the various types of persons who came under threat of incarceration, the support that their plight aroused in the public mind and the newspapers, and doctors' shifting arguments about what constituted insanity - and chillingly evoke the black motives at the heart of the phenomenon of the 'inconvenient person'.

About the author:  "I live in central London and as well as writing my non-fiction books, I am currently working on a screenplay of Inconvenient People. I lecture regularly on London history and the history of 19th-century mental health.

I also teach 19th-century social history via fiction.  Details of my courses can be found here: www.bishopsgate.org.uk/Courses and type in course codes LN15101 or WR15118.

I grew up in West London and went to school in Wood Lane, White City. After graduation in English Literature, I worked as a journalist, mostly for arts, architecture and design titles, including the Guardian arts desk and Space magazine — the Guardian's design and architecture supplement.

I did a Master's degree in Victorian Studies at Birkbeck, University of London – jumping ship from Engish Literature to History. A chance discovery (a throwaway quote in a piece of Edwardian journalism) led to the writing of The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London (2004). I followed this up with The Blackest Streets: the Life and Death of a Victorian Slum in 2008.
The Italian Boy won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. The Blackest Streets was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize for evocation of a location/landscape.

My third book, Inconvenient People, was shortlisted for the 2014 Wellcome Book Prize and was a book of the year in the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Guardian and Spectator."

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Liberty's Dawn: A People's History of the Industrial Revolution by Emma Griffin

Paperback:  This remarkable book, first published in 2013, looks at 350 published and unpublished autobiographies penned between 1760 and 1900 to offer an intimate first-hand account of how the Industrial Revolution was experienced by the working class.

The Industrial Revolution brought not simply misery and poverty.

On the contrary, prize-winning historian Griffin shows how it raised incomes, improved literacy, and offered exciting opportunities for political action.

For many, this was a period of new, and much valued, sexual and cultural freedom.

Griffin gets under the skin of the period and creates a cast of colourful characters, including factory workers, miners, shoemakers, carpenters, servants, and farm labourers.

Griffin wrote in her Introduction, "My goal is not to root out some 'patches of sunlight' in the name of historical novelty.  Nor do I wish to replace one simple story (things were bad and getting worse) with another (they never had it so good!).  The pattern was complex.  Just as statistical averages and human experiences can run counter to each other, so too can the experiences of different people.  Men, women and children, we will see, felt the advent of industrialisation in very different ways.  The patches of sunlight certainly shone more brightly on men than on their wives or children."

"Above all, we need to listen more carefully to what our first-hand witnesses are trying to tell us.  In recounting their journeys to adulthood and self-understanding, in the sheer fact of writing an autobiography at all, our writers communicated something about their place in a changing world.  It is time to think the unthinkable:  that these writers viewed themselves not as downtrodden losers but as men and women in control of their destiny;  that the industrial revolution heralded the advent not of a yet 'darker period', but of the dawn of liberty."

About the author:  Emma Griffin is Professor of History at the University of East Anglia and an expert on the social and economic history of Britain from 1700 to 1870.  She is a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 3's Night Waves and is the author of three previous books, including A Short History of the British Industrial Revolution (2010) and Blood Sport:  Hunting in Britain since 1066 (2007), as well as many articles, essays and reviews in both academic and non-academic publications.