Kate Richards is an extraordinary writer with quite a story to tell. Her first book, "Madness: A Memoir", is both gripping and graphic. It begins with a description of Kate's attempt to amputate her own arm. Other accounts of self-harm, unsteady self-medication and hospitalisation follow. This is in no way easy reading. But 'Madness' is an important and well written book. It is also an unexpectedly encouraging one.
Insight into the lived experience
"Madness" plunges its reader deep into the lived experience of severe depression, mania and psychosis. It is written in first person, present tense narration. For Kate, this was an important part of the book's purpose.
"I thought 'Well, there's kind of nothing out there that might give people a real idea of that day-to-day, hour-to-hour experience'", she explains. "Once I hit on that idea, I thought 'Wow, maybe I could really do something with this that's a bit different and that might really make a difference'."
Most of us are fortunate enough not to have experienced mental illness. Yet Kate's skill as a writer gives us an insight into that world. Readers may be surprised by points of recognition they find there.
"That was a big part of writing it for me", she says. "Being able to be that connection with other people living with similar things and trying to manage those. I just think sometimes you can feel so incredibly alone with what's happening for you."
Tiny sparks of joy
Feelings of loneliness, despair and confusion are powerfully present in "Madness". Yet for all its darkness, there is beauty as well. Kate sees with a poet's eye and writes with a novelist's style. Fleeting moments are captured in her prose. The texture of grass. Sunlight through leaves. The rush of air in the lungs.
Such observations allow Kate's reader to take a breath. Noticing these small things is important to her too. "I think it was something I developed particularly in times of depression," she reflects. "There could still be tiny sparks of moments that gave me a bit of joy."
A happy ending
Despite its bleak beginning, 'Madness' is ultimately uplifting. Kate eventually finds greater wellbeing. Medication and the slow process of therapy both help. The book ends with Kate immersed in the stillness and beauty of Mount Buffalo. Readers are left with a feeling of relief and even hope.
Kate describes herself these days as still "definitely living with an illness". But she has achieved her dream of becoming a writer. "Madness: A Memoir" has won a number of awards. Her second book "Is There No Place for Me?" has also been well received. She's currently working on her first novel.
Kate knows that she can make a difference. The response to her writing shows that.
"One thing that I have found really interesting is that at all the places where I've been speaking or been part of a panel or whatever, people have so many questions. What that says to me is that there is still a lot about the experience of mental illness that we don't talk about readily," she says.
"People are curious or interested or would just like to know more. That to me is so encouraging because it's been such a taboo subject for so long."
"Madness: A Memoir" and "Is There No Place for Me? Making Sense of Madness" are both published by Penguin.