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- Title: Of Madness and Folly
- Author: Graham Old
- Category: Fiction, Humour
- Print ISBN: 1515254682
- Publisher: Plastic Spoon
Available exclusively from Amazon.
Graham Old is a therapist, trainer and author from the UK. A Graduate of Spurgeon’s College and the University of Wales, Graham is a former University Chaplain and an active participant in local peace and justice campaigns. He has experience as an Assistant Social Worker and a Father’s Worker, as well as working in private practice and running one of the most popular hypnosis sites on the web.
Graham is the author of the fictional memoir, Of Madness and Folly, as well as an ongoing series of hypnosis books in the Inductions Masterclass collection.
Graham is a popular speaker, writer and trainer, with over two decades experience teaching meditation and self-hypnosis. Those who have heard Graham teach have routinely praised his ability to express complex material in an accessible and practical way. More importantly, for his fragile ego, they also frequently comment on how funny he is.
Graham is a comedy-snob and can regularly be found lamenting the quality of the latest hit sitcom, whilst failing to provide any viable alternatives.
Rob Auldam is admitted into Greenfields Psychiatric Hospital following a drunken incident of self-harm.
At Greenfields, he encounters an interesting array of characters. Pete is a poet, who is in hospital following an overdose. Neil suffered brain damage after a concrete slab was dropped-off of a motorway bridge. His memory is unreliable, which he uses to humorous effect. Colin, a Mormon, is there after one too many suicide attempts. Dylan is delusional and believes that he was in the hospital over 200 years ago.
Rob is a Social Worker and a Life Coach. He knows all about good mental health. Unfortunately, he also has Asperger’s Syndrome, struggles with alcohol abuse and hears a voice telling him to attack himself. Rob feels like a fraud, completely unable to live up to the advice he gives his own clients.
Throughout his time in hospital, Rob struggles with self-harm, using smuggled-in razor blades, broken CDs and anything else he can find to injure himself.
In the couple of years before he was admitted, Rob separated from his wife of 15 years. This is something that he has never fully come to terms with, as he does not see his children as often as he would like and feels that he has let them down.
Kerry is Rob’s psychologist whilst he is at hospital. His sessions with her reveal as much about the inner workings of his mind, as his diary entries do. Kerry helps Rob discover that he is facing an identity crisis and that this has in fact been the case for some time. He is left feeling like he is wearing masks and is unclear who he really is. Kerry helps Rob to reflect on this, though ultimately he chooses a different resolution to the one she suggests.
Rob begins to discover that he is not all that different to his fellow patients. Moreover, it is revealed that they are not all that dissimilar to everyone in the ‘outside’ world. Rob reasons that the only difference is perhaps that the patients are more honest about their struggles. Rob and his patients discuss the world in harsh and raw terms, openly talking about their sexual conquests, their suicide attempts and their psychotic delusions. This openness is something that challenges Rob and he decides that he can learn from it, taking it with him when he leaves hospital.
We gradually discover that Rob had previously had a black client, Michael, who committed suicide. This plays heavily on his mind and causes him to frequently reflect on issues of race and identity.
It is unclear how successful Rob’s time in hospital is. When he finally leaves, he does not feel that he is ready to go and challenges the decision. The final scene involves him at home beginning to write down and collate his experiences, in order to avoid ever having to return to hospital. It is not revealed whether this is a suicide note or a therapeutic attempt to learn from his experience.
So, where shall we begin?
The beginning would be an obvious place, if I could figure out where that truly was. I suppose I could talk about my most recent hospital admission and the rather alarming events which preceded it. Or we could go back to the breakdown of my marriage and the trials of learning to live on my own as an emancipated man in the 21st century. We could even begin where all so-called good therapists seem trained to go, with my upbringing and the fact that my father did not say he loved me daily and Mummy stopped breastfeeding me before I was old enough to leave home.
However, they say there is no time like the present and although they offer no evidence in support of their Water-cooler wisdom, the lack of a compelling alternative moves me to agree. So, I will begin with today, which began – as all good days are prone to do – with a rude awakening.
A head bounced off of the wall in the room next to mine. Doors slammed down the corridor. Opened, slammed, opened and slammed again.
I could hear the new guy snoring from across the hall, along with his neighbour screaming threats that should probably be taken seriously.
A head banged against the wall once more. He’d stop when he could no longer stand up straight.
In the distance, I could hear a faint alarm go off, followed by a scurry of feet.
I closed my eyes and pulled the covers over my head, but it was all in vain. Just moments before, I was melting into Scarlett Johansson’s sumptuous lips and all was more than alright with the world. Yet, as I attempted to descend back into that paradise, the sky exploded into a field of brightness and I awoke to find my door open, my bedroom light on and Nurse Grace standing at the foot of my bed.
“Breakfast,” she grumped and swiftly left my room.
And so began day 29 of my stay at Greenfields Psychiatric hospital.
Local author shares experiences from ‘the funny farm’
Have you ever wondered what really takes place in institutions like Berrywood Hospital? You may be about to find out!
Local author, Graham Old, knows first-hand the stigma associated with mental health issues. Graham has had periodic bouts with depression and anxiety since his late teens. All of that is multiplied by the fact that Graham has Asperger’s Syndrome, often described as a high-functioning variation of Autism.
“Just look at the ways we describe the places set-up to help people struggling: the nut-house, the funny farm, the loony-bin. So, I decided to do something about it. I began collating the experiences of people who had spent time in Berrywood Hospital and places like it. I spoke to patients and staff from various establishments. I drew on my own experience, as well as that of friends and family.
“The pleasant surprise for me, was that the ‘funny farm’ can actually be remarkably funny. Not in a circus-freak, “let’s mock those less fortunate than us” kind of way. Quite the opposite. Just as anywhere else in life, time spent in a psychiatric unit involves meeting a whole variety of people with fascinating, heart-wrenching and yet often hilarious stories to share.
“These are often people who have been to hell and back, maybe more than once. And, on their way back once again, they have incredible and illuminating stories to share. So, creating a character loosely-based on myself, I decided to give those often shunned voices a platform – both to laugh and to cry.
‘Of Madness and Folly,’ Graham’s first novel, follows the experiences of Rob, a functional alcoholic who hears voices and self-harms. He spends 9 weeks in a Psychiatric hospital and soon learns that life in there isn’t all that different to life on the outside.
So, does that mean it is okay for people to continue to refer to places like Berrywood as “the funny farm”?
“I think that such descriptions are perhaps best left to the patients themselves,” Old suggests. “After all, the fact that they can be places of great humour hardly makes it fair to refer to the residents as inhabitants of a farm!”
Indeed, they are humans, often brave, battle-weary, bemused yet amusing human beings. Rather than labeling them at all, maybe it’s time for us to listen.
Sample Interview Questions
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I am a working-class Brit, staunchly anti-establishment and a wimpy pacifist. I guess I’m what they call a champagne socialist, if I could afford the champagne.
I’m a former missionary, church leader and university chaplain. I’ve also worked in Social Services and for adults with Learning Difficulties. I am currently a certified Hypnotherapist and work in private practice.
Describe the plot of your new book in a few sentences.
Rob Auldam is a Social Worker with a love of red wine and a diagnosis of Aspergers. Following a drunken incident of self-harm he is admitted as a psychiatric patient. There, he discovers a world of unexpected humour and learns that we are all a little bit crazy.
Tell us a bit about the protagonist, Rob.
I love Rob! I think of him as something like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. But imagine a Sheldon who desperately wanted to be liked and was fully aware of his own foibles.
Rob is a Social Worker and also works as a Life Coach. He had a less than perfect upbringing, though in this book you only receive vague details of that. Rob was also diagnosed with Asperger’s a few years ago and is probably still in the midst of reviewing his life’s history and figuring out the part that Asperger’s played in all of that. As such, Rob has experience of mental health and family crisis from both sides of the fence. He is perhaps the epitome of a ‘wounded healer.’ Yet, rather than giving up, he stubbornly believes he can really make a difference in people’s lives. He should probably have quit some time ago!
People with autism are not always perceived in the best light in media. They might be treated like non-emotional automatons, or heartless self-centred nerds. I have tried to create a character for whom you will feel some sympathy, perhaps even admitting that you like him, whilst acknowledging his own unique perspective on the world.
I want people to feel for Rob, whilst also thinking that he’s a bit of a well-meaning jerk. There’s a good tradition of characters like this in British comedy. He doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body, though his quick judgments and self-imposed isolation may cause you to think otherwise.
Humour is a big part of this novel. Was that intended, or did it develop as you wrote?
Humour is hugely important to me. I guess I have had a fairly unique work history, which has included giving sexual advice to adults with learning difficulties, counseling elderly parishioners who have lost their life’s Love and mentoring teenage Dads with a glue habit. Humour has been an essential part of empowering people in such situations, often the only effective way of seeing the possibility of a hopeful future. Aside from that, it strengthens the practitioner in such situations.
We all know the stereotype of the bullied fat kid who turns to comedy to win-over his classmates. It’s a stereotype because it happens again and again. There is something about the power of comedy that can change people, challenge roles and stereotypes and set us on a new path. I’m not saying it’s easy – and anyone who dabbles in comedy whilst talking about ethnicity or prejudice needs to have balls of steel and a sharp wit – but I do believe that comedy can open doors that may otherwise be firmly shut.
So, I wouldn’t dream of talking about mental health without injecting humour throughout. To suggest that such an environment is devoid of humour simply devalues those living through it. If you think that nothing funny ever happens in a psychiatric hospital, you are simply refusing to acknowledge the absurdity and humanity inherent in such an arena.
Are there any authors who have influenced your writing style?
There’s probably too many to mention! Charles Bukowski, Matt Haig, Kurt Vonnegut, David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs and Mark SaFranko spring to mind. I have oodles of respect for authors who can take subjects that shouldn’t be funny and fill them with humour. This strikes me as a uniquely human thing to do. Who hasn’t had that experience of being in a stressful or traumatic situation and feeling the relief that a moment of humour can bring?
Author and Book Photos
Contact Graham Old
Graham can be contacted through any of the means above. He is currently actively seeking representation.