Today on my blog I have something a little different. A guest post from author Luke Melia and a brief look at his latest novel GIVE UP THE WHITE ROOM. Let’s find out a bit about the book first!
About the Book
Life is a puzzle just waiting to be solved. That’s how Reya, a young woman with a penchant for solving complex puzzles sees it. Reya’s life is governed by routine; a roadmap of rules from what foods she eats to what she wears. Most of her time is spent working on her online challenge forum known as ‘The Puzzler’.Reya, herself an Agoraphobic with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, views her own symptoms as just another Puzzle to be solved. After six years without sight of the outside world, Reya, with the help of her self-made therapeutic entity named “Ivan”, has created a carefully laid out plan to get her back into society.When their plan goes awry, Reya retreats to the safety of her home, and that night when she sleeps she finds herself in a shared dreamspace known as “The White Room”This is a boundless and wonderful place accessible only to a small selection of individuals from around the word. A place in which one can make anything they desire tangible. Here, Reya can finally interact with others face to face without needing to leave her home. As Reya begins to use her talents to help these people and forge new relationships, she starts to feel more and more connected to the dreamspace. But what is this place? Do these people really exist? Or is The White Room merely an addictive fabrication to retreat from the gravity of her illnesses?
‘Talk me through the plan’
Portraying mental health in my novel Give Up the White Room
Give Up the White Room is my first novel. Prior to publishing it in 2019, I had only written comic books, so a piece of long-form prose presented quite the challenge. On top of that, I chose to write about some difficult themes, as my protagonist Reya struggles with both agoraphobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I portray these mental health issues in writing through Reya’s first -person narrative. As the reader, you see events from her perspective and, through her inner monologue, get a sense of how she processes the world around her. Reya uses her natural gift for solving puzzles as a way to approach her mental health.
This is where Ivan comes in. Ivan is an essential character in the novel, maybe as important as Reya herself – in a sense because he is Reya herself. Ivan doesn’t exist – he’s a therapist Reya consciously creates as a way to self-medicate. She sees her mental health issues as a puzzle, and Ivan is part of the solution.
When we first meet Reya, she and Ivan are working on a plan to build her confidence to a point where she can leave the house, walk to a local shop, buy milk and come home. This might sound like the simplest of tasks, but for someone suffering from extreme agoraphobia, it presents a monumental challenge.
‘Talk me through the plan’ is the second chapter of the novel and consists of a dense conversation between Reya and Ivan, during which I explore the meticulous extent to which she has to plan even the most basic activities. My aim was to give an insight into the depths of her mental illness and explore just how crippling agoraphobia and OCD can be. I was very conscious, though, that if I didn’t write it well it could easily come off as a boring slog in which a woman talks to herself for several pages about going to buy milk!
This chapter is so important to me as it shows how Reya thinks, how she plans, and how she perceives the world in a different way to most people. It’s key that the reader understands this early on so that later in the narrative the decisions she makes and the ways in which she approaches people all make sense.
Reya knows that Ivan isn’t real. She explains why she created him, and how it was a conscious decision to do so. From that moment on, I wanted the reader to see Ivan the same way that Reya does – as a separate entity. His purpose is to challenge Reya’s thought processes, so the two of them are able to look at the same situation from different perspectives. Reya’s is one of fear and emotion, whilst Ivan can take a colder, more methodical view.
As Reya’s therapist, Ivan insists on a level of professionalism in their relationship. However, he is the only ‘person’ with which Reya has conversed for the past six years due to her reclusive lifestyle – at times, their relationship slips into friendship, sometimes with Ivan even acting as something of a parental figure.
In establishing these elements of the story, hopefully I’ve written a chapter in which the two of them discussing the plan to go and buy milk is interesting, thought-provoking and an authentic but sensitive look at how Reya struggles with her illness.
Of course, this is only the beginning… when her plan goes awry, Reya retreats to the safety of her home, and that night when she sleeps discovers a boundless and magical place called the ‘shared Dreamspace’. There she can bring to lifeanything she imagines and has the opportunity for the first time in six years to talk to, connect and form relationships with a group of fascinating and eccentric individuals from around the world.
Reya and Ivan’s relationship grows increasingly strained as Reya becomes obsessed with this ‘White Room’, which Ivan does not believe exists… but if you want to know more about that, you’ll have to read the rest of the book!