We’re pleased to announce a new title – UNSPOKEN – from award-winning writer Suria Tei, a raw and courageous memoir about living with mental illness. As more and more people around the globe struggle with mental health issues exacerbated by the on-going COVID saga, Suria’s book is a timely reminder that speaking out and getting help are important first steps in dealing with mental illness. In Malaysia, we don’t usually give mental health issues much thought and tend to flippantly dismiss people going through such turmoil as ‘gila’ or ‘siao’ (or worse!). Suria’s book really opened my eyes to the day-to-day issues faced by depressives as well as what their family and friends can do to walk with them on their journey.
Click to buy Unspoken.
I’m also sharing a recent article from The Guardian by Dave Eggers on his new book and aversion to Amazon. There’s a hidden cost to the cheap books/cheap delivery promised by Amazon and it is publishers and booksellers (and Amazon’s exploited workers) that are paying the price.
“Amazon is a monopoly that uses unfair business practices to drive out competition. They do not play by the rules and they do not pay anywhere near their proper tax burden. Meanwhile, you can bet your local indie bookstore is paying taxes. Amazon loses money on book sales because they can make up those losses through other revenue streams. That’s the essence of predatory pricing, and it should be illegal under existing antitrust laws.”Dave Eggers
We’re always happy to hear from our readers and if you have any thoughts, books etc to share please do get in touch.
Publisher/Editor, Clarity Publishing
During a Scottish summer, author Suria Tei was struck by an acute psychotic episode that left her mentally paralysed. After a few sessions of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), she gradually regained awareness.
As she recovered from her ordeal, Tei delved into the roots of her chronic depression and psychosis, eventually finding answers in her formative years growing up in a conventional Malaysian Chinese family.
From grief to depression, from psychosis to catharsis, from East to West, Tei shares her past encounters and insights into life with an unflinching honesty. Unspoken is a journey of self-discovery and understanding how the past conditions our present.
Unspoken is now available for sale online with free postage (throughout peninsular Malaysia).
Click here to buy Unspoken. Available at all good bookstores nationwide across Malaysia from December 2021.
Suria Tei is an award-winning writer. Her first novel, Little Hut of Leaping Fishes, was listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize and Best Scottish Fiction, and won Malaysia’s Readers’ Choice Award. Her second book, The Mouse Deer Kingdom, came third in the Readers’ Choice Award.
She was the script writer for Night Swimmer which won Best Short Film at the Vendome International Film Festival. Born and raised in Malaysia, Tei came to Scotland to study in the 1990s and now lives in Glasgow.
AustraliaFitnessToday.com is pleased to share this exclusive interview by Clarity Publishing’s publisher, Rosalind Chua (RC) with the author, Suria Teh (ST).
RC: You’re known as a writer of fiction, what made you decide to venture into non-fiction? And why such a personal account?
ST: The writing of Unspoken came to me at the time that was deemed necessary. I was overcome by grief after my sister’s passing in 2014, which triggered my depression. I lost the motivation to work on another novel. As I was finding ways to help myself out of the dark abyss, I became aware of the need to dig into the roots of my mental illness, which is my childhood trauma. I was attending a counselling course then, which required me to confront my past and led me to a journey of self-discovery, and I explored it further through writing. At the same time, the process of writing was in itself therapeutic. It helped me to express and release the feelings and emotions I had been supressing over the years.
I am inherently a private person. The idea of laying bare my experiences to the world does scare me. However, if my writing can benefit others – for persons with mental illnesses to understand that they are not alone, for their loved ones to get a handle on how to care for them, and to raise mental health awareness in general – I have no regrets in bringing this book to readers.
RC: Do you feel that attitudes towards mental health/depression in Malaysia or the UK have changed during the global lockdowns?
ST: I am unsure about the situation in Malaysia. But in the UK, there has been more coverage on mental health issues in the media during the pandemic. On social media too, I noticed there has been more openness in discussing mental health matters. I am trying to do my part in raising mental health awareness. On Twitter, I regularly share my experiences with my followers, give advice where appropriate and encourage them to talk about their problems.
The idea of writing about family and sharing family secrets is still quite a touchy affair in Asian culture (there are so many sanitised biographies floating around our bookstores!). What’s your take on this and how were you able to overcome any resistance, internal or external?
I did not inform my family before writing Unspoken. The book is personal but there weren’t any dark secrets involved in it. I grew up in a small town where everybody knew everybody so there were not really any secrets to speak of. As such, I did not think there would be anything offensive. I simply stated the truth. My family was aware that I was writing a memoir and they were proud of me when it was first published in the UK, though they had not read it. My eldest brother read Part I of the book and was emotional for my experience of mental illness.
RC: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions the public may have about mental illness or depression?
ST: One of the biggest problems faced by persons with mental illness, especially the depressives, is that there are still many people out there who do not recognise mental illness as a form of illness. The symptoms of depression, such as unexplained lurgies and the lack of motivation to assume daily activities, are often dismissed as laziness. The last thing a depressive wants to hear is to be asked to ‘get a grip’ and ‘get on with your life.’ They simply can’t. That is why raising mental awareness among the public is so important.
RC: What effect did your depression have on your writing? And how did that make you feel?
ST: I was working on my second novel, The Mouse Deer Kingdom, when my second bout (the first was after my father’s death seven years before) of depression struck following the passing of my mother. For months, I withdrew into hibernation state and lost the motivation to do anything. I couldn’t make myself sit at the desk and write as my body was heavy with lurgies and my mind couldn’t concentrate. My agent had to negotiate for a new deadline with the publisher then and again. After my psychotic episode in 2018, my mind wasn’t functioning properly. I had problems with writing, reading and speaking. I thought I would never be able to write again. The thought scared me. I felt like an invalid, useless. I had loved writing since a child. If I couldn’t write, what use was I? That thought made me even more depressed.
RC: What does a typical week look like for you now?
ST: My days are quite different from most writers, I guess, as I am still recovering from the acute psychotic episode three years ago, during which I totally lost my mind. For someone with mental health issues, every day is a struggle. I try to establish a routine, as advised by my psychiatrist. With the help of the Glasgow Association for Mental Health (GAMH), I volunteer at a community allotment for persons recovering from mental illness every Monday. The organisation also arranges for me to go cycling and play tennis during the week. Every Thursday I attend a Buddhist study group, which has been moved online since the pandemic began. I also find time to be in nature, going to the woods or seaside. In between these activities, I try to write a little bit at a time when I am able to. I understand that the recovery needs time, and I always count myself lucky that I can still write, despite being slow.
Click to buy Unspoken.
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Originally published in AsiaFitnessToday.com, AFT Books shares some of the latest titles from a growing community of independent publishers in Asia Pacific each month. In keeping an active community, we ask for your support by purchasing directly from the publishers.