As you all know, I like to help my fellow authors by showcasing or featuring them on my blog.
Today Featured Author: Kevin McAllion
Author of: Moristoun
Released: March 31, 2016
Pubblisher: Authin McCalister Publishers
Authors are always told “write about what you know” when they set about the task of penning their debut novel. Mark Twain even passes on that piece of advice in the pages of Huckleberry Finn so it was something of a gamble when I decided to speculate about the afterlife for Scottish suicide victims in my first stab at fiction.
What lies beyond this realm remains the great mystery. No matter how strong your religious convictions, no one can say with any great certainty what awaits us after we take that final breath. When I started writing Moristoun, suicide was also something I had no real knowledge of, given that it had yet to affect my life directly, but all that was to change just a few weeks later when one of my friends decided to take her own life.
It was almost impossible to think that the bubbly character I knew could become so consumed by darkness that she saw no other option but to end her life before her mid-Thirties. Suicide, though, can strike at any time and in any place. In the time it takes you to blink, three people will have attempted to take their own life. By the time 40 seconds have elapsed, one of them will have succeeded.
The latest figures show there are around one million deaths each year by suicide, a quite staggering statistic. There are only five million people in the whole of Scotland so it takes just five years for the equivalent of our entire population to find the troubles of life so overwhelming that they can see no option but to end their own life.
Only 10 medical conditions cause more mortalities every year worldwide yet suicide remains a taboo, something we only really hear about when a celebrity such as Robin Williams takes his own life. The death of my friend forced me to think about the topic of suicide far more deeply, especially as I set out with the intention of writing a black comedy. The last thing I wanted to do was offend anyone, especially the family and friends of the girl I knew, but any writer deciding to tackle suicide has to tread incredibly carefully.
Suicide has a long and interesting history in literature, stretching all the way to days of Shakespeare, who seemed to be fascinated by the act. It provides the grim finale to Romeo and Juliet while Brutus, Portia and Cassius all kill themselves in Julius Caesar. Othello is another suicide victim, Ophelia dies by her own hand in Hamlet and there are five suicides in just one play, Anthony and Cleopatra. So Shakespeare certainly didn’t shy away from what was a controversial subject, even if those were more violent times. But he could also be accused of romanticising the act of suicide, particularly in Romeo and Juliet where both consider their lives worthless after the crushing loss of their lover.
Writers and poets need to be wary of actively encouraging suicide, with Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther the greatest example of this. Goethe’s novel, which was released in 1774, tells the story of an artist who ends up shooting himself with a pistol after he is rejected by the woman he loves. There were soon reports of young men dressing up in Werther’s clothes and killing themselves in copycat suicides, with the so-called “Werther Fever” becoming such a problem that the book was banned in some German cities and the whole of Italy and Denmark.
In some cases, writing about suicide may have also contributed to the death of the author themselves, with several writers and poets going on to take their own lives. Ernest Hemmingway, Virginia Woolf, Raymond Chandler and Silvia Plath are perhaps the most famous examples but the list is long and goes way back to 65 AD when the philosopher Seneca drank poison and slit his wrists. An American study conducted in 2012 even found writers were twice as likely to attempt suicide as anyone else, branding writing “a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia”. Thankfully, I only learned this long after I had finished writing Moristoun and tackling the subject of suicide didn’t stir any terrible thoughts in my own mind.
If anything, writing the book put me in the opposite frame of mind as I started to think about how people who had died by suicide could move towards a happier existence in the afterlife. It seemed such a tragic shame that my friend, a force of nature who lived life to the full, would see her adventure come to such an abrupt end at such an early age. So I started to think about what would happen to both her and everyone else who had died by suicide in the afterlife.
I first started to write Moristoun in 2012, just when the referendum campaign was getting up and running, so I wanted the book to examine Scottish identity and shine a light on our culture at a time of massive potential political change. That’s why I decided to limit the population of Moristoun to Scottish suicide victims, so we could see what kind of society might be created by a truly independent group of Scots.
I also believe nationality plays a role in how susceptible people are to suicide as the rates often vary wildly from country to country. The highest rate by a country mile is in Guyana, where 44 per 100,000 people die by suicide but this figure drops to just 0.4 in Syria and Saudi Arabia. The UK sits in the middle of the table with a figure of 6.6 and the huge disparity in numbers is down to a number of factors, including religion, climate and culture.
Guyana’s position at the top is largely down to killer pesticides being so readily available but the fact South Korea sits second with a figure of 29 is perhaps more significant. South Korea is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world and I believe this is playing a role in more Koreans being pushed towards suicide.
Isolation is an inevitable consequence of our increasingly digital world as we become less social beings and interact more and more with each other in virtual worlds. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Korea, where professional computer game players are treated like real-life sporting stars and thousands of lonely men pay good money every night for the privilege of dining virtually with attractive female chefs. This dark future could await us in Scotland too so I wanted to reflect this in Moristoun and caution about the impact of technology.
In Moristoun, the lead character McSorely turns to Facebook when he is feeling suicidal, desperate to find some reason to keep living from his friends and acquaintances. But he finds himself even more depressed after reading all their vain and spiteful posts. When he eventually finds himself in Moristoun, which is supposed to be a place of punishment and purgatory, he actually finds his quality of life improving because he is taken away from his digital devices in a place where there is no internet or TV. He is forced to read and talk with his fellow citizens, something which helps to lift his own depression. That’s not say Moristoun is a utopia, it’s not a place you want to spend too much time in.
The residents of the island remain trapped there until they have found enlightenment and gain the knowledge to move on to a higher spiritual realm. The only problem is they must first read a book in the library that is written is seven classical languages. If you don’t put in the effort to learn the languages and uncover the secrets hidden in the book, you will be trapped in Moristoun forever. It’s says everything about the inherent laziness of human beings, and we Scots in particular, that only a handful of Moristoun’s citizens have ever finished the book.
I hope Moristoun forces people to question what really matters in their lives and gets them to think about more spiritual matters. The main message I want to convey is that, no matter how hopeless things may seem, there is always a ray of light, even in the bleakest of places. That message was hammered home for me just after the book was released when I was contacted by Anne Rowan, the founder of the suicide prevention charity Chris’s House.
Anne set up Chris’s House after losing her own son Christopher to suicide and invited me down to their base in Airdrie to see the work they do. I was there for almost five hours talking to Anne, her team of volunteers and people who credited Chris’s House with saving their own life. It was a truly humbling and eye-opening experience that gave me a far greater understanding of suicide and the grief it can cause.
In Moristoun, the characters of Buchan and Miss Sanderson act as guardian angels of sorts and are handed the task of saving modern-day Scots from suicide. Anne and her team are the real-life manifestation of this and it’s no exaggeration to say their work is truly life-saving. One of Anne’s aims is to tackle the taboo of suicide and to get people talking about it more. If Moristoun can contribute in any way towards this I will have achieved something far greater than I ever hoped for when I first started to write the book.
For more information about Moristoun visit www.moristoun.com or https://www.facebook.com/Moristoun/
Chris's House are situated at
1OA Saline Street, Airdrie, ML6 9BE.
Telephone: 01236 766755. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.