Today is my spot on the blog tour for The Harm Tree by Rose Edwards. I read and ADORED this book earlier this year (you can see my review here), and I am beyond thrilled to be sharing with you a post about Mental Health in this brilliant book.
Mental Health in The Harm Tree
When I wrote The Harm Tree, I did not set out to write a book about mental health. I wanted to write about girls with swords and blood sacrifice and a big showdown at the end. But a little over a year before I started to write the story that became The Harm Tree, I had had a breakdown and left my job as a teacher. It was probably inevitable that the effects of that experience would start sending whispers through the words I wrote.
My symptoms were less severe by the time I started writing The Harm Tree. I had coping strategies, although they had their limits. While I was writing, I started seeing a therapist and Torny and Ebba came up a lot in our discussions. I had wanted to write a fun story about girls with swords, but I couldn’t help noticing things had veered off somewhat.
I had started out chasing the feeling I used to get when I was 12 or 13, reading stories of girl detectives and female knights. Comfort, in other words. But all my early readers said it wasn’t working. The world felt too swaddled, the stakes were too low. You cannot pick up a sword or witness blood sacrifice and stay comfortable.
I started thinking about Torny and Ebba, the two young friends whose story this is. Torny is strong, impulsive, and although she doesn’t know it, she has been somewhat protected through her early life. As I wrote her story, I thought about how warriors and soldiers are made, and how a young woman would win the respect of battle-hardened adults, what would be necessary. I couldn’t avoid the conclusion that in the world I was creating, the answer would inevitably be bloody.
And Ebba – thoughtful, practical Ebba, who misses her family despite everything – how was she made? Her mother’s foreign blood makes her an outsider even among her own kin, and at the beginning of the story she so desperately wants to belong. With her I came to realise that I wanted to take all the things people think indicate weakness in survivors, and show them for what they really are. Battle trophies from a thousand melees, where you were beaten but lived.
I know this might sound pretty grim. I hope it isn’t. I hope that the other parts of their stories, the humorous, human parts, the parts that talk about life beyond mere survival, balance the darkness Torny and Ebba face. I wrote this story while I myself was navigating the difference between surviving and living. Comfort is not a bad thing to chase. It sustains us, allows us to gather our forces. Soothes us, when pain and dread may overwhelm us. But I couldn’t stay there, and write a good book. I wanted to share the secret I was learning, that should be no secret at all. So I stopped trying to ignore the whispers. I wrote them in.
You can survive this. Pass it on.
About the Book
Release Date: 19th July 2019
Publisher: UCLan Publishing