My Headingley LitFest Event – The Dark Threads

20140325_204009Tuesday 25th March was a big day (or rather evening) for me. I gave a talk at Oxfam Bookshop (as part of the Headingley Literature Festival) about my experiences in High Royds Hospital, as told in my memoir ‘The Dark Threads’. Of course, remembering how things had gone well on other similar occasions helped a lot, but I did still did have some pre-event nerves. Throughout the day my mind  kept going into collywobble mode and throwing up a lot of scary ‘What ifs..?’

What if I lose my vision in the middle of it? This wasn’t as daft as it sounds. Every now and then I get ophthalmic migraines which come on without warning and they severely affect my eyesight for a while. Sometimes I go a long time without having them, but once I get one they often come in clusters a couple of days apart and I’d had one two days earlier. Other ‘What ifs?’ were What if in the middle of my talk I urgently need the loo? feel sick? go dizzy? lose track of what I’m trying to say mid-sentence and dry up? What if the audience gets bored and start leaving? What if nobody turns up and I’m staring out at empty seats? Or what if too many people come and there’s not enough room for them? What if..? What if…? What if…?

Fortunately my ‘What ifs?’ proved unfounded, except for one. Over forty people turned up. This meant some of the audience had to stand, and a few had to stand round a corner barely within earshot of me, but it was manageable. In fact, I’ll be bold enough to say it was more than just manageable. The evening was a success.

I spoke for about fifty minutes, followed by a question and answer session. The evening was then rounded off with coffee and biscuits. I’d tried to plan a ‘balanced’ talk – a mixture of grim parts and humour. Most of the extracts I read from ‘The Dark Threads’ were fairly light-hearted, though some with an undertone of black humour. I didn’t want to downplay the horrors of the mental institution experiences for myself or anyone else but neither did I want to make everyone feel depressed rather than inspired.  I wanted to get across what I feel are important things to say about psychiatry, relating both to the past and now, but at the same time I didn’t want to be ‘preachy’. After all, this was part of a literature festival and I wasn’t speaking to a roomful of psychiatrists!

The second part of my talk was about the writing process and getting published. It included topics such as how writing for therapy and writing for publication are two different things (though there can be some overlap), the importance of truth in memoir but having to accept the fallibility of memory and the need to protect peoples’ privacy by changing names and perhaps physical descriptions of people, how I got published and how I became confident enough (ahem) to give talks. Actually, as has happened often before, I did feel confident enough to enjoy doing the talk once I began. The audience seemed wonderfully attentive and asked me lots of questions afterwards.

During the coffee and biscuit time, I sold lots of books, and chatted to many interesting people. I do hope that everyone else enjoyed the evening as much as I did. It does seem so, because feedback has been wonderful. When I get my next pre-event nerves I’ll remember this and reassure myself that, yes, I can do this. Despite all the problems I’ve had in the past with shyness/social anxiety, I CAN talk.

Perhaps we all can do more than we think we can if only we believe this is so.



The Dark Threads – Talk

LitFest 2014  lowres

Tuesday 25 March

  The Dark Threads                      Partnership Event

Jean Davison will read from her memoir The Dark Threads and talk 9966about her experiences as a patient at High Royds psychiatric hospital in the 1970s. Electric Shock Treatment and drugs reduced her to a zombie-like state for five years, before she managed to turn her life around. The talk will also include her experiences of writing the book and getting published. A question/discussion session will follow, and then the evening will be rounded off with tea/coffee and biscuits.

7.00pm Oxfam Bookshop, 13-15 Otley Road, Headingley, Leeds LS6 3AA  (next to Skyrack pub)

Free. Donations invited

Ever Had Your Ebook On Free Promo?

Image courtesy of

UPDATE: Jan.2014. Not free now but ridiculously cheap!



Writers can’t just write. The days when we weren’t expected to help with publicity are long gone. Today we have to balance a ball on our nose and flap our flippers. Not that I like it, but I accept that’s the way it is. So when my publishers, Accent Press, emailed me to say the Kindle edition of my memoir ‘The Dark Threads’ would be going on a 5-day free promo, I thought, okay, how can I help to publicise it?.

The Dark Threads (Kindle edition)

I wondered what ‘free promo’ meant. I’ve since learned that offering time-limited free downloads of a Kindle book is not at all unusual, but it was new to me. Why should my hard work be offered free? Wouldn’t that sort of demean it? Well, no, maybe not. After all, I do voluntary work in addition to my paid work and I’ve no problems with that. But what good would this free promo do in the long run? Sure, people might grab it for free but I wondered if sales would improve when it went back on paid. Still, it wasn’t like people were beating down doors to buy it anyway, so what was there to lose? I pondered on these things for a while, and then one overriding thought drowned all other questions:

OMG! How embarrassing it will be if nobody downloads my book when it’s FREE!

This was the thought that kick-started me into action. I searched the internet, composed a ‘To Do’ list and allocated a folder for any helpful info. I came across a blog called ‘Reflections of a MadCityScribbler’ where the blogger, Peggy Williams, had written a series of earlier posts about how to have a successful Amazon free giveaway promotion. These pointed me in the right direction and off I went.

I looked up various sites that advertise free ebooks. I was too late for some (promo about to begin) and too early for others (wait until it becomes free). To my dismay, I found sites that wouldn’t accept books that hadn’t got at least ten Amazon reviews. That surprised me. I thought people didn’t take much notice when books on Amazon were propped up with an accolade of five-star reviews that might be from anyone who didn’t like to refuse if asked. I have never asked anyone to give me a review. People will just write one if they love my book, won’t they? Or am I naïve? I was appalled to find that reviews can even be bought! What? No, thanks. Genuine reviews only, please.

Eager to ‘do something’ I put up an announcement on facebook, twitter and my blog the day before the promo was due to start. Only seconds later, someone kindly reblogged my post and they also announced my forthcoming promo on several facebook pages. Perhaps I should have waited until the day it became free but I was off like a sniffer dog on the scent of drugs.

I got up early on the first promo day and eagerly looked up my Kindle pages on Amazon in the UK and US. No, it hadn’t gone free yet. I kept looking and waiting until, at last, there it was. My wonderful book offered free! Come on everybody! I began sending out Twitter notifications to accounts that promote free books and I re-posted on my blog and facebook. A few people kindly did retweets and shares. Some who had read my book posted lovely comments about it. Thank you so much if you happen to read this, you know who you are.

Now, let me say that I am very uncomfortable about self-promo. When I posted my promo tweets I kept telling myself that I wasn’t actually selling anything. After all, it was free, and I just wanted to let people know who might be interested. Also, my book does have a message that I need to get across and it’s not just about me. But no matter what I told myself I still felt uneasy and I was convinced that my five-day push at promo would result in a load of unfollows and unfriending. (It didn’t. I gained followers and facebook friends).

So you see, despite my recent behaviour that might make you think otherwise, I’m not the kind of person who publicising sits easily with. Far from it, in fact. This sounds more like me: ‘I have a book out that, erm, you might be interested in taking a look at, but, erm, it doesn’t matter if you’re not. It’s, erm, not to everyone’s taste and, erm, well you might not like it, but, erm…”  No, I’m not exactly a publicist’s dream.

How well was the promo doing? I didn’t have a clue. Hours into the first day and there was still no ranking on the Amazon pages. I feared that meant nobody was ‘buying’ it, though I did get some messages from people saying that they had downloaded it. At last, at 8pm, my ranking started showing as UK 566 and US 1,845. I didn’t know if that was good or bad. When I compared it with the ranking of some other free books, it seemed dismally poor. Not to worry, I told myself, this was only the beginning.

The only thing that saved me from sitting at the computer each day obsessively checking my rankings was life getting in the way. I did have other things that I had to do. When I got enough spare time to indulge myself, my computer screen got tired of me and wouldn’t wake up from sleep mode. I did have another screen but it took ages for me to connect it up and get all the wires sorted behind the heavy computer cabinet. When I could look again, my rankings were about 130 in the UK and 800 in the US.

My book is a memoir into which I’ve invested a lot of my self. It’s a strange feeling to think that others are reading what were once your own private thoughts and feelings. My life displayed to the world. It’s a wonder I didn’t have that Freudian dream where you’re strolling down the street and then you realise you’ve got no clothes on.

None the less, I wanted this promo to do well. So, I think it was on Day 3, I upped my pestering on twitter with staggered tweets saying something to the effect of ‘Author wants to promote her free kindle book, (hopefully) without getting up everyone’s nose.’ After about three of these pathetic, pussyfooting tweets, I cracked. That’s when I tweeted: ‘Oh, sod it! Shameless, blatant promo. Me, Me, Me. Free, Free, Free.’ (which someone retweeted). Beware. Having a free promo can change your personality (or show a different side of it).

It’s over now. Back on paid, my Kindle rankings are still better than they were before. Has the free promo done any good in the long run? Time will tell. Perhaps many of the readers who grab at freebies won’t actually read my book. It might not have been what they were expecting. But I have had positive feedback from readers who only heard about my book from the free promo. If some people enjoyed reading it, if it makes people think, if it helps raise awareness about important issues – this means it’s all worthwhile.

Help! Where are my clothes?

Writing for Therapy and Writing for Publication

Writing about painful experiences that have a strong bearing on the author’s life may be seen as writing as therapy. People often say that a therapeutic act of writing should be kept private. Whilst I agree that writing purely for therapy is quite different from writing for publication, I do believe that sometimes the raw material of therapeutic writing can be transformed into a creative act and crafted for publication.

When I was young, I kept detailed diaries and, although I didn’t see it as such at the time, I suppose what I was doing in them was writing for therapy. As teenagers often do, I poured out my thoughts and feelings, filling my diaries with teenage angst. Writing things down helped me to make sense of what was happening in my life. These diaries were never intended to be made public, and rightly so. They were for my own benefit. It didn’t matter that they weren’t well-crafted, edited, or proof-read to iron out any grammatical errors or sloppily-written parts. It also didn’t matter if the content would bore other people to death. For me, the diaries served their purpose as catharsis.

My diaries also served another purpose later. They helped me to gather together material for my memoir ‘The Dark Threads’. Perhaps when I began writing my memoir I was writing it as therapy, but then I decided I wanted to share my experience with others. No longer just writing for myself, I began to write with the aim of publication. It was a tentative dream at first. I knew that the odds of getting it published were stacked against me, but what I aimed to do was write a book to the best of my ability, and aim for a publishable standard.

By the time I’d nearly finished my manuscript, ‘misery memoirs’ were popular. If, by this term, we mean a sensationalised account that piles misery upon misery, without analytical reflection, then I definitely did not want my book to be categorised as such. It is not a misery memoir, but perhaps I need another post to discuss this, so I’ll leave the topic for later. And no, no, no, it is not ghost-written!

Once I had decided on writing a memoir, truth, of course, remained paramount (truth in memoir will make a good subject for another blog post at a later date), but now I had to stand back and try to view the quality of my writing objectively. I had to discipline myself, hone my writing skills and work hard to learn and apply the craft of writing, so that I could take my raw material and turn it into something creative, something that would, hopefully, grab hold of and maintain the interest of others: something publishable.

Have I succeeded? Well, I did succeed in getting published. Grateful thanks to Accent Press. Others are actually paying to read my book! I gained the pleasure of walking into Waterstones and seeing it there on the shelf. But have I succeeded in writing a book that others, people who don’t know me, will find worth their while paying for and reading? That has to be left up to readers to decide, but, thankfully, I’ve had a lot of good feedback from readers.

My book was reviewed some time ago in ‘Therapy Today’, along with two novels about patients in psychiatric hospitals: ‘The Secret Scripture’ by Sebastian Barry, and ‘House of Bread’ by Amanda Nicol. The reviewer describes me as ‘a powerful representative of that disenfranchised group – psychiatric survivors’. She quotes from my book ‘But what about the silenced? What about their stories?’ and then she goes on to say ‘We, and they, must hope that Davison will continue to use her compassion and talent to tell their stories too.’ I like reading nice things about me like this (of course I do), though I don’t really see myself as a spokesperson. I would much prefer that people were empowered to tell their own stories than have someone speak for them, though I know that, for many people who were silenced by the mental health system, speaking for themselves is sometimes, sadly, never going to be possible.

The review in ‘Therapy Today’ concludes with words that are relevant to what I’ve been discussing in this post. If I have done what the reviewer says in the last two sentences, then I am well satisfied that I have achieved my aim for my memoir: ‘The characters in “The Secret Scripture” find writing therapeutic; the telling of their stories is the restoration of narratives ruptured by their histories. The authors of “House of Bread” and “The Dark Threads” also restore the ruptured narratives of their lives in the writing of these books, making them therapeutic acts. But these are also works skilfully crafted from the raw material of personal experience and stand as books in their own right. These three books demonstrate that writing is both a therapeutic and a creative act.’


WARNING: It is unwise in the extreme to make cow noises in front of a psychiatrist. 

‘You say your brother gets on your nerves,’ he said, adjusting his hearing aid. ‘What does he do?’
‘All kind of things,’ I said uneasily.
‘What things?’
‘Well, he talks daft and bangs and taps and … and he makes silly noises.’
‘Silly noises? What are these silly noises like?’
‘Noises like animals,’ I said.
‘Give me an example to show me what you mean.’
God, this was difficult. I decided to demonstrate Brian’s cow noises which he’d been treating me to outside my bedroom door in the early hours of that very morning.
‘OK, that’s enough of that,’ Dr Sugden said, waving his hand on my third ‘Mooo-ooo!’

Above text from The Dark Threads by Jean Davison.   Kindle edition of this memoir is FREE up to 2nd Aug 2012  –   Click here for UK    or here for US