Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Leave of Absence by Tanya J. Peterson review and author interview

When Oliver Graham's suicide attempt fails, he is admitted to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center. Unable to cope with the traumatic loss of his beloved wife and son, he finds a single thread of attachment to life in Penelope, a fellow patient wrestling with schizophrenia and its devastating impact on her once happy and successful life. They both struggle to discover a reason to live while Penelope's fiancé William strives to convince her that she is worth loving. As Oliver and Penelope try to achieve emotional stability, face others who have been part of their lives, and function in the "real world," they discover that human connection may be reason enough to go on.

I recieved an e copy of this book to read by Inkwater Press in return for a frank review. I am so glad I accepted it because I think it would have passed me by otherwise.
The book hooked me from the first page where we are introduced to Oliver who is standing on the roof of an eighteen story building ready to jump and a police officer is putting his own life at risk trying to talk him down. I'm not going to tell tell you how, but they both survive as without Oliver we wouldn't have a story, but my heart was in my mouth for a few pages.
Bit by bit and told through the dreams Oliver has we find he is suffering from such extreme grief and survivors guilt that he just doesn't want to live, in fact through the story you almost feel it is cruel to keep him alive when he is in so much emotional pain.
He is admitted to a behavioural centre where Matt, his carer, tries to get to know him and find a way to get through to him, but Oliver refuses to take part in any of the activities until he meets Penelope who has schizophrenia. They develop a tight bond and each want the other to lead a normal life and to realise that people love them for what they are.
Penelope hears voices telling her what to do and these voices tell her that shapes and colours stand for different types of emotions,she uses this to help Oliver process the outside world and seems to get through to him more than the activities offered by the centre.
William is Penelope's Fiance, he also befriends Oliver and tries to understand what he is going through.
 He  loves Penelope just as she is but she can't understand that and is insistent that he leaves her and leads a normal life as life with her will never be normal again.
As we read more into the book there is a race against time to save both Penelope and Oliver from themselves,can they be saved?
As I have said often on this blog I like to leave a book with a little bit more knowledge or insight into a subject than I had before and this book made me understand mental illness and grief more than any textbook would.
 I immediately liked Oliver and Penelope, I wanted good things for them and willed them to happen. William, Penelope's fiance is a lovely man, someone you could rely on in a crisis and when his so called friends criticised his decision to stay with Penelope it made me so angry.
Oliver's grief came by chance, the wrong place at the wrong time but he didn't see things that way, he blamed himself and no one could change his mind.
Once I started to read this book I couldn't put it down and I'm pleased to say I liked the ending,while giving a conclusion it still left things a bit open for you to wonder and decide in your own head how things may have worked out. Well done Tanya.
I've tried to review this book and not give too much of the story away as I hate spoilers, it's good to be surprised while reading a story.
I'm giving this book a worthy five stars.
I'd like to welcome the author Tanya peterson to Books with Wine and Chocolate. Thanks you Tanya for agreeing to be grilled by me, you are my first author interview and I just hope I have asked questions which were interesting for you to answer. I really loved your book and I think many people could gain some insight into mental health issues by reading it and at the same time enjoy and cracking good story,so...

1.       What gave you the inspiration for this book?
I have a background in mental health, both professionally and personally.  Professionally, I have the endorsement of Nationally Certified Counselor (US).  I’ve worked with people in various capacities, and I’ve witnessed the stigma that people face.  Personally, I have bipolar I disorder and deal with various types of anxiety.  I’ve even been in a behavioral health center much like Airhaven in Leave of Absence.  What I’ve noted over the years is that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what mental illness really is, and because of this there’s often a lack of empathy for people who experience it.  I want to help correct the negative stereotypes that exist (for example, the common portrayal of the erratic and violent “paranoid schizophrenic”).  I’m hoping that by writing very realistic stories about mental illness, people will come to understand it better.  And with understanding comes empathy. My inspiration behind my motivation was human beings who deal with mental illness. 

2.      How much research did you have to do?  Did you speak to any patients suffering from mental illness?
Having a degree in counselling and the NCC certification were definitely helpful.  Going into writing Leave of Absence, I did have a solid understanding of the basics.  However, I wanted to be absolutely certain that the characters I was creating were accurate representations of schizophrenia (Penelope) and PTSD, depression, and complicated mourning (Oliver), I did a great deal of additional reading specific to these disorders.  I read textbooks, scholarly articles, online blogs, and official websites of groups like the National Institute for Mental Health. 
I didn’t directly interview or speak with patients in the process of writing Leave of Absence.  To me, that felt like an invasion of privacy. I have worked with people experiencing these disorders, and I’ve visited with people on a personal level while I was a patient in a behavioral health hospital, so it was easy to apply the research to real life.  That said, while I do have an understanding of what mental illness is like for people (everyone is different, of course), the characters in Leave of Absence are completely fictitious. 

3. If you could write another book following the life of one of the characters which one would it be?
            Oh, this is a difficult question!  I really bonded with all of the characters, and they’re   connected to each other, so it would be hard to separate them.  If I really had to pick just one, though, I think it would be Oliver.  Secretly, he’s kind of my favourite.  

4. What books do you like to read in your spare time, if you have any?
What’s spare time??  Ha!  I definitely don’t have much, but I think that’s an unfortunate problem of the world today.  Life is so busy, I think that everyone has times when they feel like they don’t have spare time.  However, I do love to read, and I work it in whenever I can.  My favorite stories are character-driven stories.  I don’t care so much about the plot as long as there is at least one character that I am emotionally connected to.  Some examples include Will Trent in Karin Slaughter’s series about him, Bill Murphy in Chris Longmuir’s Dundee crime series, Matt Beaulieu in Pricille Sibley’s The Promise of Stardust, and Greyson Todd in Juliann Garey’s Too Bright to Hear too Loud to See.  That last book is about a man’s experience with bipolar I disorder and was very well done.  

5. If a film were to be made of Leave of Absence who would you like to see in the main roles?
This is a fun question!  I really had to think about this and consult some websites in order to find actors who are perfect fits.  And it worked!  I love this cast (especially Oliver’s and Penelope’s because they are good fits both physically (but Oliver has curly hair) and in demeanor.  Matt’s actor has the right temperament for the part but is a little bigger physically than I had him pictured, and I’m not familiar with William’s actor, but the physical traits work).  So without further ado, here’s the cast:
Oliver Graham would be played by Eric McCormack

William would be played by Justin Hartley

Penelope Baker would be played by Lauren German


Matt would be played by Shemar Moore

 6. Do you have a work in progress you are willing to share with us?
Yes!  I’ve just begun a new novel, actually, and I’m really having fun working on it.  I was concerned that I wouldn’t get into another one the way I did Leave of Absence, but happily, I’m enjoying this one just as much.  I’ve already bonded with the main characters.  This one of course has the same mission as LOA:  to increase true understanding of mental illness and thus increase empathy for those who experience it.  My new one is drastically different, though.  Among other things, it portrays different mental illnesses that center around severe anxiety disorders.  I do think that the main character, a man named Brian, is quite loveable.  I think that readers just might like him.  I don’t want to spoil too much, so I’ll just reveal that tiny bit as a teaser! 

7.  Where do you usually write and if you could choose anywhere or any place to write where would it be? 
I always write at home (with one exception, which I’ll get to in a moment).  I know that some people enjoy mixing it up a bit by going to a coffee shop, café, etc. to write, but that doesn’t work for me.  It’s far too noisy.  I’m sensitive to noise, and I can’t concentrate well in a chaotic atmosphere.  Background music, chatting people, clanking silverware, noisy coffee machines, and the like all serve to zap my creativity.  When I’m home, it’s quiet (I have a family, but I wake up around five  o’clock in the morning to sneak in hours of writing in peace and quiet.)  I also get into a flow when I write, often even closing my eyes in order to almost become the characters in my stories.  It feels a bit weird to do that in public!

I do have two ideal places for writing.  This one became my ideal place after I experienced it:  I’m a member of a writing organization in my state that owns a house on a beach along the Pacific Ocean.  There’s a great view, and the sound of the waves is amazing (much more calming than the noises of a bustling coffee shop).  I spend a weekend there last year, and I plan to return with a friend (a writer whom I met there last year) later this year.  Writing by the ocean is a fantastic experience – the soothing, relaxing nature is quite a creativity boost.  How I’d love to be able to afford buying a small little house on the ocean!  

My other ideal place is purely theoretical, but I know I’d love it.  I’d love a small cabin in the woods near a running river.  I love the peaceful tranquility of the forest as much as (if not more than) the ocean.  Now you have me longing for a peaceful writing haven!  Alas, I must settle for my own house, but that’s okay.  I like that, too. 
How about this one by the river Tanya?

Or this one by the sea? We can dream!
Anne, I’ve really enjoyed this interview.  You asked great questions that gave me a chance to talk about how important Leave of Absence is to me.  Thank you for reading it, reviewing it, and for interviewing me.  I’m so glad you are part of my virtual book tour!  And I’d like to extend a sincere thank you also to your readers.  Truly, I appreciate your taking the time to learn about Leave of Absence and about me.  

Thank you Tanya for a great interview I've enjoyed your answers and I love your choices for who would play your characters in a film especially Eric McCormack, he has the same eyes as I expected Oliver to have and he will break everyones heart in a film. Good luck with your book and I'm looking forward to being a host when your next book is out. 


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