Thursday 18 July 2019

Irish playwright’s memoir of mental illness longlisted for Wellcome Book Prize

Author Arnold Fanning. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Author Arnold Fanning. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Author Arnold Fanning. Photo: Doug O'Connor

Rachel Dugan

A Dublin playwright’s memoir of mental illness has been longlisted for this year’s Wellcome Book Prize.

Arnold Thomas Fanning made the 12-strong longlist with his debut, Mind On Fire, which chronicles the 10 years of his life he lost after his terrifying descent into madness.

Fanning had suffered with depression as a teenager but things spiralled out of control after he stopped taking his antidepressants in his early twenties.

To piece together what happened during his ‘lost decade’, some of which he spent homeless, Fanning had to trawl through police accounts, psychiatric hospital records and the testimonies of doctors, family and friends.

“I discovered things about myself that I had remembered differently,” the 49-year-old told the Irish Independent’s Review in an interview last year. “People telling me I did this, that I actually said this. Some of it was disturbing. Was that really me?”

Mind on Fire started life as a short story called Rough Sleeper which appeared in the 2016/17 edition of the Dublin Review of Books.

Read More: Suicidal, homeless, paranoid and manic - playwright Arnold Thomas Fanning on writing about his lost decade

This is the 10th year of the Wellcome Prize, which celebrates exceptional works of literature that “illuminate the many ways that health, medicine and illness touch our lives”.

Last year’s Wellcome Prize was won by another Irish debut author, journalist Mark O’Connell, whose book How To Be A Human

 explores transhumanism, a movement that believes technology can extend our lives indefinitely.

Other debuts in contention for the prize, which is open to both fiction and non-fiction, include Tara Westover’s critically acclaimed

Educated, which tells the story of her survivalist upbringing in rural Idaho, and Thomas Page McBee’s Amateur, which recounts his journey to become the first transgender man to box at Madison Square Garden.

The winner of the Wellcome Prize will be announced on May 1.

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