Facebook tells me that this time last year, I was scrambling to finish writing GILA, my non-fiction exploration of what it means to live with a mental illness in Malaysia. I’d just given birth to my daughter at the end of September. I was a month out of confinement; my first day away from my baby, I drove to Hospital Bahagia to shadow its director and back on the same day. I’d promised my publisher a first draft by the end of the year. Just thinking about this is making my palms sweaty.
As I type this, it strikes me that there’s much people weren’t privy to in the process of producing GILA, so here are some little known factoids:
- Besides my husband, two close friends, and all the people I interviewed, nobody in my life knew I was writing GILA. I didn’t tell my parents until after I’d signed my publishing contract. I didn’t tell my siblings until two weeks before the launch. “Oh btw, launching a book in a couple of weeks. Hope you guys are free.”
- GILA was written primarily between the hours of 9pm and 12 or 1am, after I’d put both kids to sleep. I’d slip out of the room quietly and stay up in front of my laptop for as long as I could stand it. If the baby woke up, I’d go back in, nurse her, then come out and do it all again.
- A couple of parties gave me a lot of flak for calling the book GILA. They said it was insulting, they said it went against everything they were trying to do to end stigma against mental illness in Malaysia. In the end, because the acceptance and endorsement of the community was important to me, and because I damn well wasn’t going to change what I thought of as a necessarily provocative title, I had to allow a couple of people to read the entire manuscript pre-publication before they would concede that it is, in fact, not at all insulting. That was hard; it went against everything I’d ever learned in journalism school and practiced at every job I’ve ever had. But I did it anyway. What can I say – sometimes, you go with your gut and hope it all works out. Which it did: