MATT HAIG: MENTAL HEALTH, READING  AND THE RAWORTHS HARROGATE LITERATURE FESTIVAL

Matt Haig has written more books about Father Christmas than about mental health, and yet through his writing he has found himself accidentally thrust into the role of the UK’s leading mental health spokesperson.

Known for his tender observations on the human condition, Matt first appeared at the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival in 2015, to share his then little-known book: Reasons To Stay Alive, which focused on his experiences and recovery from suicidal depression. Now, in 2020, a year of unprecedented challenges, he returns to the Festival with his newest book: ‘The Midnight Library’ a story which explores regret, parallel universes and second chances.

Matt explains that the idea for The Midnight Library built over ten years, and plays with the idea that “sometimes we think of life like the first draft of a book, what would it be if we took a chapter out and added another, what would change?” Set between life and death The Midnight Library is one that offers second chances, enabling the main character Nora Seed to live as if she had done things differently.

Anxiety, regret, disappointment, fear of missing out and comparison, are themes Matt has focused on many times in his writing and revisits in this book. Themes which have certainly come to fore more prominently than ever for many during the lockdown period. “In an age when social media feels like a competition, or game of comparisons or a glossy magazine, the impact during lockdown has been paralyzing” Matt shares.

As the antithesis to the technology and immediacy of social media, reading has provided company for many over the last seven months. The library in the book creates access to other worlds and other lives, a reflection of the escape that books can bring, one which has proved a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of people accross the UK during the pandemic. Matt himself sees reading as an activity that can bring company even in the height of isolation: “The cliché is that bookish people are wallflowers. I see books and reading as a social thing, you’re having a conversation with the reader and when you read a book, you’re having a conversation with the writer.”

Whilst COVID-19 is clearly not the great leveler, is has opened-up new realms of accessibility and created more opportunities for conversation between authors and their audiences. As leading literary Festivals such as the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival move online, communities of readers across the UK are joining together through the power of literature finding enjoying shared ownership, interaction and enjoyment through reading.

This October, Matt Haig will be taking to the digital stage as part of the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, interviewed by presenter, broadcaster and curator Matthew Stadlen. This newly announced event is another strong addition to an already stellar programme, which will bring guests including Ken Follet, Lee Child and his biographer Heather Martin, Elif Shafak, Bernard Cornwell, Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason, Alexandra Shulman and David Lammy MP to the digital stage.

The Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, will stream online for free over the long weekend of the 23-25th October on harrogateinternationalfestivals.com. Find out more here.