Nathan Filer still does the odd Sunday shift as a registered mental health nurse, although they may well become less frequent after his debut novel – originally the subject of an 11-publisher bidding war – was on Monday night named winner of one of the UK’s leading book prizes.
The comedian Jo Brand has called The Shock of the Fall “one of the best books about mental illness” and judges for the Costa book awards said it was a novel “so good it will make you feel a better person”.
It was named as one of five category winners for the Costas and will go forward to compete for the overall book of the year prize, to be decided later this month.
Filer, 32, won in the best first novel category for a story about a young man’s dramatic descent into mental illness, although the author said he hopes it is about more than that.
“It’s a story about a family coming to terms with grief and it is a character study of Matthew Holmes and one of the things about him is that he’s got schizophrenia. But it’s not a novel about schizophrenia and it’s not a novel about the NHS,” said the author.
Having said that, Filer admitted a responsibility not to propagate myths around schizophrenia, a condition that is still “misunderstood and misrepresented”, he said. “If you ask the man in the street you will still get lots of people taking about split personality, which is completely bogus … and violence which of course can be associated with it but more often isn’t.”
The book, which took Filer three years to write, is based on his MA at Bath Spa University where he now lectures in creative writing. But the story has been on his mind for far longer. “I first started thinking of the main character when I was training as a nurse in 2003 so I’ve been mulling over it for years,” he said.
Filer, also a regular fixture on the stand up poetry  circuit, said being a mental health nurse was fulfilling as well as frustrating. “It is not a terribly good time to get unwell at the moment or need NHS services for mental illness. There are a lot of cuts and beds closing. It is a difficult time to be a nurse, it’s a very difficult time to be a patient,” he said.
Continue reading in The Guardian