Matt Haig interview: The author on books as antidepressants, finding religion in Shakespeare and why country music is good for the soul

Haig is a bestselling novelist whose books include 'The Last Family in England', the Nestlé Children's Book Prize-winning 'Shadow Forest' and 'The Humans'

Nick Duerden
Sunday 22 March 2015 01:00 GMT
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We started home-schooling our children recently But we had been living in York, where very few people home-school. So we've moved to Brighton, which is more alternative. There are something like 800 families who home-school down here. There's a massive network.

Feed the child's mind, feed the parent's Your average 12-year-old has more knowledge than you do because, on a day-to- day basis, they learn; adults don't. So I do as much homework as they do! Interestingly, you don't need any qualifications in this country to teach your children at home. In Germany, it's illegal.

Growing up, I felt a little too middle-class in the school I was in I became determinedly downward-mobile to fit in. Books were a guilty secret until I made a friend who also liked Stephen King. We had a little book group, just the two of us.

Books are life-enhancing When I was 24, I had a breakdown. I fell into a depression and for a while had an absolute inability to read. Fortunately, that didn't last. There is something about absorbing yourself in a story that can make you feel comforted. One thing about depression is that it is plotless, there is no shape. Stories have shape – and books became my antidepressants.

The 'd' word felt scary to say, like cancer Back at the end of the 1990s, when I was severely depressed, I was in denial, even when I had a panic attack that lasted a week. The denial was powerful, but then I hadn't gone to a school where you could talk about feelings, so I wasn't used to opening up. As a society, we've come a long way since then.

People are sceptical of self-help and of being over-optimistic – that whole Oprah thing – but I think we do have a duty to always point the arrow upwards, to be positive and encouraging rather than destructive. It can be quite dangerous if we just make people feel even gloomier.

Time is the main weapon against depression You convince yourself that, for example, there is no way you will be able to make it to your 25th birthday. No way. But then you do – and when you do, depression is revealed as a lie, and so it loses a little bit of its power. You just have to ride it out to get there. You sometimes have to count the days.

I can't listen to dance music any more My depression struck during a summer in Ibiza, so hearing a pounding house track now might just send me into a panic attack! These days, it's Classic FM and country music. Country acknowledges that people get old, and live with regret, and I'm drawn to that.

Shakespeare is everything If you are an atheist as I am, Shakespeare can be your ideal. Everything is within Shakespeare, especially in his 10 greatest plays. They have life, meaning, understanding, the whole lot.

Keep fit, stay sane I never got into sports for the social aspects, but I do a bit of yoga now because I have all those writer-related problems, such as a bad back. I'm a firm believer in the connection between the body and the mind: feed one, feed both. I like to run, but only short distances, and fast. I'm no good at long distance. More than six miles, and the knees start to go.

Matt Haig, 39, is a bestselling novelist whose books include 'The Last Family in England', the Nestlé Children's Book Prize-winning 'Shadow Forest' and 'The Humans'. His depression memoir, 'Reasons to Stay Alive', is published by Canongate, priced £9.99. He lives in Brighton with his wife and two children

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