Today we welcome Talia Hibbert, author of The Brown Sisters series, including the upcoming Act Your Age, Eve Brown. We had the chance to talk about the importance of acknowledging mental health in fiction, how representation is evolving, and taking care of yourself.
Q: Welcome to Shattering Stigmas! Let’s start by talking about your books, which you’ve written quite a few of. Briefly, how does mental health/mental illness show up in your stories?
A: Mental health is a part of life, so it’s a part of my stories too. I want to normalise it so people understand how common it is to struggle. A lot of my books show a main character managing their mental health, from taking medication to seeing therapists to being mindful about what does and doesn’t trigger them.
Q: Something that so many of your readers appreciate is that you intentionally write with diversity in mind. Between featuring characters of color, disabled characters, queer characters, and mentally ill characters, you write the type of heroes and heroines we don’t always see in romance. Is there a specific way you approach adding these diverse casts, or is it more of a natural, unconscious process?
A: It definitely comes naturally to me. I like to write the world around me, I like to include people who are like me, my family, my loved ones. Writing diversely is just… writing. But there is a responsibility to make sure, when you write marginalised characters, that you’re not doing harm. So when I’m writing an experience that’s not my own (or sometimes, even one that is!) I rely on sensitivity readers and advice from friends.
Q: Related to the previous question, how do you hope to see mental health representation (and its intersections with other types of rep) evolve and improve in the romance genre?
A: I think it’s evolving and improving right now because certain barriers to entry are being chipped away. Self-publishing, for example, allows mentally ill authors to write about our own experiences, rather than mental health being used as a trope, and that’s changed the entire industry.
Jackie Lau is one author who’s spoken about her journey with depression influencing her books, and I love her mental health rep. Maybe in the past, we wouldn’t have been ‘allowed’ to write narratives that didn’t fit ableist perceptions of what mental illness means. But now we can, and I want that growth to continue.
Q: Shattering Stigmas is an event that aims to keep the conversation around mental health going because it’s such an important topic. So why is talking about mental health important to you? Why is it important to bring up in your writing?
A: To me, managing your mental health is like eating food: if you don’t do it, you will get sick and things will get bad. But we live in a culture that favours this mythical ideal where health is tied to morality instead of chance and access and science. I think we all have a responsibility to smash that myth for each other’s sakes, and I enjoy doing it in my writing.
Q: Time for some shout outs! What are some of your favorite books that talk about mental health? What about other media (movies, TV, music, etc.)?
A: I mentioned Jackie Lau – I loved her Mr. Hotshot CEO, which is a fun, trope-y romance that merges classic genre beats with the oft-ignored reality of chronic mental illness. I’m also a big fan of Therese Beharrie. The anxiety rep in her emotional, marriage-in-trouble romance Surprise Baby, Second Chance was amazing.
Finally, I am kind of obsessed with the show Fleabag, largely because of the clever mental health rep – especially in season one. There’s a bit where Fleabag describes her fascination with sex and it was great to see a stigmatised element of something like depression be included and addressed sympathetically.
Q: Now, let’s leave off with some talk about self-care. What are your best tips and tricks for when you’re not feeling so great and need to relax or hype yourself up?
A: A large part of my self-care is managing my mental health by journaling (to track my moods, etc.), and following my doctor’s advice. Aside from that, when I’m feeling down, cleaning always helps. I like to choose one room – usually a small, easy room – and clean it thoroughly. Then I light lots of candles and curl up with a book and a hot chocolate or a nice biscuit. (Well, a nice packet of biscuits.) It makes me feel peaceful and accomplished and luxurious.
Talia Hibbert is a USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author who lives in a bedroom full of books. Supposedly, there is a world beyond that room, but she has yet to drum up enough interest to investigate.
She writes steamy, diverse romance because she believes that people of marginalised identities need honest and positive representation. Her interests include makeup, junk food, and unnecessary sarcasm. Talia and her many books reside in the English Midlands.