We all have good ideas or dreams whereby we can progress financially, spiritually, morally etc....but we don't necessarily act on them. Why not? Well, it could be lack of belief in the dream or erroneous advice of friends and family, lack of time or stamina or money and a host of other reasons. Sometimes though an idea presents itself and almost self perpetuates, finds its own rhythm and balance with a dedicated input from the main protagonists.
I'm talking about a particular vision of mine, a poem, that I wrote in a blur of channelling words and emotions about eighteen months ago. I wanted to express what I experienced during an exhaustive depression battle that sapped my strength and natural energy. I called it The Black Dawg, a term Winston Churchill used to describe his depression, and putting a little Americanism on the dog (dawg). Don't ask me why, it just felt right. The poem had a punky, funky rhythm and potent, brutal message that ultimately blossomed to a hopeful conclusion. I felt oddly relaxed as if I had exorcised a demonic entity. There it was on those once blank pages, the full episode expressed, named and shamed. It was out in the open...
But now what? On telling my girlfriend about the poem she was exasperated as she thought I could be slipping back into depression (on the contrary I was fighting it). So, I read it to her and with eyes shut she listened intently envisaging images complementing the words. She said it helped her understand in depth what I had been through. That was one underlying aim of the poem. This positive response led me to the next phase of sending the poem to my friend Kathryn Hockey, who as well as being a brilliant illustrator and artist also suffered from depression. She put off reading it for some time worried about the content and the emotions it might stir up. Eventually she did read it, and though not prone to hyperbole or praise, found the message within struck a chord. She then agreed (as I was hoping she would) to be involved with the view to making a picture book for adults. And so the real work began. Kathryn does not do things by half and became fully committed and I soon realised the dream and idea I had was being taken into a wholly new and exciting direction.
My words were the template but Kathryn's art was so vibrant, sometimes harrowing, honest and striking that I realised the book was now driven by her vision and direction. The words were the springboard but Kathryn took the dive. She could not have envisaged the years worth of intense artwork that lay ahead while I continued my writing about Mental Health being published in Lust for Life and The Mighty as well as Huffington Post. For financing we decided on Kickstarter as I liked the aspect of setting a target that with proper promotion could get people as enthused as us to reach our financial goal.
Dreams don't come easy, that's for sure, and even when friends and family are supporting and sharing your vision there's still so much more to do. As we found out quickly. Pre-Kickstarter Kathryn and I researched and contacted as many Mental Health advocates as we could to raise awareness of our project. We had a fabulous Kickstarter launch party in our hilltop Spanish town of Vejer supported by many friends, some of whom surprisingly opened up about their own depression. Balancing on-the- spot counselling whilst explaining the book process and our vision was made slightly easier after a few glasses of bubbly. We realised the message we were trying to convey through the words/art combination resonated with many people, not just at the launch, but further afield, as the positive feedback through all social media proved.
Circumstances during the month of the Kickstarter campaign changed, for financial reasons (skint) I accepted a post delivering a yacht from Miami to Majorca which took me away from the action but put mucho dinero in the bank. However, leaving Kathryn holding the baby, so to speak, put undue stress on her to reach the target figure. She got ill, ongoing health issues worsened but she persevered, through gritted teeth and pure stubbornness. Whilst at sea on the end date of the campaign I got a terse e-mail to announce we had reached our target. This was thanks in no small part to Angel backers who promised they would see us over the line and were true to their word. I came back from sea refreshed and revitalised whilst Kathryn was frazzled and frosty and it took some time for us both to get our bearings. But we had done it and that was the main point. We had realised a dream, encouraged people to financially support it, and we now had the funds to print our beautiful book. Kathryn has her own take on this period on her blog, with the benefit of hindsight and a large dose of humour which was not present at the actual time, called "Two Depressives do Kickstarter - what could possibly go wrong?"
We can laugh about it now but at the time...
With Kickstarter my opinion is if you have the passion and commitment as well as a viable product and are willing to put in the hard yards then you will get what you have asked for. Ensure you have a 2-3 minute professional video that succinctly promotes your aims. If you are too greedy or the rewards you offer don't stack up and you don't contact and encourage every single person you have ever known to support you, share the message etc, there's a big chance you will fail. Alternatively with crowdfunding you could underestimate the groundswell of support and overshoot your target considerably as this Iraqi Veteran found out (you get to keep all of the money) with the charity Headstrong. Generally, people want you to succeed but are not under the pressure you are so they have to be reminded now and again until your message firmly sinks in. Social media is king, so utilise it fully but don't abuse it by over using. Build up a following on Twitter, Facebook and so on way before you launch Kickstarter so you have pro- active supporters.
The congratulations poured in, rewards were sent out to our 166 backers and finally the finished book arrived, thankfully to Kathryn's full approval which is why it is a work of art and a gorgeous book. We are very proud of it and hope it will help those who struggle to define or identify their condition whilst depressed. We have been there and done that and put heart and soul into this body of work. We followed a dream through obstacles and arguments, trials and tribulations but we got there in the end. The book launch party on Sept 13, again in Vejer, was a resounding success with all our local backers receiving a signed book and it was attended by nearly 100 people. Next phase...sharing our mental health message worldwide, because if you're gonna dream, aim high. We're hoping it addresses the stigma and promotes understanding of the depressive state for all those affected by it's influence.
The Black Dawg - an illustrated poem about Depression and Hope is available now.