LAZAROS ZIGOMANIS is an author, screenwriter, and filmmaker. He’s had three novels published, and his short stories and articles have appeared in various print and digital journals.
His latest novel, This, is a moving story that follows a 15-year-old boy as he struggles with his mental health.
Good Reading for Young Adults caught up wit the author to discuss his latest novel.
ABOUT THE BOOK
I’m fifteen! And in Year 10!
I don’t have anything to worry about.
I should be thinking about the way Samantha keeps looking at me, nursing that crush she’s had for me since primary school. Or about Gabriella, who’s so cool and seems interested. Or the Boland Fellowship, an award given out for academic excellence that everybody thinks I could win.
Or maybe I should think about my best friend Ash, the way he’s sullen about his arguing parents sometimes, or how he bounces from one girlfriend to the next, or Riley, who’s becoming a bigger and bigger troublemaker, although we don’t know why.
This is high school.
But when I wake up one night, terrified, it starts a journey of trying to find out what’s wrong. I can’t go to Mum and Dad. They wouldn’t understand. So it’s strange doctors, and scurrying around like everything’s okay, while everything’s coming apart.
I don’t get this.
But I’m gonna try work it out.
Set in the 90s, a 15-year old unnamed Greek boy is completely confused about what is going on as he tries to fend off what we now know as anxiety, panic attacks and depression while surrounded by his Greek family, friends and girls he might or might not have a crush on.
MEET LAZAROS ZIGOMANIS
What inspired you to write This?
One of my favourite books is The Catcher in the Rye. When I read that as a teenager, I related to Holden (as did so many people). I always wanted to write something similar – a story about a teenager dealing with his own issues while trying to navigate his family and social circles – which was rooted more in mental health and my own background.
Can you tell us a bit about the main character and what readers can expect from his journey in the book?
He’s 15, in high school, with overbearing Greek parents. He’s trying to deal with growing mental health issues, not understanding what they are, not knowing where to turn, while still trying to fit in at school, keeping up with his school work, and dealing with his parents. I think it’s something a lot of teens go through: keeping a public face to try to hide vulnerability.
Did you draw on any of your own experiences growing up to capture your protagonist’s life?
A lot of the mental health side of the story is drawn from my own experiences as a teenager, but for the sake of the story it’s condensed into a single school year. My own background is Greek and Macedonian, so it’s also an exploration of growing up in that sort of culture.
Your novel explores various mental health issues and highlights the stigma surrounding them. Why was it important to you to explore this?
I think sometimes mental health issues are portrayed idiosyncratically in fiction, like a charming character quirk. I wanted to represent every aspect of them realistically but also accessibly – from dealing with the issue itself, to treatment, how people respond, and finding a way forward. I want people who’ve never dealt with mental health issues to gain an insight, while people who have or are dealing with mental health issues, to find a voice that represents them.
Why did you set this novel in the 80s?
Because so much of it is biographical, I wanted to keep it in an era I knew (as a teen). Also, I thought it was important to reflect how mental health has been treated. It can be a hard enough journey without the pressures and prejudices of stigma. In the 1980s, there was very little understanding about mental wellbeing, and there was scarily little public information about it.
What do you hope readers will take away from your character’s battle with depression?
When I went through these things in the 1980s, at times I felt like there was no way out – that either I would break and never be the same again, or that I would never know anything different. There’s a sense of growing hopelessness. In retrospect, I learned that there’s always a way through, which is something I hope the story shows.
What are some of the most important messages you hope to convey through your story?
That we all have a place in a world, that regardless of what we’re going through and how scarred we might become, we’re all unique and have something to contribute. It’s easy to lose sight of that when things are bleak – it’s easy to see only the darkness. But there’s always a recourse – always, even when it seems there isn’t.
What were your favourite books growing up and why?
The Catcher in the Rye, because I could relate to Holden’s battle to deal with the tumult in his head. A lot of Robert Cormier’s work, like I Am the Cheese and The Chocolate War, which deal with identity. JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings – the scope of the world and its history just awed me. I couldn’t believe a single mind had created a place that felt so real. It was the book that really made me want to write.