Bill Douglas

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Two New Reviews

'Thoroughly enjoyed this page turner by Bill Douglas. The story opened my eyes to just how vulnerable people with mental health issues were in the 1950s, and how easily institutions and staff were able to treat patients with a careless brutality that made my stomach turn.

I was prepared for a serious novel dealing with a tough subject and I certainly got that. What I didn't expect were the beautifully light touches of comedy, which brought the characters to life even more; the attempted escape being one such moment.

More than anything, this is a novel about relationships, the pain of undiscovered secrets, and finding understanding and compassion where you least expect it. Recommended.'

- Miss Samuel, Amazon


'Great buy and read'

- Jane, Amazon


Read an interview with Bill Douglas. Click here to read the full review.

'Today I have the pleasure of introducing Bill Douglas, whose book "Mad Worlds" I had the fortune to review for the Historical Novel Society...'


Reviewed for the Historical Novel Society, Indie Awards.

Mad Worlds: A Tale of Despair and Hope in 1950s England” by Bill Douglas is a very memorable and emotional read about mental health care in Britain during the 1950ies. It tackles an important and difficult subject and handles it very well with believable characters and excellently researched details.


We witness teacher John Chisholm and his life in the Springwell Mental Institution while his wife Heather has to continue life on the outside, with many problems and tough choices to make of her own. Love, loyalty, prejudice, soul searching, frustration and hope feature in this moving and eye-opening book. It is a very powerful read that not only provides historical insights but also an interesting story beyond the mental health issue. Although set in the past, the themes touched upon are still relevant to our time, which made this book particularly rewarding.


A Fascinating Read

By Brian Formby on 6 Nov. 2014

Format: Paperback - Rating: 5 stars

This book drew me in from the start. A powerful story that is engrossing, disturbing and fascinating. Set in a time when mental health problems meant stigma and isolation, this book explores the devastating effect it has on the patient and his relationships. The story is well balanced and moves at a pace that kept me turning the pages. The strongly defined characters illustrate the author's keen eye for the strengths and weaknesses of human nature. An intelligent, thought provoking and entertaining read.


Engrossing, engaging, compelling read.

By Bruce Stanley on 2 Jan. 2015

Format: Paperback - Rating: 5 stars

An engrossing and brilliantly written tale drawing on what is clearly a fantastic depth of knowledge. This is one book that I found hard to put down. I look forward to the next release from this great new talent.


Graphic portrayal of 50's attitudes to mental health

By Amazon Customer on 4 Feb. 2015

Format: Kindle Edition - Rating: 4 stars

This is a well written first novel by Bill Douglas, who I actually met in Tenerife in November 2014. Those of us who are old enough will recognise the stigma that mental health problems carried around that period, and the haphazard treatment meted out. Only real criticism is that I felt that the conclusion was a bit of an anticlimax.


Dark and Interesting

By The Curious Dame on 26 Feb. 2015

Format: Kindle Edition - Rating: 4 stars

In 1950's England, mental illness was misunderstood. In Mad Worlds, author Bill Douglas delves deep into many of the philosophies and treatments asylum inmates were subjected to. The novel begins with a young teacher named John Chisholm whose emotional breakdown lands him in a mental institution. From there, things go from bad to worse. The story becomes dark, sometimes hopeless, sometimes shocking. It is a portrayal of a how miserable and difficult life could be for those who suffered from a mental illness.


A must read.

By mrs pamela dawson on 7 Mar. 2015

Format: Paperback - Rating: 5 stars

So much love, care and personal experience has gone into the writing of this book. The characters immediately become people with whom you can identify and although harrowing at times, this is a book that is also uplifting and moving. It was bedtime reading for me and I really looked forward to the next instalment each night. When I had finished it, I had a real sense of loss. Compelling reading with important things to say.


I found this book interesting as well as a joy to read  

By Mrs. A. Nair "anand nair" on 7 March 2015

Format: Paperback - Rating: 5 stars

I found this book interesting as well as a joy to read.

It let me into the world of John Chisholm, teacher, husband and father, who descends into depression triggered by a tragic event at work. John walks the tight-rope of madness, aware of his situation, suffering the terrible conditions in his asylum, determined to survive and to find a way out. Bill Douglas portrays conditions in the hospital with clarity and compassion.

The writing flows beautifully. The reader is hooked until the last page. The characters are easy to relate to; you want John Chisholm to escape his ordeal.

A book well-worth reading in a world where most adults have moments or days when they dance on that razor's edge that John inhabited.





Rosee rated it 4 of 5 stars December 2nd 2014

High school teacher John Chisholm is placed in a mental institution after he has a nervous breakdown. This is the 1950’s , and care in these hospitals was often poor. John’s wife Heather has psychological issues of her own. Suffering from post-partum depression, she is now left alone to care for a young child. Troubled by her own situation and horrified by her husband’s treatment, Heather falls into a love affair with a mental health worker.


Dec 13, 2014 Sandra rated it 5 of 5 stars

Shelves: netgalley

In Mad Worlds: A Tale of Despair and Hope in 1950s England by Bill Douglas  we meet, John, a young boy growing up in a typical family. He has parents who love him and an older brother he idolizes.  Unfortunately, years later day to day pressures, a new baby and a tragedy from his childhood continue to haunt John and he has a nervous breakdown. He is sent to Springwell, a mental health facility. The conditions are barbaric and the patients are abused by a sadistic staff.

This was a terrifying story about asylums and the treatment of people with mental health conditions in the 1950's. The story moved back and forth in time and was told from the perspectives of John and his wife, Heather. Both voices were compelling and sympathetic. This was a story filled with suffering, anguish, resilience and survival. Thank you, Netgalley.


Joy rated it 3 of 5 stars December 2014

I wanted to really like Mad Worlds. The subject matter is incredibly interesting (and terrifying) and John Chisholm, the main character, is quite likeable and sympathetic. However, the other characters are incredibly broad and seem to fulfill quotas - the kind nurse, the particularly evil charge nurse with an authority figure in his back pocket and his infuriatingly bland, but highly sexualized, wife. I gave the narrative and its meandering ways the benefit of the doubt as it lent itself well to the deluded picture being painted by Chisholm. The perspective changed constantly and though it was meant to be a memoir, those characters had to get brutally honest with one another, otherwise the memoir does not follow. I think a tight edit would have served the book well as it is obvious that Douglas has done extensive amounts of research and is quite well aware of the history of psychiatry. His own disgust for the brutal practices of the mental health workers is very evident. It started out well enough but had far too many characters.

(Author’s note: While grateful for this review – ‘Mad Worlds…’ is a novel, not a memoir).


Mirella rated it 4 of 5 stars Feb 26, 2015

In 1950's England, mental illness was misunderstood. In Mad Worlds, author Bill Douglas delves deep into many of the philosophies and treatments asylum inmates were subjected to. The novel begins with a young teacher named John Chisholm whose emotional breakdown lands him in a mental institution. From there, things go from bad to worse. The story becomes dark, sometimes hopeless, sometimes shocking. It is a portrayal of a how miserable and difficult life could be for those who suffered from a mental illness.

A stark and honest look at how we cared for the mentally unstable.



Female First Interview

Bill Douglas’ Interview with Lucy Walton-Lange for Female First 9.11.14 (arr.  by publisher)


1.What can you tell us about your new book, Mad Worlds?

It’s a historical novel – and hence the sub-title: A Tale of Despair and Hope in 1950s England. A young teacher, John, is forcibly admitted to Springwell, a harsh mental institution where he’s detained indefinitely, endures and witnesses abuse (some in the name of treatment) and meets fascinating fellow-patients.


His wife Heather, left with their baby, is bereft. Emerging from a post-natal depression, she focuses on rallying support from neighbours and her alienated parents. She loves John, but after visiting him, is distraught and despairs of his ever being released. She gradually feels more open to overtures from Newman, the mental health officer who got John removed to Springwell.


Other characters through whom parts of the tale are told are Parker, a sadistic charge

nurse who targets John, and Macdonald, who appears latterly as Springwell’s new boss,

fired with the notion of creating a caring community.


2.Tell us about your talks with your aunt and how they inspired you to work in mental health

My Aunt Jean was a nice person whom I never heard make derogatory comment about anyone else. When my widower Dad re-married, Jean, my step-mum’s older unmarried sister, came to stay with us for long periods from my early teens. At first she didn’t seem depressed, was able to smile and showed a sense of humour. But over the years she kept lapsing into depression.

From the start I found her easy to talk to – she was a good listener. And when she was clearly depressed, I’d listen to the self-blame and talk with her to try and cheer her up. Sometimes she’d say after, ‘These wee chats are a help, Billy, ‘and smile. Other times I couldn’t get her seeing things more positively, she stayed miserable – I hadn’t helped.

From these encounters I wanted to - and felt I could - help people suffering mentally.  I wanted to be a psychiatrist and too late found I’d have had to go for medicine first. When the University Appointments Board got a circular inviting social science graduates to work at a mental hospital with a view to going for psychiatric social work training, I seized the chance.


3.In what ways do your wife and Formby Writers support you and your writing?

My wife Elisabeth’s a talented creative fellow-writer.  Over the years I’ve been writing and self-editing this novel, she’s always been ready to listen and give constructive feedback - and sometimes come up with suggestions. And from her nursing background she’s offered useful advice e.g. when a character falls sick.  She’s helped throughout with my successful launch and is great at promoting my book when we meet folk.

In Formby Writers, our ethos is of mutual support. While I was deep into editing the novel before the group formed, I benefited from reading an extract and getting comment, also from teaching sessions we organised. And they’ve bought my book and helped with the launch.


4.What made you want to write more historical fiction?

I’ve always had an interest in history. And I’m now confident that once I’ve grasped the social realities of a particular era, I can create characters who’ll interact to bring that time to life. I’ve really enjoyed writing and editing ‘Mad Worlds…’ It’s like being on stage in a parallel dramatic world.


5.Tell us about the character of John Chisholm

John’s not based on any one person I’ve met.  I’ve been with many having breakdowns, and drawn on this experience in creating John. He grows up in a mining community, is a happy youngster, loving his parents and big brother, doing well at school and dead keen on football, when tragedy strikes his family. John cries secretly, grits his teeth and resolves to be a teacher when he grows up.


As an adult he shows these qualities – resisting being taken to Springwell, and when in there bearing his suffering, feeling for his fellow inmates and incensed at how they’re treated, and making friends. Though depressed to the point of despair at times, he resolves to survive and escape. Despite suspecting that Heather no longer loves him, he continues to love her and as he recovers health longs to be back with her and their baby daughter.


6.There is a humorous element to the book - tell us about that.


The humour is intended to be gentle and subtle, deriving from the way characters behave and interact. While there’s no fudging the threats and distress, I’ve tried to keep the style upbeat and reader-friendly – with plenty of dialogue – and some of the humour comes spontaneously.

Having said that, appreciation of humour is very much personal. When I go back to some passages in the novel, I find myself smiling.


7.What made you want to keep helping people after you’ve retired?

I’m moved by encountering people who are suffering in whatever way - and if I think I can help, want to. Knowing I’m still fit enough, and have more time than I ever had in paid work, I’ll use what experience I have to benefit others.

Of course I’m not some kind of saint. I make sure I’ve plenty of relaxation time – particularly with Elisabeth, our children and partners, and our grandchildren.


8.What is next for you?

I’d like to write a novel set in the 1930s/40s. Years ago, before I started work on ‘Mad Worlds…’, I wrote a memoir on growing up in St Andrews through the late 1930s and ‘40s. This remains unpublished. I’ll go back to that first.  I’ve been blessed with a strong visual memory, and have studied World War Two. So I’ll soon be gearing up for that novel.


Since early youth I’ve loved reading short stories. Have written a few – but not sent any for publication.  I’ll re-visit these, write more and aim to publish a collection.



The Book Launch

The 11.10.14 launch of Mad Worlds: A Tale of Despair and Hope in 1950s England

went very well. The advance publicity (handled by Formby Books’ manager Tony

Higginson) was good, with a write-up in each local paper – Formby Champion (1/10),

Formby Times (7/10) – plus posters.

The event was great - a buzz in the air and the bookshop packed out with an

interested audience. I curbed my impulses to talk forever about my novel, chose

short readings (the last of which, from a female POV, read brilliantly by my wife

Elisabeth, attracted loud applause) and took questions – the last from my 9-year-old

grand-daughter Bella.

Encouraging vibes after and 28 signings! My son Colin and daughter Barbara with 2

of my grand-children travelled here to support, and did so in different ways. Colin

took photos and a video. Elisabeth was magnificent, preparing refreshments,

supporting me. Tony H was an excellent host, our friend Heather helped with setting

up and greeting people, and Holly managed the till. A wonderful team effort!



Comment from some who read a draft and gave permission to be quoted:

‘Though historical, this book highlights the ongoing urgent need to think and talk about mental health’ - Margaret Brunskill, The Compassionate Friends


‘Lots of the background details are fascinating (and fit with my understanding of what went on at the time). Some episodes/scenes in the mental hospital are very powerful’ Dr Val Harrington, Mental health historian


‘A powerful gripping story’ Tony Higginson, Formby Books


‘Brilliant. Couldn’t put it down. Far-reaching, experience-based and extremely well written’ John Nelson, Formby Times columnist


‘It is quite an achievement to portray so vividly that slice of history. The use of dialogue is good, keeping the momentum going. Good portrayal of the characters reminded me a bit of those in ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ Peter Sharkey, Community care author


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