Life isn't going terribly well for Derrick; he's become severely overweight, his only friend has turned on him, he's hopelessly in love with a girl way out of his league, and it's all because of his sister. Her depression, and its grip on his family, is tearing his life apart. When rumours start to circulate that a panther is roaming wild in his south London suburb, Derrick resolves to turn capture it. Surely if he can find a way to tame this beast, he'll be able to stop everything at home from spiraling towards disaster?Panther is published in the UK tomorrow, May 7th, and sounds like a great, if difficult, read. I have a copy waiting and I'm really looking forward to reading it.
Thanks to David for this guest post!
Stigma and the Panther
by David Owen
It’s strange how possessive people can be over a creature that may or may not exist.
Recently, in a small feat of self promotion, I posted about the release of Panther on a local community page, asking people who live in and around southeast London if they had any memories of the wild panther supposedly calling the area home.
Rather than immediately debate its existence, as you might expect, or share any interesting stories, people immediately began to argue over ownership of the animal. Certain factions (including myself) know it as the Penge Panther. Others (including Wikipedia) name it the Beast of Sydenham. One joker called it ‘Arak.’
There’s no definitive answer. It’s been sighted all over south London. A man in Sydenham claims to have been mauled by it when he stepped in to stop it eating his cat. Armed police were called to the scene. A runner in Dulwich claimed it chased him through a park late at night. A friend of mine, not prone to wild leaps of imagination, believes he might have seen it in his back garden in Penge.
The incident that sticks with me personally is when it was sighted in the allotments behind my house. The police sent a helicopter to sweep a searchlight over the area, illuminating the familiar scene in ghostly light. They came up empty handed, and everybody forgot. Everybody but me.
The idea that this creature was out there, alien and powerful, apparently so close to us but impossible to catch, has always sent a shiver down my spine. And as I got older, and depression worked its way through my family before claiming me as well, I began to see this panther as the perfect metaphor for the illness.
It’s pitch black, for one, able to hide easily in the darkness. It’s something that many people don’t believe exists. It hides during the day, lurking somewhere under the surface of our daily lives. It is something that cannot be captured, possessed, or rationalised, and that is what makes it unknowable in every way.
The people on the local community page were the final piece of this metaphor. Their desperation to possess the panther is reflected in the persistence of the stigma of depression, an illness so many will not accept simply because they cannot see it or hold it in their hands.
That is why I wrote Panther. The stigma of depression must stop. And I hope this book, the panther within its pages who may or may not also be roaming the streets of London, will play whatever small role it can in bringing it to an end.
[Click to enlarge.]