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Page last updated at 07:14 GMT, Thursday, 3 June 2010 08:14 UK
Warning: May Contain Nuts books to be published
by Jenny Minard
BBC Berkshire Reporter

Mackenzie Taylor
Comedian Mackenzie Taylor performs at the launch of mental health project Warning: May Contain Nuts

A new book is being put together to break taboos around mental health illness.

A BBC Radio Berkshire and Company Paradiso project - Warning: May Contain Nuts - was initially started off as a book.

Poetry workshops were set up at mental health centres in Berkshire and the idea was that material would be turned into the publication.

The work was so good they turned it into a comedy night in Reading.

The workshops were put on in partnership with mental health service providers including East Berkshire Mind, the resource base in Reading, and the West Wing for 16-24 year olds.

Rough drafts

A performer at Warning: May Contain Nuts
A performer at the launch night

Now the material is being used as rough drafts for the book. It has been sent to the designers and Company Paradiso is waiting to launch it at the end of July or August.

Artistic project assistant Jack Mead said: "I think what we saw was so funny and the quality of the work suggested it could transfer to stage in more of an exhibition."

Jack explained that the idea for the poetry was to be produced in a creative manner - and was not supposed to be biographical.

"Creative writing is about empowerment," he said. "Not biographical, which can be more like therapy.

BBC Radio Berkshire broadcast highlights from the launch night at South Street Arts Centre in May 2010.

Mental health service users were also invited to tell their stories and explore mental health issues on the radio.

"The radio element was always planned," says Jack. "We got people who were writing for the book who went on stage.

"Then we got them on the radio as we thought they had good stories.

"It can be educational as it was about de-stigmatising mental illness.

"But it is dangerous to see these things as just educational - someone who might be classified as having a mental illness might be just as funny as someone who hasn't.

Launch night

John Hegley
John Hegley will appear in Reading as part of Warning: May Contain Nuts

He added that it's about entertainment and there are some elements of catharsis in the work.

"Especially the launch night - if you wanted to scream and be funny and feel liberated you could.

Danny Savage, a performer from the Sunrise Centre in Slough wrote this script.

"I shall now speak of the Mentalist Movement of Slough... Know ye now of times long past and shrouded in the mists of legendry... We had a user group called the Slough Mental Health User Group... SMUG.

"Now we could have gone for different names... We could have gone for the Mental User Group of Slough, MUGS... Or the Group of Users of Mental in Slough, GUMS... Or indeed, we could have been SLUGS... Now I've always thought the terms 'Service User' and 'User Group' are meaningless mealy-mouthed management speak designed to make us feel small and irrelevant.

"But we've come up with something better... The Slough and Municipal Union for the Representation and Advancement of Interesting...thinkers or SAMURAI for short... How much better for one's self-esteem to walk into a meeting and say 'Danny Savage, SAMURAI."

Company Paradiso works creatively with people to enable them to tell their stories. They use a variety of workshops to do this including poetry, storytelling and performance skills.

Ballads of Reading Jail

Amy's Ghost
Reading band Amy's Ghost provided music at the event

BBC Radio Berkshire worked with the company on the Ballads of Reading Jail a project which has been nominated for a Sony Award - the radio equivalent of the Oscars.

The book, which has a working title, My Life, is a not for profit project which will include mental health service users' stories, sound bites and snippets of their stories.

To contact your local mental health service provider call West Berkshire's out of hours on 0800 783 9505 and East Berkshire out of hours on 01753 625 900.

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