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A Kind of Magic

Anna Spargo-Ryan

A memoir about anxiety, our minds, and optimism in spite of it all.

Shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards University of Queensland Non-fiction Book Award

Where do mental illness stories begin?
Anna’s always had too many feelings. Or not enough feelings – she’s never been quite sure. Debilitating panic. Extraordinary melancholy. Paranoia. Ambivalence. Fear. Despair. 
From anxious child to terrified parent, mental illness has been a constant. A harsh critic in the big moments –  teenage pregnancy, divorce, a dream career, falling in love – and a companion in the small ones – getting to the supermarket, feeding all her cats, remembering which child is which.
But between therapists’ rooms and emergency departments, there’s been a feeling even harder to explain … optimism.
In this sharp-eyed and illuminating memoir, award-winning writer Anna Spargo-Ryan pieces together the relationships between time, mental illness, and our brain as the keeper of our stories. Against the backdrop of her own experience, she interrogates reality, how it can be fractured, and why it’s so hard to put it back together. 
Powerfully honest, tender and often funny, A Kind of Magic blends meticulous research with vivid snapshots of the stuff that breaks us, and the magic of finding ourselves again.

About the Author

Anna Spargo-Ryan is the author of two novels, The Gulf and The Paper House, and an acclaimed nonfiction writer and teacher. She was the inaugural winner of the Horne Prize and is the current Nonfiction Editor at Island Magazine.Praise


'The magic in this necessary and beautiful book is how deftly Spargo-Ryan shines her light on life's dark materials to offer comfort and inspiration to the rest of us. A must read.' – Sarah Krasnostein, author of The Trauma Cleaner and The Believer

'Anna Spargo-Ryan writes with the kind of searing insight and beauty that both shatters your soul and also pieces it back together. I hope she never stops.' – Clementine Ford, author of Fight Like A Girl and How We Love

‘No one’s writing like Anna Spargo-Ryan right now. With the grace, calm and reassuring grip of your best friend’s hand, she leads you through exactly what it feels like for your mind to unravel, heart to explode and life to fall apart. Then, reassuringly, she leads you through what’s happening, tells you what it means and even makes you laugh. And you come out feeling like for all the pain, a good life is still within reach.’ – Benjamin Law, author of The Family Law and Gaysia
'A Kind of Magic is one of the most accurate, insightful and honestly rendered depictions of mental illness I’ve read. Anna writes with warmth, humour, unvarnished truth and courage about her darkest moments and the many ways in which her brain has lied to her over the years.' – Jill Stark, author of High Sobriety and Happy Never After

'so open-hearted, so generous and so funny that in its darkest moments – and there are many – you will find yourself enraged by the medical industry that failed her, and by those who didn’t help. An eternal optimist and a gorgeous writer, Spargo-Ryan proves that no matter how much stigma surrounds an illness – and how ferociously that illness might mess with your memory, identity, life – you still have agency and a narrative that deserves respect.' – The Guardian

'It’s still quite something to read a book that speaks the truth about mental health. A Kind of Magic is Anna Spargo-Ryan’s epic, relentlessly honest autobiography of a life lived under the many umbrellas of mental illness. It is a wonderful, wide-ranging feat … This is the way to write it: as it really is. There is hope at the end of this book, but thank god it’s the sort of hope we actually need: the hope, slowly emerging in mainstream society, that those of us with mental health challenges will be seen and heard rather than being wished better.' Books + Publishing

'told with immense humour and heart' – The Australian

generous and unflinching' – The West Australian

'A Kind of Magic
is ultimately a hopeful book. Spargo-Ryan’s personal story is undeniably dark; her memoir is an ongoing survivor’s story. It is also very, very funny, and touching, and deeply empathetic.' – The Conversation

'With humour, generosity and courage, Anna Spargo-Ryan narrates an experience that is so often impossible to put into words. By taking us inside therapy sessions, hospital wards, and cars, rooms and self-talk that act as entrapment, we are given an opportunity to learn, to empathise and to love. A Kind of Magic should be read by anyone wanting to understand mental illness, and for anyone with mental illness wanting to be understood.' – Kylie Maslen, author of Show Me Where It Hurts

'A Kind of Magic has achieved something quite marvellous – it is somehow both as funny as it is suffused with grief; just as it manages to balance its gentle wisdom with moments of wonderful silliness, and to convey something of the mental and bodily experience of psychosis and panic in a manner that’s neither abstracted nor voyeuristic, but rather vitally, pulsingly alive. And it’s a page-turner, to boot. This is a book brimming with character as well as life, all the more striking for the painful material from which it has been built.' – Fiona Wright, author of Small Acts of Disappearance and The World Was Whole

'Exquisitely honest, A Kind of Magic is an unforgettable example of empowerment via the gradual restructuring of narrative identity' – ArtsHub

'A Kind of Magic is ultimately an uplifting read that’s brimming with hope. It’s especially affirming for anyone living with mental illness. For those wishing to better understand what that’s like (perhaps even mental health clinicians, therapists and support workers), this book may help bridge gaps in communicating such an individual experience, hopefully leading to better health care.' Newtown Review of Books




Pub Date
October 2022




Anxiety. Identity. True Stories.