Today I’m thrilled to be involved with the Blog Tour for Amanda Hickie’s novel, “Before This Is Over”, which comes out on Friday. She has very kindly written a guest post on some of the pandemics that have inspired her work.
About the book:
In the midst of a devastating epidemic, how far will a desperate mother go to keep her loved ones safe?
There is a deadly virus spreading around the world. At first it is a distant alarm bell in the background of Hannah’s comfortable suburban life. Then suddenly, it has arrived on the doorstep.
The virus traps Hannah, her husband, and their young sons in their city, then their neighborhood, and finally their own home. As a formerly idyllic backyard and quiet street become battlefields, fear and compassion collide. But what happens when their water supply is cut, and then the power, and the food supply dwindles?
Chilling and suspenseful, at once deeply personal and terrifying in its implications, Before This is Over invites us to imagine what a family must do to survive when pushed to the extreme.
Guest Post – Pandemics That Inspired Me
Reading that title back, there’s something odd about it. Why would someone be inspired by a pandemic? Viruses and bacteria, however beautiful under an electron microscope, transcend their size to terrify us. On second thoughts, it’s our reactions to them that inspire me — and you find those in all sorts of disasters, not just pandemics.
I was living in Ottawa, Canada during the 2003 SARS outbreak. The day to day experience of being just down the road from a hot spot of a deadly and unpredictable disease that we literally knew nothing about got me thinking not about heroic doctors and researchers (there were plenty of those and they did an amazing job, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t anything like we see in the movies) or action heroes undertaking derring-do. What I wondered was, how would someone like me cope? Ottawa had been through a huge ice storm a couple of years before we arrived and what was left was twisted trees, some astonishing pictures of freezing rain and stories from the people I got to know of being without power, unable to use the roads, relying on friends and pantries. I come from a place where the worst the weather does is make you very wet. Living on a continent where nature threw hurricanes, earthquakes, ice storms and blizzards at you? I’ll take sharks and snakes any day. They don’t come find you in your home.
I didn’t start writing Before This Is Over until I was living back in my home town of Sydney, Australia. There’s an interesting thing about the Spanish flu of 1918 and Australia. It killed about five percent of everyone living on earth but in Australia the death toll was somewhere around twelve thousand — a quarter of one percent. What was it that made us so lucky? It wasn’t that we were healthy, sun-bronzed Aussies — the plague arrived in Sydney in 1900 and it broke out repeatedly over the next twenty years. But here’s the thing. With a boat trip of days or weeks to get here, anyone who had Spanish flu getting on the boat was easy to pick when they got off. We could effectively quarantine the rest of the world. And you know, even in countries and cities with high death rates, some groups escaped. Boarding schools and nunneries shut their doors against the disease, had food delivered and often survived unscathed. Today, Sydney is at most a twenty four hour plane ride away from anywhere in the world. We’ve lost that advantage. But my main character, Hannah, had a front door. She could shut her family in like the nunneries and boarding schools.
I also happened to read Jonathan Swifts Journal of the Plague Year. I hadn’t thought about the black plague much – it was too long ago and looms too large in our collective imaginations to be of much use to a story about a middle class family of four holing up in their home for the duration. And yet the everyday people in Swift’s book and what they do to survive felt completely real and relatable — shopkeepers getting customers to drop coins into vinegar in an attempt to disinfect them, people walking down the middle of the road to avoid any human contact. A boat man selling provisions up and down the river to earn money for his family, then leaving it under a rock outside their house because he is afraid of infecting the ones he loves. Fear that made people shut themselves in or flee. People trying their best to live through difficult and dangerous times. For all the centuries between us, for all our difference in understanding what causes illness and how to prevent it, I didn’t think we would behave very differently.
And some of the moments that inspired me came from situations that weren’t pandemics. Recently — in hurricanes, in tsunamis, even in a blackout across north eastern U.S. and Canada caused by programming error— we’ve found out how heavily we rely on all this technology we’ve built, but the stories that come out are of people helping and sharing.
Which makes me optimistic. In all the pandemics and all the natural disasters I looked at, people found ways to make it through. We’re still here. Those little monsters might scare me, but we come through. Not always unscathed, but we work something out. And that inspires me. We’ve been doing this a long time.
About the Author:
Amanda Hickie lives a brisk walk from Coogee Beach in Sydney with her two computer oriented sons and husband and two non-computer oriented cats.