When I set about writing my debut novel, my aim was to write something I’d want to read.
I’m invariably drawn to stories where the extraordinary happens in ordinary lives and the journalist in me craved the thrill of some fascinating research and interviews, the indulgence of a time-consuming assignment – to learn about something beyond my own experience. I hoped it would be topical, if unusual, and that others would be as intrigued by the subject matter as I was.
But with the publication of ‘The Husband Who Refused to Die’ fast approaching, I couldn’t have imagined how topical it would turn out to be.
It’s been an interesting, and emotional, few days. I’ve been approached by local and national media, interviewed live on BBC Radio Gloucestestershire, encouraged to pitch an article to a broadsheet newspaper and even asked to appear on a BBC1 TV programme.
It’s a shame that all this is the result of such a heart-breaking news headline – a 14-year-old girl whose dying wish was to have her body frozen in the hope she can be brought back to life some time in the future.
The girl had to take her landmark case to the High Court as her father didn’t initially support her wish. Tragically, the teenager lost her battle with cancer, and passed away last month. But she won her court fight.
The premise of my novel happens to be based on cryonics, and there are so many echoes of this sad case in my fictional story.
‘The Husband Who Refused to Die’ is about 40-year-old mum Carrie, whose husband Dan dies unexpectedly, just a few years after he revealed his wish to be frozen; or cryo-preserved to use the scientific term. The story focuses on the difficult repercussions of this wish for Carrie and her teenage daughter, not least an intrusive media, an interfering sister-in-law and a mystery person with a serious grudge.
When I came up with the idea, I knew the concept of cryonics had been given the science fiction treatment in many books and films, but I wanted to explore it in a realistic setting – after all it’s a real thing affecting real people, with several thousand signed up in the UK and America (unbelievably, many literary agents I pitched to had never heard of it and several assumed the book must be sci-fi).
To my knowledge, the concept has never before been explored in contemporary women’s fiction.
It’s a complex and emotive subject, raising a myriad of questions, and I don’t hold myself up as a cryonics expert – far from it – but I’ve happily talked about my reactions to the case of this brave, young girl, as a parent, and about my book, as an author.
In the end, I didn’t appear on BBC1’s Sunday Morning Live, because, ultimately, as a writer, I wasn’t prepared to take the strong stance either in favour or against the morality of cryo-preservation that the panel show’s format required.
I set out to write the book with an open mind on the practicalities, probabilities and appeal of human preservation, and three years later, with my novel just about to be launched, I retain that neutral view – just a far more informed one.
My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that cryonics is a personal choice and I’m in no position to judge those who decide to spend their money on something that some scientists believe to be improbable, others impossible. Scientific breakthroughs are happening all the time, and none of us knows what the future holds. Organ donation and IVF were once deemed far-fetched.
What has always intrigued me, perhaps above all else, is how a radical decision like being frozen after death would affect loved ones left behind. And that’s what my book explores.
Essentially it’s a romance, hopefully told with warmth and wit, the original cryonics hook simply casting an unusual light on a story about love, loss, family and friendship.