After I’ve Gone


ABOUT THIS BOOK

Sadly, it was the deaths of two friends that led to me writing this book. I had been playing around with the idea of writing a novel about a young woman who finds pages of her life story and has to choose between keeping every detail the same or changing it all. I was interested in how, when we say we’d like to change the past, we often forget that the thing that we’d like to change may have had a positive consequence as well as a negative one. However, it wasn’t hanging together as a novel and didn’t seem to have much modern relevance.

When a friend died from breast cancer, it was my first experience of losing someone who I was friends with on Facebook, as well as in real life. Before her death, her family and friends used social media in a positive way to help raise money for her children, giving her huge peace of mind in her final days. What I also discovered was that reading the messages that her friends posted on her timeline after her death was enormously comforting and built a new community of friends (many of whom had never met before).

My second friend died in very different circumstances. She had documented her mental health problems on Facebook, and when she sadly took her own life, there was an outpouring of grief on her timeline from people whose names and photos I recognised as those who had, like me, tried to offer support to her on Facebook during her troubled life.

Again, there was comfort in reading other people’s memories of her and piecing together the areas of her life I hadn’t known much about. When I attended her funeral, I got talking with some of the people whose tributes I had read on her Facebook timeline.

Since their deaths, friends of both have continued to post thoughts and memories of them on their timelines, particularly on significant dates. As I write this, I have been reminded by Facebook that one of them will be celebrating her birthday this week. She won’t, of course, but what will happen is that loved ones will post tributes on her Facebook page as part of this new phenomenon of social mourning.

That is how the premise of this novel developed, from the idea that if someone saw the outpouring of grief on social media after their future death, it may impact on the way they lived their life.

SPOILER ALERT!

Look away now if you haven’t already read the novel, but the obvious situation for this was one of domestic violence. As a journalist, I had covered so many appalling cases and interviewed many women about their experiences of domestic violence, as well as spoken to men about how they had become a perpetrator (and I’d like to make it clear at this point that although Lee witnessed domestic violence as a child, I am in no way saying that all boys who do so will become abusers. Many boys in this situation do not go on to become perpetrators and are often vocal in opposing male violence against women).

I particularly had in mind the statistic that, on average, women are assaulted thirty-five times before their first call to the police. I have often heard people questioning why they stay so long, people who don’t understand the complexities involved in such cases – the controlling behaviour, the way women are often psychologically and emotionally abused, their self-esteem eroded, not to mention the worries surrounding any children involved and whether they will be able to care for them if they leave the family home.

But I wanted to give my central character the ability to see into the future, and explore how the knowledge that the abuse would continue and ultimately lead to her death would impact on her. I also wanted to highlight the fact that thirty per cent of domestic violence starts or gets worse when a woman is pregnant. When, twenty years ago, I relayed the findings of a survey on this from a local women’s refuge, my news editor said, ‘Yeah, that’s because the men have got more to aim for.’ When I objected to this ‘joke’, I was told that feminists lack a sense of humour. Sadly, these attitudes still exist today; we need to go on challenging them in an effort to ensure that violence against women is one day eradicated. I will be making donations to the following charities, all of which do brilliant work in this area, from the royalties of this book. I would be hugely grateful if you could support them too – or pass on the helpline number to anyone you know who may need support. Thank you.

The White Ribbon Campaign – men working to end violence against women

www.whiteribboncampaign.co.uk

 

Women’s Aid – national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children

www.womensaid.org.uk

 

Refuge – the country’s largest single provider of specialist domestic violence services

www.refuge.org.uk

 

National Domestic Violence Helpline – run by Women’s Aid and Refuge

Freephone 0808 2000 247, available twenty-four hours a day

 

 

 

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