Everything that makes us human and flawed: talking to Eve Smith about bringing out a book about a pandemic during a pandemic #GuestPost #Orentober

Hi and welcome to FromBelgiumWithBookLove!

Mid-May, Belgium in lockdown and I had finally talked myself into picking up The Waiting Rooms. It took some convincing, it felt too close to home, reading about one pandemic when the whole bloody world was in the throes of another. And I couldn’t help but wonder what it must be like to publish a novel about a pandemic, a debut novel no less, with the world in such a state. So I asked debut author Eve Smith if she wanted to pop over and talk to us about it, and here she is (and she’s brought her dog 😉😍):

What is The Waiting Rooms about?

The Waiting Rooms is a speculative thriller about one woman’s hunt for her birth mother. Decades of spiralling resistance have unleashed a global antibiotic crisis. Ordinary infections are untreatable, and a scratch from a pet can kill. A sacrifice is required to keep the majority safe: no one over seventy is allowed new antibiotics.
The elderly are sent to hospitals nicknamed ‘The Waiting Rooms’. Hospitals where no one ever gets well.

What’s the inspiration behind the book?

I first got the idea for The Waiting Rooms five years ago, after reading an article about the impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The UK government had commissioned a report that said, unless something was done to tackle drug resistance, 10 million people would die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections by 2050. That number shocked me. I had no idea that antibiotic resistance was such a serious problem.

And that got me thinking, if the worst did happen, and our drugs started to run out, what kind of impact would that have? What changes would society make, and who would get access to new drugs?

So I researched current patterns of prescriptions, which is when I discovered that the majority of antibiotics go to the young and to the old. And that was when the idea for the book was born.

Another key motivation for the novel was that I wanted a lead character who was elderly. You don’t read many thrillers about older women in residential care…

I actually found some research that claims many people have a subconscious bias against the elderly, with quite stereotyped views that they’re not even aware of. I hoped to debunk a few of those by taking readers through the different life stages of my older character, Lily, in her roles as a lover, a working woman and a mother. Showing her passions, her ambitions and her moral dilemmas. Everything that makes us human and flawed.   

How has it been, publishing during a pandemic?

Many readers have asked me what it’s like, bringing out a book about a pandemic during a pandemic. The answer is: strange. Covid 19 has brought the world of The Waiting Rooms much closer than I ever could have imagined.

When I wrote The Waiting Rooms, I wanted to make its world feel close enough to seem possible. Now that many aspects are actually happening for real, it has made the story all the more probable, and that has unnerved everyone, including me!
Obsessive hygiene. Masks and gloves being the norm. Lockdowns and rationing. Bans on large public events and foreign travel. Political scapegoating and censure.

For some readers, these similarities have been too close for comfort, and that’s perfectly understandable. For others, I think they have helped give readers distance from, and perspective on the current pandemic. Lockdown has certainly increased the resonance of the book with readers, and heightened concern about drug resistance.
Which is just as well, because unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated antibiotic resistance due to the huge numbers of antibiotics being used to treat or prevent secondary infections. Which, as a result, means an antibiotic crisis is looking more likely, unless we act now…

Of course, from a publishing viewpoint, the pandemic has caused chaos, as it has with every other industry. Bookshops being closed, festivals cancelled, book launches and events unable to take place. Authors are at sea in an online ocean that is very, very crowded, particularly for a hitherto unknown debut! And there have been lots of media reports about the enormous number of titles being launched in September, due to publishing schedules all crunching into the autumn.

Which is why I am so very grateful to all the amazing bloggers out there, like Kelly, who have supported The Waiting Rooms during and after its launch, and also to those readers who have taken the time to write reviews or post pictures and comments on social media: it makes a huge difference!

Bookstore managers have also been wonderful; my local Waterstones gave me my own table when they reopened after the paperback launch in July, and independents have been hugely supportive like Bert’s Books.
Book clubs are just starting up again, too: I did my first distanced one last week and am about to do another this week. I haven’t had a chance to meet many readers in person because of lockdown, so I am only too happy to join book club discussions or local literary festivals either virtually or in person, if and when that is possible!
So please do get in touch via the website or social media if you are interested!

So: what’s next?

Well, I am very much issue-driven. I love to explore thorny dilemmas and how they might impact normal families’ lives. So my next book deals with the complex and fast-moving world of genetics! I have been getting my head around the ethical quandaries posed by some of these new technologies which have the potential to transform our lives, and figuring out the best way to dramatise them.
I’m making good progress and sending out early drafts to some expert readers to review.
So be prepared for another dark, near-future thriller coming to a world near you!

Where can we find out more?

My website has lots of information about the inspiration behind my books, events I’m taking part in, and the latest news on releases: https://www.evesmithauthor.com/
Or you can follow me on social media: @evecsmith on Twitter, evesmithauthor on Instagram and EveSmithAuthor on FB.
For reviews, check out links on my website or Goodreads/Amazon.

Thanks so much for this, Eve! Whatever you write next, whatever the state of the world at that time, I’ll be there to read it!

If you guys missed it, here‘s my review of The Waiting Rooms and the Book Inspector posted an excerpt during the blog tour, check that out here.

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