Welcome to my stop on Annie Murray’s Mother and Child blog tour, with Love Books Tours!
Many thanks to Kelly @ Love Books Tours for arranging the following interview with Annie Murray…..
Where did/do you get your ideas from?
Ideas pop up in all sorts of places. My inspiration for the books I write about Birmingham is the city itself, its people – and a whole assortment of things I read or stumble upon, an atmosphere in a place, something someone might say to me… Some things just jump to your attention and start the imagination working.
Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?
Not really… Well, maybe a few really minor characters, but they might only be things about appearance, or some comical habit or something. When you write your main characters, the story shapes them and they shape the story so I learn who they are as I write.
How do you pick your characters’ names?
The period is important because of fashion in names. Other than that, by feel. The name just has to be right. One little detail is that it tends to confuse people if there are too many people who have names beginning with the same initial so I try to be careful about that, especially as I write books with a great many characters in them.
Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?
Research to lay the ground so that you can mentally move around in it yourself (as much as possible anyway); feel your way into the characters – meaning both mind and body. Try to find an energetic point to start. Write, even if it doesn’t feel as if you’re doing a good job. Sleep. Walk. Rewrite and edit. And again.
If you could meet any author, who would it be and what would you ask them?
At present, Margaret Atwood. I would say, ‘you know you said that it’s often a let down when you meet a writer – that just because you like paté doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy meeting the duck…?’ Well, I’m still thrilled to meet you and I’m pretty sure any answer you give will be interesting … So answer me this – how close are we really getting to Gilead?
Were you a big reader as a child?
Yes. I was an only child and we travelled quite a bit. I lolled about in the car and read and read. It was good company and always seemed like the best thing.
When did you start to write?
Is there a book you wish you had written?
Many, many. One of the books I most admire is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. But this book and all the other great ones I love are not mine in any way – not my experience, and I could never have written them.
What are you working on right now?
A book set in the Black Country. This is new for me – and utterly fascinating. There’s such an amazing variety of different things being made in all those scattered towns and such hard lives. The accent is also really, really….. Challenging. I will need to beg forgiveness.
Tell us about your last release?
My latest book is called Mother and Child. This is an unusual one for a number of reasons – even the publication date, in October, as my books tend to come out in the spring. I asked my publisher, Pan Macmillan if I could write an extra book and for it to be dedicated entirely to a charity that I have supported for many years now – the Bhopal Medical Appeal. They have been very kind and supportive. The book is aimed to raise money for the clinics in Bhopal for people poisoned by the gas explosion in 1984 – still reckoned to be the world’s worst industrial disaster – and who are still being poisoned by the water supply, thanks to the toxic site which still remains there. The number of extreme and distressing birth deformities from both the gas and water poisoning and the number of people acutely sick is very disproportionately high. Most of them are among the very poorest.
The explosion in the neglected plant, happened 35 years ago this autumn so we are publishing to commemorate that and to let people know that Bhopal’s situation is far from over – it is still life-threatening and urgent and the problem is spreading. In fact when the brilliant TV drama about Chernobyl came out, many people were saying we need another similar one about Bhopal – and the company which has liability for it, Dow Chemical, now Dow Inc, Dow DuPont and Corteva Agriscience. It would do a great deal for their reputation were they finally to face up to this.
In fact I was given the brief that the book must still be about Birmingham. Which sounds difficult but actually wasn’t at all when you consider Birmingham’s familiarity with industrial accidents – albeit not on the scale fortunately.
And the main thing is, I hope it is a story that people will enjoy and find moving.
Do you have a new release due?
In April I have another book out featuring young women who become air raid wardens in Small Heath, Birmingham, at the height of the blitz – it’s just finished and is called Girls in Tin Hats.
What do you generally do to celebrate on publication day?
On the day itself not much – raise a glass perhaps to wish it well on its way!
How can readers keep in touch with you?
My website http://www.anniemurray.co.uk has contact details on it as well as other things people might enjoy. It’s also great to hear from people on Facebook. My writer page is at https://www.facebook.com/Annie.Murray.Author/
Is there anything else you would like us to know?
I never feel I’m very good at answering questions, so if anyone has anything they would like to ask do get in touch in either of these ways above.
Also, if you would like to help with the campaign around Bhopal, there are some quite small things that can be done – letter writing for example. You could look at http://www.actionforbhopal.org – or contact me and we could chat about it.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Annie 🙂
Mother and Child by Sunday Times bestseller Annie Murray is a moving story of loss, friendship and hope over two generations . . .
Jo and Ian’s marriage is hanging by a thread. One night almost two years ago, their only child, Paul, died in an accident that should never have happened. They have recently moved to a new area of Birmingham, to be near Ian’s mother Dorrie who is increasingly frail. As Jo spends more time with her mother-in-law, she suspects Dorrie wants to unburden herself of a secret that has cast a long shadow over her family.
Haunted by the death of her son, Jo catches a glimpse of a young boy in a magazine who resembles Paul. Reading the article, she learns of a tragedy in India . . . But it moves her so deeply, she is inspired to embark on a trip where she will learn about unimaginable pain and suffering.
As Jo learns more, she is determined to do her own small bit to help. With the help of new friends, Jo learns that from loss and grief, there is hope and healing in her future.
A word from Annie Murray
Soon after midnight on the morning of December 3rd, 1984, what is still recognized as the world’s worst ever industrial disaster took place in the city of Bhopal in central India.
A plant built to manufacture pesticide, owned by the American Union Carbide Corporation, leaked 40 tons of methyl-isocyanate gas, one of the most lethally toxic gases in the industry, over the surrounding neighbourhood. This was a poor area consisting mainly of slum housing, some of it leaning right up against the factory wall.
People woke, coughing and choking. Panic broke out as many tried to flee for their lives. As they ran, their bodies broke down with toxic poisoning, eyes burning, frothing at the mouth. Women miscarried pregnancies. Many people flung themselves in the river and by dawn, the streets were littered with thousands of bodies. It is estimated that 10,000 died that first night and the death toll continued, within weeks, to a total of about 25 000. Many more have died since. There are still reckoned to be 150 000 chronically ill survivors. Their plight was not helped by the fact that Union Carbide would not release the name of an antidote to a poison that they did not want to admit was as dangerous as it really was.
The plant, making less profit than had been hoped, was being run down for closure and was in poor condition. Not one of the safety systems was working satisfactorily. In addition, the original design of the factory had been ‘Indianized’ – in other words built more cheaply than would be expected of such a plant in a western country.
This was 35 years ago. In 1989, a paltry amount of compensation was eventually paid by Union Carbide who did everything a large corporation can do to evade taking responsibility. Their comment was “$500 is about enough for an Indian.” That was $500 to last for the rest of the life of a man who could no longer work to look after his family.
The sickness and suffering from ‘that night’ goes on in those who survived to this day. What is less well known about Bhopal however, is that even before the 1984 gas leak, the company had been dumping toxic waste in solar evaporation ponds. The lining used was about like you would use in a garden water feature. This in a country of heavy rains and floods. In the early 80s, people started to notice how bad their water supply tasted. Cows were dying.
Union Carbide closed the plant. They never cleared the site, which still stands in an area of highly toxic soil and water. The water supply in that area is so contaminated that water has to be brought in from outside. In 2001 Union Carbide was bought by the Dow Chemical Company, and is, from 2018, now DowDuPont. Despite having acquired all the assets of Union Carbide they are not prepared to accept its liabilities and clear up the site.
In the months after the gas leak in 1984, the nearby Hamidia hospital started to see children born with birth defects more horrific than any they had witnessed before. These days, because of gas- and also water-affected parents, the rate of birth defects is now reaching into a third, soon to be a fourth generation. The main parallel with the kind of extreme toxic effects would be with the children of Agent Orange in Vietnam.
The only free care in this impoverished neighbourhood for people suffering from the effects of gas poisoning, or to help with very severely handicapped children, is from the Bhopal Medical Appeal. It is to them that all the money from Mother and Child is going.
In the book, you can read more about what happened in Bhopal and about how the book itself came to be written.
Annie Murray was born in Berkshire and read English at St John’s College, Oxford. Her first ‘Birmingham’ novel, Birmingham Rose, hit The Times bestseller list when it was published in 1995. She has subsequently written many other successful novels, including The Bells of Bournville Green, sequel to the bestselling Chocolate Girls, and A Hopscotch Summer. Annie has four children and lives near Reading.