A few months ago, I stumbled across a book that completely creeped me out. I have always been a fan of apocalyptic and pandemic stories, so when I read the synopsis for Before This is Over, I was more than thrilled (in case you missed it, my review for this one is HERE). Upon further investigation, I found out that the premise for this novel was inspired by the events of the SARS outbreak in Toronto when the author was living in Canada with her family. I thought that was incredibly interesting, not only because I am Canadian, but also because I can remember this event and the hysteria during this time. Hickie does a brilliant job at capturing this feeling throughout the pages of her novel.
So, needless to say, I am thrilled to have Amanda Hickie, author of Before This Is Over, on Clues and Reviews today!
Keep reading to see what Amanda Hickie had to say about her novel, the writing process and life in general!
Thanks for being on Clues and Reviews! So excited to have you!
Thanks for having me. It’s great to be back on Canadian soil, even if only virtually!
Your novel is based loosely around your experience living in Ottawa during the Toronto SARS outbreak (yay Canada!). What made you decide to use this event as the base for your novel?
Sometimes something lodges in my mind – it might be a comment a friend made, or an article I read, or in this case something that was happening around me – and I think about it from time to time. I loved living in Canada, so it’s not surprising that some of the experiences there revisited me after we had left. It was an odd experience being in Ottawa during the SARS outbreak. We weren’t in any danger, but just up the road real people were in dire situations. Maybe it felt a little more immediate to me because I had a couple of appointments at Ottawa General Hospital and it was exactly as I describe it in the book – questionnaires, disinfectant hand pumps, restrictions on visitors. I’d written a book that didn’t get published (I eventually self-published on Kindle/Amazon as AfterZoe) but did get some encouraging rejections, so I decided that I had to keep going. I sat down and wrote out ten or twelve ideas that had been percolating, and this was the one that felt most real to me.
If you could tell your readers three things about Before This Is Over, what would they be?
- Something you commented in your review – there are no zombies. It’s not The Walking Dead or Contagion or Outbreak. It’s a story about family relationships and ethical choices set in an epidemic. 2. I’m an optimist and I fudged some details so the book would end. In the outbreak of real diseases like SARS or Ebola there are no miracle cures or vaccinations in six weeks. They don’t usually just peter out. Both SARS and Ebola ended because the ill were effectively quarantined, their symptoms were treated and they got better or didn’t – and we were lucky both times. I find that scarier than zombies. 3. It’s not my family (seriously, it’s not.)
In the novel, a stocked pantry becomes an obsession. What would be some of your must haves in your apocalypse pantry?
Chocolate! Tea! Despite the obsession with it in the book, I don’t actually like coffee but I might stockpile some for my other half. Oh, and sweet chilli sauce. You can make any slop taste better with sweet chilli sauce.
What are you working on now?
I’ve been working on another one of my list of ten ideas. I wonder how differently we would make our decisions if we were aware of the risks, like polio, that have become invisible to us. It got a boost recently when I found out that the last outbreak of polio in Australia happened in the year I was born. I remember being taken for vaccinations. It was a fairy-floss pink syrup and it seemed very important to the grown ups. No one I grew up with caught polio and it wasn’t until much later that I realised many in my parents generation died or were permanently damaged. We can’t remember what we’ve never seen, and so now we live in a society where reaching adulthood in good health is just the norm. My character is going to, in a tangible way, come to see that.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad ones?
So far I have read every review I can find – which is how I know some people expected zombies. Some of the bad ones are quite funny – a one-star review on Goodreads contains the phrase “did not read of my own free will.” I have an image of some poor person locked in a room being forced to read random works of fiction. I don’t usually mind the bad Goodreads ones. A book liked by everyone is a bland book, and for every review that says it’s overly dramatic, there’s one that says it’s too slow. It’s a matter of taste. I can’t and don’t want to be everyone’s cup of tea. The reviews that annoy me are the ones that didn’t engage with the book – that assume the answers to Hannah’s dilemmas are easy. If history and psychology tell us anything, it’s that when placed in difficult situations, despite all our good intentions we often struggle to follow our principles.
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
I’ve been taking bookbinding lessons the last few years from an artist binder. I’m not artistic, but it’s fun to take an old paperback that’s falling apart and give it new life in a new cover. It’s a chance to make something new and prevent something old from going to waste. I particularly like turning old penguins into hardback that look almost exactly the same. It’s not easy finding penguin-orange coloured book cloth!
Well, folks there ya have it! I loved Before This Is Over and if you haven’t checked it out, you totally should! Or, I may force you, against your own free will. It happens people. There is a one-star review on Goodreads to prove it!
Thanks to Amanda Hickie for answering my questions and allowing me to feature her on my little place in the blogosphere!