My author in the spotlight today is Annie Murray. She’s talking about her writing inspiration, her latest book Mother and Child and surprises me with the book she’d like to see made into a film!
First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Ever since I can remember it just seemed like the thing most worth doing for me. I’ve had a range of jobs – student, charity comms person, nurse, mother of four – and pretty much written my way through the lot. I really found my subject after moving to Birmingham to work and falling in love with the city and its social history. My mother was also from the Midlands and was working there through the blitz on Coventry.
What inspired you to start writing?
I guess it must have been reading (probably Enid Blyton adventures!). It’s so long ago that to be honest I hardly know now. I just spent my childhood buying notebooks and biros.
Tell me about your journey to publication
Like most people I was writing short stories and trying to publish them. In Birmingham I joined a writers’ group and we were all working hard at that – literary magazines and so on and I published quite a few. Then in 1991, when I had three kids under three, I won a short story competition sponsored by SHE magazine and This Morning with Richard and Judy. That was brilliant because it got me an agent.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
As the title, Mother and Child suggests, it’s about that relationship, about loss and horrific tragedy and the bond between women. It’s about Birmingham’s present and past, as most of my books are, but it has also been written to highlight the ongoing problem’s in Bhopal, India. The world’s worst industrial accident took place there in 1984 – 35 years ago now, but problems are far from over. People are suffering horribly. Toxic poisoning affects the DNA so as well as sickness there are terrible birth defects. The site has never been cleared either and the local water supply has been poisoned – with the same results.
Since Birmingham has been a city no stranger to industrial accidents – albeit not of that kind – it was not so very hard to link the two.
I hope people will find the story involving and moving. All money from the book is going to the Bhopal Medical Appeal.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Interesting question. With the theme of the bond between mothers, Mother and Child seemed a good title and one surprisingly not used before for fiction. Then, by a weird coincidence, I found out that outside the old Union Carbide factory in Bhopal there is a statue called ‘Mother and Child’ put up in 1986 by Dutch sculptor and holocaust survivor, Ruth Waterman. The statue shows a woman with two small children running, trying to escape the poison gas.
How did you celebrate publication day?
In fact I was away from home at the time, in Birmingham working and running round the shops! The week before I had had a sort of launch hosted by Earlsdon Community Library in Coventry, who put on a really lovely event which marked the book’s publication. Otherwise, let’s just say a glass was raised!
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I have just completed a book called Girls in Tin Hats, about some young women who end up in the ARP together in Small Heath, Birmingham, in 1940 – 41, during the worst of the blitz. The one I am currently working on is set among the women chainmakers of Cradley Heath in the Black Country at the turn of the last century and the chainmakers’ strike. This work was ‘sweated labour’ and extremely badly paid. It’s something I have wanted to write about for a long time.
What are you reading just now?
I am, like half the world, reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I first read it in 1985 when it first came out and I remember it seeming very futuristic in a way that, chillingly, it doesn’t so much now.
I happen to be reading another Canadian right now too, the brilliant Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows, which is tragic and hilarious in equal measure.
Is there a book you’d like to see made into a film? Who would be in your dream cast?
Yes, in fact – I have myself written one book under another name – A New Map of Love by Abi Oliver about an older man who is a country antique dealer and is looking for love. It’s gently humorous and set in the beautiful, summer, chalk downland countryside of the south of England, in the 1960s. It was really fun to write.
My dream cast would include someone like Martin Clunes as George, the main character, and Emily Watson as the (spoiler!) woman he eventually falls for. There are also quite a few roles for character actors!
[I didn’t know that was written by Annie – I really enjoyed that book!]
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
I’m quite active on Facebook so do come and join us! My writer page is https://www.facebook.com/Annie.Murray.Author/ and on Twitter @AMurrayWriter
My thanks to Kelly at Love Books Group for inviting me to take part in the tour. Mother and Child is published by Pan MacMillan and you can order a copy online here: Mother and Child
From the back of the book
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.