I recently complained to my publisher about the overuse of the phrase ‘and lives change forever’ on the covers of women’s fiction. At this rate, I said, there’ll be no one left living his or her original life. We’ll inhabit a world of unrecognisable figures behaving completely out of character, following new destinies, finding new loves – and all thanks, probably, to some dark secret finally unearthed after years of living peacefully.
‘Oh, it’s just shorthand,’ he said.
In my new novel The Day You Saved My Life I decided not to explore the ‘forever’ (that’s far too scary for me), but only the few months that follow an incident on the River Seine one sunny day in June.
When James Maitland rescues a two-year-old child who has fallen overboard on a sightseeing trip, he is, says his wife Alexa, ‘peculiarly casual’ about his heroics. She remarks that if it weren’t for the authorities insisting on taking his statement he would simply have strolled off afterwards dripping.
But Alexa is wrong. Saving a life has a profound effect on James, as it does on Holly Walsh, the young mother of the child he has rescued. James and Holly are bewildered and thrilled to find themselves blessed with the kind of fresh perspective on the future that we all search for at one time or another in our lives.
Of course, when people wake up one day and decide they want to do things differently, there are going to be casualties. Alexa is one, and so is Holly’s mother, Joanna, whose role as Holly’s fixed centre has suddenly been usurped.
And the small boy who started it all, Mikey: his life changes too.
Early readers of the book have already let me know what a big ask it is for them to accept and sympathise with some of the actions the characters take in this story. Can people really be so certain in their belief that they are doing the right thing that they can ignore the grief they’re causing other people? Who on earth could be so heartless in the name of love?
My answer is, ‘I think so’, and ‘all of us’. But I accept that you can only really know if you’ve saved a life yourself or had yours saved. And I have not – not yet.
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