It’s a pleasure to welcome Holly Seddon, in a week that is celebrating the fabulous and moving ‘Try Not To Breathe’. Today Holly has written all about PVS, the condition known as ‘Persistent Vegetative State’ and her heroine, Amy.
So what is ‘Try Not To Breathe’ all about?
The most talked about psychological suspense novel of the year, loved by Marian Keyes and Tess Gerritsen. Once you start reading TRY NOT TO BREATHE you will be hooked on this gripping, fast-paced thriller.
You won’t be able to put it down.
Just remember to breathe.
Alex is sinking. Slowly but surely, she’s cut herself off from everything but her one true love – drink. Until she’s forced to write a piece about a coma ward, where she meets Amy.
Amy is lost. When she was fifteen, she was attacked and left for dead in a park. Her attacker was never found. Since then, she has drifted in a lonely, timeless place. She’s as good as dead, but not even her doctors are sure how much she understands.
Alex and Amy grew up in the same suburbs, played the same music, flirted with the same boys. And as Alex begins to investigate the attack, she opens the door to the same danger that has left Amy in a coma…
Introducing Holly Seddon
Holly Seddon is a freelance journalist and editor. As a mother of four, Holly divides her time between writing, walking her miniature schnauzer and chasing homework-evaders around the room. And then doing some more writing when night falls.
TRY NOT TO BREATHE is her first novel, published to great acclaim in the UK, US, Netherlands, Germany, Russia, Poland and Taiwan.
Holly is currently writing her second novel. You can ask her about it @HollySeddon.
Unresponsive but wakeful – a living death?
Try Not to Breathe opens in 1995 with the character of Amy Stevenson. She’s fifteen, full of bravado and ambition. But just a few days later, a vicious attack leaves her close to death.
The weeks become months, the months become years. Amy’s coma becomes long term coma, which develops something even more devastating.
Fast forward fifteen years and we meet Alex Dale, a journalist whose own demons have almost destroyed her. Alex stumbles upon Amy, seemingly trapped in her own body, with no justice and no future.
In 2010 when I was first writing Amy’s story, patients like Amy were said to be in a ‘persistent vegetative state’ or ‘PVS’. But more recently they tend to call it ‘unresponsive wakefulness syndrome’. When you stop and think about the term vegetative – basically being likened to vegetables or plants – it’s easy to understand why this is ethically dubious, and an additional cruelty to endure for the families left behind.
It was while listening to a radio health programme on such states that the idea for Try Not to Breathe emerged. While I fascinated and moved by what I heard, when I started writing, I was more interested in getting Amy’s backstory right and planning the ‘crime’. When I had those crucial elements nailed down, I went back to spending a lot of time reading up on the condition, the prognoses for such patients and the few, very few, stories of waking up.
To get a sense of being stuck inside one’s own brain, I read the incredible The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a memoir written painstakingly through millions of blinks of the eye by French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby. Bauby suffered a huge stroke that left him with Locked-In Syndrome. This condition is not the same as Amy’s, but there are clear parallels. Bauby describes the narrow world he inhibited while paralysed in the hospital, juxtaposed with memories of the vast, vibrant life he’d left behind. It’s an astonishing book, and I recommend it to anyone wanting an insight.
While researching, I also spoke with Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability [http://www.rhn.org.uk] in London. They do incredible work with patients like Amy and those with a range of neuro-disabilities. A representative there who pointed me in the direction of a BBC Horizon documentary [http://www.bbc.com/news/health-29643038 ] about the hospital’s work and the studies into PVS undertaken by Cambridge University. Without giving anything away – I hope – this brief telephone conversation coupled wit the documentary provided me with a very significant moment in the story.
But for all the research and reading, writing Amy’s point of view required a huge amount of artistic licence and imagination. Writing about a condition that real people, families and friends face, was nerve wracking.
I felt enormous responsibility to be sensitive and avoid sensationalizing suffering. But I also needed to be true to the story. I worried endlessly about whether I’d walked on the right side of that line. That anyone whose loved one had been affected by something so harrowing wouldn’t find my imagined approach offensive.
I’ll always worry that my writing may cause upset, because it’s an upsetting subject and I think most writers are turned inside out with a sea of worries at all times anyway. But I do feel slightly better than I did. After Try Not to Breathe was published in hardback and e-book, I received separate messages from family members of patients with PVS: one woman who was still alive and in hospital and the other, a very young man who had tragically died. They were kind messages, positive messages, messages that put those doubts back in their place just a little. I’m extremely grateful that these readers picked up a book that risked offending and upsetting them. More grateful that they let me know. And I’ll be forever grateful that I heard the radio show that piqued my interest and didn’t let it go.
Try Not To Breathe is available in all good bookshops and on Amazon.
Holly Seddon can be found on Twitter https://twitter.com/hollyseddon
My review is found here: Try Not To Breathe – Holly Seddon