How odd was it to have written a speculative book on a global pandemic, and have it come out in the midst of one?
It’s surreal, totally unexpected and still feels very odd. One silver lining has been the response from some early readers and authors I adore, who have given quotes, who said the book has helped them process the world we are living in at the moment and made them feel hopeful. My editor and I kept changes in response to Covid to a minimum. There’s no mention of Covid in the book, and that was important to me. One of the only things we changed—which does seem a bit spooky now—was that I had written (back in 2019!) that the plague in the novel was started by a pangolin. We changed that to move it away from the real world, as it would have seemed like I had copied the start of Covid.
Can you tell us about the inspirations for the book, both literary ones and your personal experiences?
I read World War Z several years ago and found it terrifying and gripping. I loved its global perspective and its hyper-realism. Then I read The Power in early 2018 and that really opened my mind up to using speculative fiction as an avenue to explore gender dynamics. I had been thinking about those books a lot, and in March 2018 I had the idea of a book in which almost all men have disappeared.
I also had sepsis, and nearly died in July 2018, which had an impact. One of the first scenes in the novel is set in A&E with a doctor, Amanda Maclean, trying to save a patient. I definitely used the tense (and very scary!) memories of being admitted to hospital as part of my inspiration for that. It also made me conscious of not wasting time. I didn’t think about it so consciously back then, but being so unwell when I was only 25 definitely made me determined to finish the book as quickly as I could.
It is a huge bit of world-building to construct this world without (or with few) men. How did you do it?
The first draft had around 40 perspectives and was essentially an exercise in world-building, so I built a lot that ultimately didn’t make it in. I started thinking about the logistics first: what happens to hospitals? To doctors and nurses, who don’t want to bring the virus home? To schools and nurseries and parents? That first draft also explored the impact on over 20 countries in various aspects.
The second draft was a big rewrite that I did with my agent in autumn 2019. We culled lots of the perspectives and focused on the key characters. At that point, I really dug into the emotional consequences and dynamics. How do you rebuild your life in a society which has been completely reshaped? How would it feel to live in a world in which 90 per cent of men had died?
The End of Men (9780008407926) is published on 29th April by The Borough Press. The hardback costs £14.99.