There are many ways to die. Plague is just one.
Work on a London tube line is halted by the discovery of an ancient plague pit and in it, a very recent corpse. A day later another body is found, also in a plague pit. This victim is linked to the Palace of Westminster, where rumours swirl around the Prime Minister and his rivals.
As the number of deaths climbs, the media stokes fear. Government assurances are disbelieved. Everyone feels threatened. This has to be resolved and fast.
A disgraced civil servant and a policeman must find the answer before Westminster closes for recess. Power, money and love curdle into a deadly brew that could bring down the Mother of Parliaments.
Time is running out. And it’s not clear what – or who – will survive.
Plague by Julie Anderson is a new title out this week, and I am delighted to be sharing a guest post by Julie on the blog today in celebration of the book’s publication. Given what is currently going on in the world, Julie has written about how it feels when the dystopian fiction you have created collides with real world happenings.
When life and fiction collide… by Julie Anderson
Back in 2018 I began writing a novel, a Westminster murder mystery/thriller entitled ‘Plague‘. I was about to undergo surgery and knew that I’d have a long period of convalescence and recovery in which to plan out and begin writing my book. Without giving away too much of the plot (my publishers would shoot me if I did) the story is about a potential outbreak of a strain of plague in London in 2020. The atmosphere is tense and fearful and there is a general reluctance to accept what the authorities are saying, including medical experts and the police. People believe the real facts are being withheld. Entrenched and aggressive positions don’t help and a predilection for opinions, whatever their source, which reinforce existing prejudices, heightens anxiety. Sound familiar?
None of this was particularly new or controversial when I began writing it.
Populist politicians choosing to deny facts are now commonplace. The current President of the United States springs to mind, but there are European heads of state who do the same, including our own. This is amplified in the echo chamber of social media. In medicine, Anti-Vaxxer groups illustrate how people make potentially life-changing decisions based on belief rather than on scientific evidence. My villain in the novel chooses to exploit circumstances to increase his own fortune and power, despite knowing the views he encourages are false. He uses social media to help do this. This too has happened in real life, when an individual exploited people’s genuine concerns for their own benefit. Former doctor Andrew Wakefield, now barred from practising in the UK and described as fraudulent, made the spurious link between the MMR vaccine and child autism. This resulted in a reduction in vaccination rates and subsequent suffering and death.
I wanted my book to highlight, in so far as I could within the confines of a commercial thriller, how dangerous disregarding fact and science is and how easily it can be exploited by people for their own ends. And it is, of course, a Westminster based thriller, so politics and democracy are involved. As are the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor, who regularly give press conferences, just as they did during the first months of the COVID-19 lockdown.
It’s genuinely unsettling to find events, so similar to those in my tale, unfolding in real life and seeing the reactions of media, institutions and individuals to the COVID-19 virus. Some is horribly familiar – and irresponsible. Celebrities or TV ‘personalities’ asked for views on something they are not qualified to comment upon and the media rabble-rousing and setting people against each other. In the novel the media is used to manipulate opinion to better serve the interests of wealthy owners and investors. As a character in my novel says, ‘It’s dishonest and dangerous!’ something with which I agree.
There have been demonstrators outside Downing Street, to protest the ‘lack of action’ by government, something which occurs in ‘Plague’. My heroine is caught up in just such a demonstration in Chapter 42. Pharmacies have been hiring body guards because of attacks from members of the public attempting to access medicines or other items which were out of stock. This happens on Page 106 of the novel!
Now we have multiple real life procurement scandals, all those non-advertised ’emergency’ government contracts worth many millions being given to companies owned by donors or associates of the governing party, while companies which are experts in their field and offering their services are ignored. At least one of these has already spawned a law suit. In my novel there are contracts worth billions which are given to associates of the villain without going through the correct, legal procedures. It’s part of the corruption of democracy which my villain seeks. I have to tell you that there’s even a shadowy but powerful Russian character, an international ally of my villain, who encourages his crimes and makes financial investments!
The plague in my book isn’t COVID-19, it’s power and the desire for and love of it. My book isn’t even about a pandemic, but the ‘plague scare’ in it has mirrored real life to an eerie degree. That doesn’t stop the book being a really good read, about a series of macabre murders, with my heroes working against the clock to prevent more deaths and a love story and quite a lot of history thrown in. Pre-publication reviews describe it as ‘gripping’, ‘page turning’ and ‘gorgeously written’ though another word which keeps cropping up is ‘prescient’.
The number of usually well informed folk who simply don’t believe current government plans are based on science and the over-riding priority to save lives alarms me. Are they right? Is the government putting money before human life? I don’t know. It’s a new disease strain. There is much we don’t know. Like in the book, it’s frightening. I spent eighteen months writing a novel but in life I can’t write the ending. That’s what’s really scary.
Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Julie, it must have been very odd to see so much of what you envisaged in your work of fiction manifesting in the real world! I look forward to reading the book soon.
Plague is out now in both ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.
About the Author
Julie Anderson was a Senior Civil Servant in Westminster and Whitehall for many years, including at the Office for the Deputy Prime Minister, the Inland Revenue and Treasury Solicitors. Earlier publications include historical adventure novels and short stories. She is Chair of Trustees of Clapham Writers, organisers of the Clapham Book Festival, and curates events across London.
Connect with Julie:
Facebook: Julie Anderson Author