Claire Mackintosh Review
By Ellie Stratton
CHELTENHAM LITERATURE FESTIVAL 2019
Admittedly, for someone afraid of horror films, theme parks and quite frankly of their own shadow - I am an avid enthusiast when it comes to the genre of psychological thriller and mystery. I am especially a huge devotee to the enigmatic thrillers conjured by Clare Mackintosh, whom always renders the perfect recipe to a gripping and engaging page turner novel.
Imagine my delight (absolutely over the moon) when the opportunity to see Mackintosh at the Cheltenham literature festival arose.
I feel obliged to admit that alongside believing for the first few seconds that the interviewer of the talk was Clare Mackintosh herself (to which point I remembered to put my glasses on), I also should reveal that I hadn’t read ‘After the End’, the novel that was to be discussed.
‘This doesn’t matter, in fact it could even be a good thing’, it was absolutely a good thing, I can now approach this book with not only my 40 year old long sighted reading eyes, but also with the mind set of how much thought and personalisation went into creating this book.
I have learnt the fascinating process behind the making of ‘After the End’; Clare’s involvement from 100 of her most devoted fans, the reason as to why the cover of the novel is an orange colour and why it shouldn’t have been yellow, and the reason why after a year her husband nor her mother have read this book. I feel I hold a more in depth and knowledgeable perception of this book before having even read it, intricate knowledge that I will share in this review, and when I do go to open the first crisp page and take in the new book smell in all it’s glory (the hard back version in my amazon basket as we speak) the book will stand out to me in a much more valued and appealing manner.
Originally, Mackintosh approached her publisher with the anticipation of having ‘After The End’ released as her debut novel, but it worked out that a series of her thrillers began instead. It was only two years ago that her publisher sought out the opportunity for Claire to release the story that was told in confidentiality ‘all those years ago’. Claire admitted to feeling sceptical because this novel felt like she was, in a quite drastic measure, effectively jumping genres. She also mentioned that the story hit alarmingly close to home…
Claire made the book authentic by drawing upon her own experiences. In 2006 she gave birth to a set of premature twins, one of her twin babies at a few weeks old contracted meningitis and had a brain haemorrhage. A few days later her and her husband were called into a room called ‘the quiet room’ and were given a decision to make – continue to fight for their son’s life, accepting the extreme disabilities and brain damage he would be left with, or remove him from intensive care. They agreed on what decision was the best to make.
The novel to be was from the perspective of Max and Pip, the dream couple, and their son, Dylan, diagnosed with cancer. The decision of whether to end his life or revive it living as a vegetable is toyed and not agreed upon. It’s a propulsive exploration of love, marriage, parenthood and the road not taken. It’s a story about loss and the ethics in the face of a terminal childhood illness.
It’s a story of the unthinkable.
13 years after first describing this plot to her publisher, the beginnings of her fourth book were in motion. Claire firmly states that ‘After the End’ isn’t a memoir. The reason why she felt uncertain to share this book with the world was because ‘After The End’ is as much her story as it is her husbands and her son’s. After being asked about her family’s reactions to this novel, she stated that neither her mother nor her husband have read the book, they found it to be too much of an exposing read.
Mackintosh admitted to feeling pressured whilst in the makings of this book, she didn’t want to disappoint her fans, and this was when she conducted some ‘market research’. She released her book (6 months early) to 100 VIP fans, including them in a private group chat to converse the Sunday times next bestseller hit. She purposefully involved husband and wife fans reading “After The End” as she preferred it not to be a purely female orientated book and wanted to encourage the male perspective. Before, the novel was a brighter yellow, but with the involvement of Claire’s trusted confidants it was suggested that this colour made the book too light and gentle- it was incompatible with the story line and could be weightier. This is how the book emerged into a much deeper colour tone, giving it more gravitas. She stated that it was a ‘joy’ writing this book and that she was merely ‘writing the stories that need to be heard’.
Traumatically, Claire also admitted how easy it was to put herself back in the hospital, she admits to still being able to hear the hospital machines and still knowing exactly what the intensive care unit smells like – some of the chapters in ‘After The End’ she said weren’t written in her own home, she didn’t want to ‘sully the house with sadness’ as her home is full of happy, busy things and her 3 children (she gave birth to a second lot of healthy twins).
Listening to Claire Mackintosh’s soft and captivating voice, it’s easy to see how this is mirrored into her story writing. I always have found myself fully immersed into her writing and it was lovely to share this with the audience around me.