Words || Jesse Blackadder
Why do writers spend so much time on pain and suffering? Do readers really want to spend their precious time and concentration on books that take them into the darkness of human experience?
I ask myself that question a lot, and I’ve asked it more than usual while writing Sixty Seconds, a novel about a family whose two-year-old child drowns in their backyard pool. As happened to my family when I was a child, and my younger sister drowned.
Returning to that painful experience and creating a piece of writing from it was a terrifying prospect. But I wanted to do it. I knew it would stretch me as a writer beyond anything I’d done previously.
It’s a challenging subject – and yet I knew I was approaching it in a way that didn’t dwell only on pain. I wanted to explore the hidden depths of life’s accidents, and the inexplicable, transcendent moments that can arise from them. Like the way a ripple spreads outwards in water, I wanted a story that would reflect on how people around a major event are touched and changed by it.
Writers are often driven by events and experiences in their own lives, which wind up appearing as story lines, themes, or characters in works of fiction. This lived experience can enrich the writing and infuse it with authenticity.
But I was worried that while I had a personal need to write the book, readers might not have the same need to read it. Why would a reader want to embark on a painful journey in the pages of my novel?
Because that’s what I look for in a book. As a reader, I invest my emotions and my time in a story so I’ll understand something about experiences that I may never go through, and ultimately make better sense of the world.
The relationship between writer and reader is a special one. As a writer, I invite you, the reader, to share a journey. My role is to provide a pair of safe hands – to be the guide on the journey into the edges of human experience, and the guide to emerge again. And part of that is creating an ending that makes sense of the experience and is emotionally satisfying.
Even though much of the story only became clear when I was writing, the ending of Sixty Seconds was in my mind from the start. I was delighted when author Susan Johnson commented that it was ‘One of the most moving and artistically satisfying endings I’ve read in a long while’.
Because most of all, I wanted to write a book that would journey through the pain, and leave its readers with a sense of hope and the promise of redemption.