|The author herself. Seen here preparing for coming pandemics.|
The question authors get asked, and dread, the most – why did you write your novel?
I have an eloquent and engaging stock answer that I repeat in a regular basis about the idea for Last One At The Party forming one winter’s night as I was lost in the dark hills of the Oxfordshire countryside. About how I stared up at the sky, alone and lonely, and was struck by the notion that I might be the only person left alive in the world. If I were, where would I go? What would I do? This anecdote is true, but it is not the only reason I wrote a book about a woman who is (potentially) the last person left alive on earth.
Hi, my name is Bethany Clift and I wrote "Överlevaren" ("Last One At The Party") because I am surrounded by noise. Constantly. I am married with two kids, a dog and a fish and my life is an endless litany of chatting, arguing, whining, laughing, singing and barking. As I sit typing this in my front room with no radio or television it should be relatively quiet and yet still I can hear the fish tank bubbling, car engines humming outside the window, the heating system thrumming through my walls. When I visit friends or family, the first think they do is fill the empty background of the room with music from the radio or speaker – like silence is something to be scared of.
I didn’t always crave quietness, as a child I too chattered and sang and filled the world around me with my excess din. In my early twenties I would go dancing and stand as close to the speakers as I could get to feel the base thrumming through my body, assaulting my very bones and not just my ears. I still love music and singing and the excited babble of my children as their enthusiasm for life pours from them. But, I also love peace and quiet and stillness, moments when my world and mind are calm and tranquil. And these precious interludes seem so few these days.
Maybe it is the pandemic, maybe it is the stage of life that I am at, maybe it is me that is changing and needing more – but whatever the reason I find I crave silence more and find it less. The moments when you can be alone, at peace, with your thoughts. No friends, no family, nothing that demands your attention, nothing to distract you from being you.
We went camping earlier this year and I woke at 4am, walked out into the neighbouring field, lay down in the dew-soaked grass and immersed myself in the quiet of the world. It wasn’t silent – there was a river gushing past a few feet from where I lay, I could hear rabbits scurrying in the grass, bees humming lazily overhead, the birds greeting the day ecstatically – but the noise had nothing to do with me. I did not have to pay attention to it or be wary of it or interact with it. It was not my noise, the only noise that belonged to me was my heart beating in my chest, my breath coming out of my mouth in quiet clouds, a quiet scraping as I scratched my cheek. It was the most peaceful I have felt in over a year.
|Your friendly neighbourhood bookseller. Able to display two books at once. In different languages.|
So, did I write my novel about the last woman left alive on earth just so I could write about the lack of man-made noise once humanity was gone? No. But, did I relish those moments where she appreciated the silence? Did I envy her that treat? Yes – I did. I would never want to be her, never want to be without the joy of hearing my children sing, the delight of listening to my husband laugh, the babble of chatter when my family is together, but don’t we all crave quiet sometimes? That moment when the world falls away and the only person that matters is us? Yes, we do. And the lesson that writing "Överlevaren", and the past year, has taught me is that we must carve that space out for ourselves, that small moment of peace and reflection. Our lives might be noisy and busy and overwhelming but there is always somewhere for us to find that solitude, somewhere that is for us, alone.
// Bethany Clift, Milton Keynes, England. December 2021