Seven Letters is my 14th novel and possibly the most moving. The book was originally inspired by a court case I read about a few years ago. The story of that woman stayed with me. I wondered at the time, what would you do if….
The case was about a pregnant woman who collapsed and was declared brain dead. Her family then had to decide what to do. To keep her alive as a human incubator on the very tiny chance that the baby would survive, or to let her die with dignity before her body began to decompose.
The case stayed with me for about four years until I finally felt ready to write a story around that theme. What would you do if…
In Seven Letters, when Sarah (who is almost four months pregnant) collapses and is declared brain dead, her family becomes divided over what to do. Her husband wants to keep her alive, but her sister and father want to let her go. Sarah’s young daughter, Izzy, thinks ‘Mummy’s sleeping’ and the family struggles to explain to her what they can barely understand themselves.
The main part of the story takes place over a tight three-week timeline. I liked the idea of writing about the immediate reactions, the time pressure, the clock ticking, the doctors needing answers….it adds tension to the story.
I did a huge amount of research into the condition and read about similar cases around the world. Some with good outcomes, some not so good. In each case either the family was divided, or the medical team and family were divided over the best way to handle the situation.
It’s such an emotive topic and no one knows how they would act until they are thrown into the situation.
I had help from my cousin who worked in a trauma centre for a year and he was able to fine tune the intricate details of treatment. I also read court papers from a similar case and used the information from the medical testimonies and expert witnesses to make the book as true to life as possible.
Although I write fiction, I believe passionately that research and details are so important, particularly if you are writing about medical issues.
But the book is not only about this central issue. It’s also about family. It’s about how families don’t always like the people their siblings marry or go out with. It’s about a widowed father who has a new partner his daughters don’t like. It’s about how that makes them feel he has somehow betrayed their mother.
It’s also about Mia being the older sister to Sarah. How she always looked out for Sarah and tried to protect her but now she can do nothing. Her sister is dead and all Mia can do is try to support everyone in the family even though they all disagree on whether Sarah should be kept alive by machines or not.
Mia also has to deal with her husband Johnny having been made redundant in his forties. I wanted to explore how difficult it is to try to motivate yourself to get back out and network and try to get a new job. I wanted to explore how a husband losing his job can affect the family. How the pressure of being the sole breadwinner can weigh heavily on a mother’s shoulders. When one partner loses their job, the dynamic in the relationship changes.
I also wanted to explore parenting a teenager. How our funny, chatty, sweet children turn into monosyllabic, awkward, gangly mini-adults. The pain of feeling that we have lost our connection with them. Missing the cuddles and conversations. Yearning to hug them, but knowing they’ll push you away. Trying desperately to connect with them but failing.
And on the flip side we have Riley, who is almost sixteen and one of my favourite characters. She is a teenager dealing with a broken heart and trying in her own awkward way to be nice to her mother but doing and saying all the wrong things. I wanted to show how difficult it is for teens to get it right, and how, despite what parents may think, they are trying.
And then there is beautiful Izzy, an innocent seven-year-old who doesn’t understand why her mother is sleeping all the time. Izzy just wants life to go back to normal. Her seven-year-old eyes watch as her family falls apart, argues and pulls away from each other. She is devastated, she can’t comprehend what’s going on. Everyone is trying to protect her but from what? She knows something is going on and she struggles to understand what? Her Communion Day is coming up and she knows for a fact that her Mummy will wake up an be there for her. Nothing could stop that – could it?
Seven Letters was, at times, difficult to write but I am really happy with how it turned out. It’s a story about life, family, joy, tragedy, love and letting go.
I really hope readers enjoy it and embrace the characters and wonder to themselves, what would I do if….
(c) Sinéad Moriarty
About Seven Letters:
Sarah loves being a mother – it defines her.
Every year she writes a birthday letter of love to her adored daughter, Izzy, now seven. And after she falls pregnant, she promises Izzy that the arrival of a baby brother will make their family complete. So when she collapses a few months later, the safe happy life Izzy knows is shattered.
With Sarah’s future, and the future of her pregnancy, in their hands, her husband and sister disagree fiercely about her treatment. The once close family starts to fall apart.
The clock is ticking, and the doctors need a decision. Can those who love Sarah get beyond the fog of grief and anger to figure out what’s for the best? Can they ever forgive each other for the decisions they make?
Will Izzy lose everything she knows and loves?
‘It’s great! Thought-provoking, gripping and moving’ Marian Keyes
‘What a devastating, gorgeous read’ Emily Hourican
‘I need a therapy session after reading Seven Letters – I’m an emotional wreck!’ Margaret Madden, Bleach House Library
Order your copy online here.