Thursday, 19 April 2018

BLOG TOUR | 'Songs by Dead Girls' by Lesley Kelly | SPANISH FLU - LESSONS FOR TODAY

Hey guys, and happy Thursday! Today I am excited to be sharing with you a brilliant guest post, to celebrate the release of a striking new thriller by Lesley Kelly - Songs by Dead Girls. This story centres around a deadly Virus, a missing academic with a head full of state secrets, a prostitute on the run, and a drug baron who needs a favour.

Set against these are Mona, Bernard and their colleagues at the North Edinburgh Health Enforcement Team. The HET aren’t particularly popular. Their day job is to contain the deadly virus. Young people are the main victims (just as they were in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic). Normally they’d be handing out and partying – now they are forced to undergo health checks and can only travel or buy food with the right documentation.  Many are bristling at the increased state control, and Mona, Bernard and the HET have a job to keep up. So when Scotland’s leading Virologist goes missing all hell could break loose…

Sound intriguing? Check out the blurb here...

When Scotland's leading virologist goes missing, Mona and Paterson from the Health Enforcement Team are dispatched to London to find him. In a hot and unwelcoming city, Mona has to deal with a boss who isn't speaking to her, placate the Professor's over-bearing assistant, and outwit the people who will stop at nothing to make sure the academic stays lost. Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh, Bernard is searching for a missing prostitute, while Maitland is trying to keep the Chair of the Parliamentary Virus Committee from finding out quite how untidy the HET office is.

I cannot wait to dive straight into this (as soon as my dissertation is over!), but in the meantime, get your teeth into this wonderful guest post written by the author herself, all about the Spanish flu outbreak back in 1918, and how it influenced the writing of this brilliant book.

Exactly 100 years ago, in 1918, Great Britain and Ireland saw the deaths of nearly a quarter of a million people.  These fatalities were not, as you might assume from the date, related to the end of World War One.  Rather, these deaths resulted from one of the biggest outbreaks of illness of all time – Spanish flu.
Spanish flu is often referred to as the ‘forgotten pandemic.’  Coming hard on the heels of the War, there wasn’t the horrified response that you might have expected.  Instead, people ‘kept calm and carried on,’ and over the years the level of deaths has been largely overlooked.  

In my Health of Strangers series, I knew that I wanted to set the crimes in the novels against the background of a killer virus.  I wanted a situation where people would feel vulnerable, and would be at risk of exploitation by charlatans offering false hope of a cure or a preventative solution.  

I wondered if a pandemic on the scale of Spanish flu occurred today, how would people react?  And how would the government?  In my imaginary world, the Powers That Be react by insisting that the entire population is tested for the Virus on a monthly basis.  A new agency – the Health Enforcement Team – is established to track down people who miss their test. The HETs are a mixture of seconded staff from the Police and the Health Service, who each bring their own organisational culture and viewpoints with them.  
I wanted the virus in my books to be realistic, not one that laid waste to society in a Hollywood manner. The more I found out about Spanish flu, the more I realised it perfectly fitted the bill.  An estimated 10% to 20% of those who were infected with the Spanish flu strain of influenza – H1N1 – died.  Enough to make it a terrifying prospect, but by no means an automatic death sentence.

In addition, H1NI came in several waves.  The first wave was relatively mild, no worse than the average seasonal flu.  However, it gave survivors immunity to the virus.  When the second, much deadlier, wave of flu hit a few months later they were unaffected.  
All the HET staff have been recruited because they are immune, mostly having had the earlier, milder flu.  This sets them a little bit apart from mainstream society, and they react in different ways, some feeling ‘survivors’ guilt,’ and others feeling they have won some kind of life lottery.  And, of course, their friends and family are not all immune.  One of the younger members of the team, Maitland, struggles to accept his non-immune girlfriend’s sudden interest in religion.

With most outbreaks of influenza, the people most at risk of dying are the very young and the very old.  Pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are also usually at risk.  But what made Spanish flu so particularly scary, was that it also killed the young and healthy.

The virus caused a huge overreaction of the body's immune system, sometimes referred to as a ‘cytokine storm.’  The stronger immune systems of young adults were ravaged by the virus, making them more likely to die; how terrifying a thought for parents and teenagers alike.  And the HET staff are just as terrified – of the two parents on the team, Bernard has already lost a baby to the Virus, and Carole’s teenage son is hospitalised.

All in all, it’s a scary world I have created, all the more horrifying for being based on real life events.  My favourite bit of feedback on The Health of Strangers came from a colleague, who said that after reading the book she’d gone out and had her flu jab.

Consider getting yours.

Thank you so much, Lesley, for appearing on my blog!

Make sure you guys check out the spots on the rest of the tour <3

Buy Songs by Dead Girls here:

Check out Lesley Kelly here:

Until next time :)

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