Published by Pan Macmillan
Available in Ebook, Hardback, Audiobook and Paperback (17 October 2019)
My thanks to Kelly of Love Books Tours for the invite to take part in the tour for Mother and Child and to Annie for providing the guest post. Proceeds from Mother and Child will go to the Bhopal Medical Appeal – Annie will tell you more about that in this post.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Mother and Child by Sunday Times bestseller Annie Murray is a moving story of loss, friendship and hope over two generations.
Jo and Ian’s marriage is hanging by a thread. One night almost two years ago, their only child, Paul, died in an accident that should never have happened. They have recently moved to a new area of Birmingham, to be near Ian’s mother Dorrie who is increasingly frail. As Jo spends more time with her mother-in-law, she suspects Dorrie wants to unburden herself of a secret that has cast a long shadow over her family.
Haunted by the death of her son, Jo catches a glimpse of a young boy in a magazine who resembles Paul. Reading the article, she learns of a tragedy in India . . . But it moves her so deeply, she is inspired to embark on a trip where she will learn about unimaginable pain and suffering.
As Jo learns more, she is determined to do her own small bit to help. With the help of new friends, Jo learns that from loss and grief, there is hope and healing in her future.
From Birmingham to Bhopal – how did that happen?
by Annie Murray
It sounds like a tall order – a book about Birmingham that’s also about Bhopal – where? What?
I’ve been a fundraiser for the Bhopal Medical Appeal (BMA) for more than 10 years now and this has involved a lot of running about. Literally. I did the sponsored 10k charity run in London for the BMA five times. Believe me, I am not a gifted runner and doing this, for me, meant a lot of dashing about for most of the year just to be able to make it through. It gets tiring!
So, I wondered, what else might I do? Lightbulb moment – I’ll see if my publisher, Pan Macmillan, would be up for me writing a book extra to my other ones, with all the money, after costs, going to the BMA. In some trepidation I went to see the Head of Fiction, the lovely Jeremy Trevathan, who could not have been nicer. Write us a proposal and yes – they would do it, fitting another book into the already packed publishing schedule. Thank you Pan Macmillan.
My agent, Darley Anderson also very kindly said he would waive the agency fees for this. And I asked for a contract for £1. However, Pan Macmillan offered a lot more, so a really good sized donation has already gone to the Bhopal Medical Appeal even before publication.
So that left me with the next challenge – actually writing the book! I had decided to call it Mother and Child, because when I visited Bhopal in 2018 I spent time with parents of children born with the effects of poison gas and water in the children’s clinic in Bhopal, supported by the BMA and called Chingari. Outside, it is like hanging out in a normal children’s playground, the kids who are able to move playing on little swings and slides. Except that of course, nothing there is ‘normal’ as we call it. This is a place for children with severe disabilities. I have done a lot of hanging about playgrounds in my time and I felt a real bond with those parents and saw a little of the sheer struggle of their lives.
There is also, I discovered after titling the story, a statue called Mother and Child outside the old Union Carbide pesticide plant which caused all this suffering and havoc. The factory building still stands like a rusting ghost over the site and that part of the city. The statue, sculpted by Dutch Holocaust survivor Ruth Waterman-Kupferschmidt, shows a mother with two children. She is trying to flee from the cloud of deadly gas let loose over the city on the night of December 2/3rd 1984 when a chemical tank exploded, killing many thousands of people and leaving many thousands more with terrible mental and physical suffering to this day.
It is in fact not a large step from old Birmingham and conditions of sweated labour and poverty, to the India of today. Many women and children, for example, sit in their houses in India, gluing matchboxes, just as did the mother and grandmother of Dorrie Stefani, one of the characters in the story. Birmingham, known as being our greatest manufacturing city, was no stranger to industrial accidents, especially in times when profit trumped any other consideration (trump seems a good word to use here). It was what happened, in the end, in Bhopal when cuts were made in crucial safety measures to save a few dollars.
And so my story took shape, beginning with Jo, a woman who is grieving a child after a tragic accident and who, because of her growing bond with other women, other mothers of children, will find her life changed in ways she could never have dreamed.
A Word from Annie Murray
Soon after midnight on the morning of December 3rd, 1984, what is still recognized as the world’s worst ever industrial disaster took place in the city of Bhopal in central India.
A plant built to manufacture pesticide, owned by the American Union Carbide Corporation, leaked 40 tons of methyl-isocyanate gas, one of the most lethally toxic gases in the industry, over the surrounding neighbourhood. This was a poor area consisting mainly of slum housing, some of it leaning right up against the factory wall.
People woke, coughing and choking. Panic broke out as many tried to flee for their lives. As they ran, their bodies broke down with toxic poisoning, eyes burning, frothing at the mouth. Women miscarried pregnancies. Many people flung themselves in the river and by dawn, the streets were littered with thousands of bodies. It is estimated that 10,000 died that first night and the death toll continued, within weeks, to a total of about 25 000. Many more have died since. There are still reckoned to be 150 000 chronically ill survivors. Their plight was not helped by the fact that Union Carbide would not release the name of an antidote to a poison that they did not want to admit was as dangerous as it really was.
The plant, making less profit than had been hoped, was being run down for closure and was in poor condition. Not one of the safety systems was working satisfactorily. In addition, the original design of the factory had been ‘Indianized’ – in other words built more cheaply than would be expected of such a plant in a western country.
This was 35 years ago. In 1989, a paltry amount of compensation was eventually paid by Union Carbide who did everything a large corporation can do to evade taking responsibility. Their comment was “$500 is about enough for an Indian.” That was $500 to last for the rest of the life of a man who could no longer work to look after his family.
The sickness and suffering from ‘that night’ goes on in those who survived to this day. What is less well known about Bhopal however, is that even before the 1984 gas leak, the company had been dumping toxic waste in solar evaporation ponds. The lining used was about like you would use in a garden water feature. This in a country of heavy rains and floods. In the early 80s, people started to notice how bad their water supply tasted. Cows were dying.
Union Carbide closed the plant. They never cleared the site, which still stands in an area of highly toxic soil and water. The water supply in that area is so contaminated that water has to be brought in from outside. In 2001 Union Carbide was bought by the Dow Chemical Company, and is, from 2018, now DowDuPont. Despite having acquired all the assets of Union Carbide they are not prepared to accept its liabilities and clear up the site.
In the months after the gas leak in 1984, the nearby Hamidia hospital started to see children born with birth defects more horrific than any they had witnessed before. These days, because of gas- and also water-affected parents, the rate of birth defects is now reaching into a third, soon to be a fourth generation. The main parallel with the kind of extreme toxic effects would be with the children of Agent Orange in Vietnam.
The only free care in this impoverished neighbourhood for people suffering from the effects of gas poisoning, or to help with very severely handicapped children, is from the Bhopal Medical Appeal. It is to them that all the money from Mother and Child is going.
In the book, you can read more about what happened in Bhopal and about how the book itself came to be written.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Annie Murray was born in Berkshire and read English at St John’s College, Oxford. Her first ‘Birmingham’ novel, Birmingham Rose, hit The Times bestseller list when it was published in 1995. She has subsequently written many other successful novels, including The Bells of Bournville Green, sequel to the bestselling Chocolate Girls, and A Hopscotch Summer. Annie has four children and lives near Reading.