Christina Sweeney-Baird - THE END OF MEN

Christina Sweeney-Baird - THE END OF MEN

Christina and I discuss her debut novel The End of Men, publishing a book about a pandemic during the current pandemic, how the pandemic in the book is reverse engineered for her purposes, writing speculative fiction, what happens when there is a huge gender imbalance, and much more.

Christina and I discuss her debut novel The End of Men, publishing a book about a pandemic during the current pandemic, how the pandemic in the book is reverse engineered for her purposes, writing speculative fiction, what happens when there is a huge gender imbalance, and much more.

Christina’s recommended reads are:

  1. The Push by Ashley Audrain
  2. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
  3. Severance by Ling Ma

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If you enjoy reading fiction and want to listen to more episodes, try Sanjena Sathian, Hala Alyan, Te-Ping Chen, Kim Neville, and Mateo Askaripour.

The End of Men can be purchased at the Conversations from a Page Bookshop storefront.    



book, pandemic, people, read, character, world, virus, men, thought, speculative fiction, write, draft, enjoyed, story, interesting, ship, bit, feel, question, fiction


Cindy Burnett, Christina Sweeney-Baird


Cindy Burnett  00:05

This is the Thoughts from a Page Podcast which is now a member of the Evergreen Podcasts Network. My name is Cindy Burnett, and each episode I interview authors about their latest works. For more book recommendations check out either my earlier episodes or my website and follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thoughtsfromapage. Today I am interviewing Christina Sweeney-Baird. Christina was born in 1993 and grew up in North London and Glasgow. She studied law at the University of Cambridge and graduated with a First in 2015. She works as a corporate litigation lawyer in London. The End of Men is her first novel. I hope you enjoy our conversation. Welcome, Christina. How are you today?


Christina Sweeney-Baird  00:47

I'm very well thank you. How are you doing?


Cindy Burnett  00:50

I am also very well, and I just am so excited to speak with you about your book because it was truly one of the most thought-provoking books that I have read in a long while, especially in light of just living the last year with the coronavirus pandemic.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  01:03

I'm so glad that you enjoyed it. It is I know such odd timing to have, you know, a book about a pandemic that I wrote long before coronavirus kind of was ever something that you knew about being released now. But I'm so glad that you've enjoyed it.


Cindy Burnett  01:16

Well, that's one of the things I want to talk about in a little bit was what it was like to have your book about a pandemic coming out in the midst of this pandemic. But first, let's just talk a little bit about your book. I usually ask authors to give just kind of a brief synopsis so people that haven't read it yet would have a general idea what it's about. So why don't you just tell me a little bit about The End of Men.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  01:35

So The End of Men is a speculative fiction novel, and it is set between 2025 and 2031. And in it, there is a virus to which women are immune, that quickly wipes out 90% of the male population. So it's told in a multi-character style with first person narration, and you follow a number of different characters, both women and men. And you see in the short term, how they kind of try and keep their families and friends safe, and they deal with loss in this world that is changing in a very scary way. And then the medium to long term, you kind of see more of the societal changes that I think would happen if there was suddenly a big gender imbalance between men and women. So you follow people like Dr. Amanda Maclean, who is an A & E doctor in Glasgow, who kind of treats Patient Zero and raises the alarm. Catherine, who's an anthropologist in London with a husband and young son, and Toby who is stuck on a ship with several 100 other people and the ship can't go back to shore, because if they do, the men will probably catch the virus and die. So through these range of characters, I think you really see from lots of different perspectives and different countries and people in different circumstances, how the world would change if 90% of the world's men died.


Cindy Burnett  02:41

The entire time I was reading your book, Christina, I was dying to know how you came up with this premise.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  02:47

So I actually remember so clearly, like where I was when I had the idea. I was at the library that I go to most often. And I had very recently read The Power by Naomi Alderman, which I think like a lot of people, kind of was one of those books that really blew my mind. And it was such a good idea. And I remember thinking ok so that's what happens if women become physically more powerful than men do. But like, what would the world look like without men. If you removed men very quickly from the world in the way that we have structurally built it, like what would happen. And I had also read World War Z by Max Brooks, when I was in my kind of early 20s. And I remember that books really well, kind of, I didn't actually read a lot of Sci-Fi at the time, but I loved the multi character generation of World War Z. And I feel like my brain quite quickly combined the multicharacter kind of narration of World War Z, and the gender speculative element of The Power. And I mean, that question really is the central tenet of the book. You know, what would the world look like without men? And as soon as I had the idea, I thought, I need to write that. I had that very quick idea of I don't think I've read a book like this. I really want to read that book. I think I need to write this. And then I did.


Cindy Burnett  03:50

Well, it definitely does make you think, and it is a fascinating premise. And I was kind of wondering, as I was reading, too, I wonder how the COVID pandemic will influence readers as they read your book. Have you thought about that?


Christina Sweeney-Baird  04:02

I have. And it's, you know, it's been so interesting in terms of the timing. The book went out on submission to publishers in January 2020. And I have a few emails between my agent and I were we were starting to go, I wonder if this is going to affect things, you know, what we're hearing about this, this virus in China. How odd. And then obviously, you know, so soon after that the world really changed. And I think that there's two things, I think one is that for some people, there is a real interest in pandemic, just anything about pandemics that maybe there isn't, you know, see kind of the way the contagion like shot up the iTunes charts. And I think that some people will seek out pandemic fiction just because it's more interesting to them. But I think also there's a different element that emotionally we're all processing this completely bizarre and unexpected thing that has changed the world. And so I think that inevitably, a lot of people's context for reading the book and how it will make them emotionally feel will be quite different. And one of the things that has been really unexpected, but wonderful for me is that some early readers, including a wonderful journalist in UK called Bryony Gordon have said that the book really made them feel a lot better about the world we're living in. And I have thought about that a lot. And why I think that is and I think it's because with COVID, we're still living through it. And so we don't have that resolution that you get, you know, in a thriller, or a book where it finishes, and all the endings get tied up nicely at the end. And I think that's what the book provides. It provides this kind of alternative universe where there is this very scary pandemic that is, you know, much worse in many ways in COVID, in that you're 90% of the world's men die, but you then get resolution of a kind at the end. And I think that that can be quite helpful for people.


Cindy Burnett  05:33

Those are both very interesting thoughts. And I thought a lot about the second one, not so much the first. But the other thing I wondered, was if some people will focus more on the pandemic aspects of it, and less on the male/female aspects of it. What do you think?


Christina Sweeney-Baird  05:47

I think so inevitably, and at the same time, to me, what is more interesting about it is the kind of the gender aspect of it. So I suppose it just depends on you know, what people are intrigued by. Certainly, I think, in terms of what I hear from readers, often they've picked it up more for the, for the kind of the gender aspect of it, you know, the question what the world looked like without men. And really, that's why I wrote it. You know, in in many ways, the fact that there is a pandemic in the novel is reverse engineered for me as a writer, because I needed a believable way for you know, they do that the world's meant to disappear. So I could then kind of explore the thought experiment in a way that I wanted to, and I like to write what I would call hyper-realistic speculative fiction. I don't think it's super dystopian, you know, I don't write fiction where, you know, people suddenly turn on each other. And it all becomes very Handmaid's Tale, which to be clear is one of my favorite books, or you know, and I don't write it's not a super utopian society, where suddenly everything's better. I think it's quite a realistic representation of what would happen. So yeah, I wanted it to be a believable way in which 90% of the world's men died. And so it couldn't just be that they kind of, you know, someone clicked their fingers, and they disappeared. So it does feel quite ironic to me, actually, that the pandemic, in some ways for the writing was secondary. And yet, obviously, now that we're living in a pandemic, it's it's such a core part of the narrative around the book.


Cindy Burnett  07:03

Well, I guess that was exactly what I was trying to ask. That you started with the premise of men disappearing, they couldn't be beamed up by spaceships or whatever, you know, you wanted something that could actually happen. And so you came up with the pandemic, and then we're all living through this pandemic. So that kind of would, I think, become the focus of the story for some people. I mean, for me, I was completely intrigued with those aspects of it, like the vaccine production and what it was like for people dealing with this the way things shut down, the time it took for some of them to open back up. I mean, those things are so interesting to me. And I was also wondering if, as you were watching the world unfold after you had written the book, and I'm assuming were editing it a little bit during all of this, did that change some of your storyline at all? I mean, the way our pandemic unfolded compared to the way yours had originally?


Christina Sweeney-Baird  07:49

I have to admit it didn't really, and I think that's because to me, it's it is its own like separate fictional universe. Also, by the time you're editing, you just don't want to mess around with the kind of DNA of the book. So you know, you want to kind of keep it, I think you want to preserve the book as it is, and just make it a little bit better. So the only thing we did change, which is a bit spooky, is that originally, I had written that the pandemic in the book started with a pangolin. And so I wrote that in, you know, 2018, 2019. And my editor said, we have to change this because people will think you've stolen it from real life. So we did actually change that. If you research pandemics, basically, you know, epidemiologists and public health experts will be saying for a long time that the most likely animal to cause a pandemic was going to be a pangolin, because they're the world's most trafficked animal. But so we changed that. But really nothing else shifted. Because yeah, I did that. To be honest, a lot of that a lot of the stuff in the book was accurate, but I didn't really want to compare it to real life. To me, it is its own separate, you know, universe. So yeah, we kept it, to be honest, we kept it the same. And I have found it quite interesting actually reading, for example, on NetGalley, some of the advanced reviews, some people very confidently said, Well, she's clearly changed this in response to the pandemic. And I thought, nope, I just imagined that. So we kept, we kept it pretty similar. And there's no reference to COVID. I did care quite a lot about that actually. I've read one book recently, where someone had clearly edited it and included a mention of COVID, you know, back in March, or April, and I actually found that quite jarring. So there was no mention of COVID in the book.


Cindy Burnett  09:18

I didn't even think about no mention of COVID in the book, but I agree with you. I think it's great to not have it in there. I just thought it was impressive that you were able to come up with some of those things on your own, that have sort of played out in our real world. But we've talked about that a bunch and there's so many other questions I have. So what about the research? Like what kind of research did you do?


Christina Sweeney-Baird  09:36

So I research always as I'm going along. And that's one of the things that I always say to people, if they ask me kind of about writing advice, I always say to to get started and then research as you go along. Because otherwise you can end up in this like endless procrastination of research. But the questions just that came up as I went along, for example, I had to figure out a believable way for the science to function in terms of it being plausible that there would be this you know virus would attack men and not attack women, but that some men be immune. I did a lot of research as I went along into, you know, to how do pandemics start? What's a believable way for a pandemic to start? How do people then respond when we have a pandemic? And a lot of that actually is just imaginative. I mean, I really enjoy the kind of problem solving aspect of speculative fiction. You ask a what if question, and then you keep adding on what i, what if, what if, in more and more specific ways to kind of get to like a logical conclusion. So I really enjoy doing that. And some of that is just imaginative as opposed to research based. But yeah, there were random things, I needed to research things like, you know, what would the what would the population of a city that started as x, you know, once you didn't have 90% of its men anymore? What would it be after that, that kind of thing I had to research as I went along.


Cindy Burnett  10:42

Well, and I guess it's pretty much world building, what you're doing, it's not world building, in terms of creating different type of species or planet, but you are looking forward and having to build a world around the idea of what if, like, you just said.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  10:55

Completely, and I do really think about it as world building. That's the best way to put it, I think. I always think of, you know, in fact, I read a lot of fantasy, and that, you know, fantasy world building, I think it started from the ground up and you have like base principles of how magic works or what your geography is, or what historical period you're imagining, and then you build up from that. Whereas with speculative fiction, I think it's the other way around. I think you have your world as is. So for example, I.m at, you know, 2025, kind of roughly representing 2020, as it was, or 2019 as it was, and then you like, overlay, your what if question over the top of that, and try and kind of meld the two as well as possible. That's how I imagine it anyway, when I'm thinking about it.


Cindy Burnett  11:32

How did you choose the fall of 2025 to start with? I was kind of curious about that, as I was reading,


Christina Sweeney-Baird  11:38

I have to admit, that's one of the things that is relatively random. I wanted it to be close enough to current times that it felt really scary and believable, you know. I didn't want it to feel too distant so that it felt close for readers now, but we wanted it to be, and I say we because that started, I think I originally had 2023. And then my agent, and I thought actually, let's, let's start a little bit later, because you know, by the time the book, by the time we sell the book, and then the book comes out, that will be quite close. So we then I think pushed it forward to 2027. And then finally settled on 2025. I just I wanted it to be close to now. So that, you know, I wasn't really imagining a futuristic world. It was, you know, what would happen if the virus in the book kind of affected us roughly now.


Cindy Burnett  12:20

You had a couple of small changes, like Scotland being independent, and the United States having 52 states. Were those just kind of thrown in to show that the world is constantly changing? Or was there a specific reason for including those?


Christina Sweeney-Baird  12:34

Um, a bit of both. I do, one of the things I like most about speculative fiction is that you can just like, you know, do these imaginative changes. That is quite fun. And it can just be a throwaway thing, but I've quite enjoyed putting them in almost like an Easter egg. But also, I do think that it, you know, to me, at least if the world was in such enormous flux, as it would be with, you know, the virus, the plague in the book, I think it makes sense that there would be some fairly hefty geopolitical changes. And those are kind of one of the things as well as that I so I grew up in Scotland. And, you know, to me, it is I think it helps for example, with some of the Scottish characters, the idea of them then coming up against, I suppose more difficult structures. Because, you know, if a country becomes independent, suddenly everything changes. So for example, the character Amanda Maclean is dealing with, like, you know, Public Health Scotland, and like, how would that institution change if it was independent, for example. I love, I love those kind of small changes.


Cindy Burnett  13:27

Well, I liked that about Scotland, because it did put Scotland in a different position. And so they were no longer working within the UK, but instead, were sort of opposed to the UK, so it did make her job more difficult.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  13:37

Exactly. Poor Amanda, she's got a difficult enough job.


Cindy Burnett  13:41

That was one of my questions for you - which character you enjoyed writing the most, and which character you enjoyed writing the least?


Christina Sweeney-Baird  13:47

So I enjoyed writing the most a character called Dr. Lisa Michael, who is a Toronto biologist who tries to discover a vaccine. People respond to her quite strongly. And she just to be clear, she's not my favorite person, like as a character of the book. But her voice was just so clear, like it was one of those characters where she just wrote herself, like, I would write her sections incredibly quickly. And it just felt like, you know, it was like tapping into a, I don't know, like some kind of key where I just understood exactly what she would do and say and think. And then I think my least favorite character to write was probably Elizabeth actually. Elizabeth is a character who moves kind of right at the beginning of the pandemic, from the US to the UK. And I think trying to make sure that she felt distinct was kind of something that was quite important to me. And so she's probably the person who, the character (I always refer to them as people) the character who I think went through the most editing. So it's not that I didn't like writing her but definitely tapping into a clear voice for her I think was more difficult than for the others.


Cindy Burnett  14:48

Being able to actually bring her alive on the page.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  14:52

Exactly. And one of the things about her is that she, she's not necessarily anxious, but I think she's someone who's really desperate to please like she really wants to do a good job. She cares very deeply about that. And I think making sure that characters have agency is something that's so important. You know, there's nothing worse than a character who seems to be just kind of floating along, you know, buffeted by the actions of other people. And so what made it easy was once we tapped into the fact that it was like, well, you know, this is a woman who is incredibly highly educated and hardworking, and has moved to a different continent in the middle of a pandemic, and is really determined to to make changes and help people. And once I think I tapped into that it was a bit easier. And actually, now, I think now her sections are some of my favorite in the book. And I like to conclude people's stories in a way that feels like I've done them justice, and I'm very happy with the arc that she has over the course of the book.


Cindy Burnett  15:40

That's so interesting that you say that, because as you were talking about how hard she was to write for you, I was thinking, I think she's really one of my favorite characters. And I love the way her story ended. So there you go.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  15:51

I'm glad it paid off.


Cindy Burnett  15:53

So format - you chose a different format. It's obviously in first person, but you use blog entries, emails, journal entries, tell me about that.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  16:02

Yeah, so it's funny, because the first draft that I did, the draft that got me signed by my agent was much more, you know, just had the kind of one style. It was told much more like an interview style, quite clearly inspired by World War Z. And then in the course of a really big rewrite that I did with my agent in the autumn of 2019, we really kind of wanted to break it apart a bit and kind of break the story open. And you know, when you have something as enormous as this virus that has spread through the entire world, and killed so many people, it really does, there are so many different stories that you can tell. And I think it's really helpful to have journal entries from some people who, for example, are stranded on a ship, and then different articles that were you know, obviously, newspapers would be able to talk about very different tales. And I think it really just provides different shades as you're going through the story. And it means hopefully, that the story never feels monochrome. And I have to say it did make it so much easier in the rewrite process going okay, I can tell this person's story or this perspective, and I don't have to necessarily restrict myself, you know, to them, just like talking in first person, it can maybe be a different format. And so hopefully, it really makes the book, I would hope quite feel quite page turning. I really wanted it to feel like you want to see the next thing. But I think the format changes help that.


Cindy Burnett  17:13

My favorite, I think, was Toby's storyline. I just thought that was very creative coming up with him on a ship off the coast of Iceland and what that would be like, I mean, grim as it was.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  17:22

Oh, thank you so much. He's one of my, he's one of my favorites. And his, his wife, Frances, I think is also kind of one of my, she's quite a small character, but one of my favorites. And that's and that's an interesting one, also in terms of how the first draft then hugely transformed in the course of the rewrite. Because originally, I had a perspective, a kind of POV, that was the captain of the ship. And so there was this interesting concept of you know, that the ship being stranded and they're safe on the ship from the virus, but obviously, you know, they are was miles offshore. But then it was so much more interesting actually, to be in the mind of someone on the ship, who was kind of really experiencing the fear of, you know, hoping for the best as opposed to necessarily being the captain of the ship. And I'm really glad I think there, Toby, I think the Toby sections work, I'm very pleased with them.


Cindy Burnett  18:06

Well, and they had no contact with the outside world after a while. It's sort of hard to imagine that.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  18:12

It is. And I think his, his tone is quite chipper. You know, I think that Toby is one of those characters where, as you say there is that they're actually going through this incredibly traumatic thing. Like are we going to like starve to death on this ship in the middle of nowhere away from our families. Like that's horrifying. And yet, I think that his sections are actually quite hopeful. I kind of imagine him writing these journals, and hoping that if anyone you know that they do get found one day or that if someone does find them that you know the journals will go to his wife and that she'll kind of know I suppose that he was, he was bearing up. And I think he's actually quite an optimistic person, despite the difficulty of what he's going through.


Cindy Burnett  18:48

And he has a great sense of humor.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  18:50

He does indeed; he's very, he misses food. I think enormously. You can tell as the journals go on, he gets hungrier and hungrier.


Cindy Burnett  18:56

And I just like those parts about his wife. I mean, I don't want to spoil anything. And this may be a spoiler question so you'll have to think about how you answer it. But there were so many creative aspects of the story, as you're trying to think through what is it like when you lose 90% of the world's men. What was the hardest about that? I mean, you really have to think through so many different aspects of life.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  19:17

I have to admit that none of that feels too difficult insofar as that is really you know, that is why I love writing speculative fiction is that one of the more difficult things was actually cutting it down. Because there is so much to tell that the first draft I did was essentially a world-building draft. So every perspective only kind of stuck around once. So it was about 40 perspectives in the first draft. And then the book is significantly kind of winnowed down to really five or six key characters who come back again and again. So the issue in some ways was really cutting the world building down so that you really have these emotionally engaging characters that you're following, but still managing to add in all these kind of interesting Easter eggs and tidbits and factual scenarios in a way that doesn't just feel like the information is being kind of thrown at you. I think the most difficult thing in terms of practically getting it right was making sure that the science made sense. You know, you cannot just imagine your way through that. So I did spend quite a lot of time reading, like virology articles. And as someone who's like studied law at university and does not have a scientific background, that was definitely the most difficult aspect. But the world building itself is, frankly, just enormous fun for me anyway.


Cindy Burnett  20:22

Well, I guess there's just so many different things to contemplate, like I obviously thought through jobs. So you've got some jobs that are very male oriented, like garbage men and electricians, plumbers. So those whole fields are probably wiped out, and you're having to train people as you discuss in your book. But there were a lot of other things that I hadn't thought as much about, things like the lack of coffee, or different types of food or tobacco, things like that disappearing. And that was fascinating. And it really made me think.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  20:50

Yeah, and I think that's it. That is one of those things that if you just sit and write on a piece of paper, imagine what would change in the world, you don't necessarily come up with that. But it's more I found anyway for the way that I worked that as you wrote about characters and thought about it's like, right, there's this thing happened five years ago. So you know, global trade has been interrupted, for example, for this amount of time. And you think about a character and I what I do, I wake up the morning, I go and put the kettle on, and I make a cup of green tea, you think well, where does that come from? You know, then you think right? And then I'm going to have this cereal for breakfast with milk you think where's milk come from? And how does the cereal get made? And what goes into the cereal box and the plastic inside it? So when you actually start writing these characters lives, the things that come up, you think, oh, actually hang on. How would they get that? Where does that come from? Why would that be there or not be there? And you do end up with these really small details that are actually quite big in our lives. But that would be impacted.


Cindy Burnett  21:43

When we saw a little bit of that play out this last year with the toilet paper shortages. And then like there were certain cereals we couldn't get for months on end. So it is interesting, if it truly was disrupted as much as it would be in your book, those would be clear problems.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  21:57

Exactly. And yeah, there's just no way that the world would kind of carry on, I think, really as it was. And it's interesting, because as I say, I don't think it's a super dystopian that I think the characters are, by and large, doing their best in incredibly challenging circumstances. And I think, you know, most of the governments, for example, in the book really do try and keep society functioning and going as well as they can. But yeah, there was just a level of disruption, that would mean that things just couldn't continue, as they had before.


Cindy Burnett  22:24

Well, uncertainly, that is where you think about the difference in women and men, and I think you portrayed this well, is when more women are coming into power, things are going to operate differently.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  22:35

For sure. And that's something where so one of the characters is a civil servant, she's called Dawn. She's actually also I think, one of my favorite characters. She's got this quite wry tone. She's very no nonsense. She's exactly who you want in charge. I kind of wanted to transport her into my own life. I think it'd be like, can you just run everything, Dawn? So you know, she kind of thinks about this in terms of, suddenly you remove all of that the, 90% of the men, you know, who gets, who is kind of left? And it's not necessarily the most competent people, you know. It's just this random cross section. Basically, if 10% of the men are left, and then, you know, women end up kind of filling in the gaps. But yeah, it's it's one of those things where I could have easily written another 50,000 words, exploring how I imagined lots of different societies and cultures, you know, responding to it. But you know, I had to obviously limit it. The book, I would hope feels like quite a tight 400 pages. But it is something that comes up, especially with some of the more, you know, international aspects of it.


Cindy Burnett  23:28

I don't think I ever once as I was reading, thought this should have been edited down. I had to really focus because there's so much detail in a good way. I mean, the story is fabulous. It is thought provoking, and you really have to focus to kind of, you know, make sure I wasn't missing anything, but it definitely is a page turner.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  23:44

Thank you. I'm so thrilled that we, when I say we I have my agent is absolutely wonderful and a genius editor. And then I had my two US editors, a Canadian editor, my UK editor. And so having all these different minds really going through the book, and in this very, you know, appraising way is so helpful. And we really focused on going, you know, does this section have to be in here? Is the section really doing everything it possibly can? So, yeah, Unless, unless a section or chapter was really pulling its weight, it got cut.


Cindy Burnett  24:14

It was booted. Are you working anything at the present that you would like to share with me?


Christina Sweeney-Baird  24:18

I am, so I'm working on my next speculative fiction novel. So I'm deeply into my second draft now. I tend to go through I feel like my process is quite chaotic, but we get there in the end. So my agent and I go through several drafts together, where we kind of really rewrite and rewrite and rewrite the book till we feel like it's really good world building and that the characters are strong and the story is strong. So I'm mean literally, I think my draft right now is about 105,000 words. So I'm very near the end of my second draft of that. So yeah, that's, that's what I'm currently working on. And then I'm going to work on, I wrote a YA novel a few drafts of that last year. So I'm then hoping to move on to that once my second speculative is done.


Cindy Burnett  24:55

That's interesting. What made you want to tackle YA?


Christina Sweeney-Baird  24:58

So I love YA fiction. I'm kind of a long time YA reader despite being 28, and that is a hill I will die on that young adult fiction is you can read it, even once you're not a young adult anymore. And I just had an idea, I had an idea that I wanted to explore. And I'm being very vague, because I don't like to talk about books my books properly until they're done. I'm a bit superstitious about it. But I have an idea. And I kind of had this character that was very clear in my head. And it was also really lovely, between editing The End of Men, and then kind of working on another speculative fiction novel to work on something a bit different. I kind of think of it as a bit like sorbet, it kind of cleanses your palate.


Cindy Burnett  25:34

That's what I was just going to say, cleanse your palate. Well, I think YA, I mean that, that genre has blossomed in recent years and all sorts of people who are not young adults anymore read it. So I definitely think you're right that all ages are reading YA.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  25:48

Exactly. And I always say that the best YA should be obviously accessible to teenagers and young adults, and should really address their concerns and their lives through protagonists who are themselves teenagers and young adults. But it should always be complex and interesting enough that adults can also read it and you know, find it fascinating and gripping. And I think that the Hunger Games, for example, is a really good example of a dystopia that I think does that brilliantly.


Cindy Burnett  26:10

I love that series. Before we wrap up, I would love to hear what you have read recently that you really liked.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  26:16

So one book that I read recently is The Push by Ashley Audrain. And I was very lucky to get an advanced reader copy. And I didn't know a huge amount about it. I try not to know too much about a plot before I start reading something. And it's such a cliche, but I truly could not put it down. And it's told in this second person narrative, which I don't think is used very often. But it's done brilliantly and feels kind of very haunting, I feel like I really can remember the character very well. And it's, it's kind of got shades of We Need to Talk about Kevin. But it's also this perfectly tautly-written thriller. And I kind of can't say too much about it without spoiling it, especially because right from the first page, there's kind of things being revealed to you. But I loved that. And I thought that was really great book if you enjoy, especially a psychological thriller. And I also read recently, The Invisible Life of Addie Larue, which is a piece of kind of, I think more like magical realism as opposed to high fantasy. And it follows Addie all the way through from 1700s France, to modern-day New York. And I love stories that go through different periods of history. It just feels to me like it's such an imaginative treat to read something like that. And V.E. Schwab who wrote that book is just such a talented writer. So I adored that. And one other that I will give a kind of special mention to is that I also read Severance by Ling Ma. And I was in a bit of a pandemic fiction mood. And I was writing a piece, an essay about pandemic fiction, and I hadn't actually heard of it. And then I read it and found it completely haunting. It has this virus in the book, which basically turns people into kind of automatons almost so it makes you lose your mind. But people can't necessarily tell. So the people who have the virus kind of continue on their like daily tasks, they might like go for a walk and turn up to work, but they can't, they're not really themselves anymore. And that was very creepy and very haunting and original. So those are three novels that I have absolutely adored recently.


Cindy Burnett  28:07

Addie Larue is one of those that I probably had 20 people recommend to me. I haven't read it yet, but everybody raves about it.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  28:14

It really is so good. I have to say that I'm the opposite of a Contrary Mary, I don't if that's a phrase that you have in the States, but I if something's commercial and doing well, I will probably like it. And it was one of the things where I kept, I just yeah, I kept seeing people recommend it. And I thought, Okay, well, okay, I'll buy it. And it was the first book I read this year, and I was a bit worried that it had ruined me for all books ever, because I just adored it so much. So yes, consider me, I'm another voice to kind of add to the pile of people recommending it.


Cindy Burnett  28:42

I always worry about those books that have been out for a while and everybody's raved so much because then my expectations are so high. I literally have not heard of a single person who didn't like it. So I think it's probably one of those I just need to pick up and go in with good expectations and know that I will like it. And I hadn't even heard of Severance until maybe last week and someone else recommended it. And it sounds really good.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  29:04

It's fab, and it's definitely quite literary, which is not, to be clear, criticism. More that I couldn't really get a handle on what it, what the style of it. You know, when you read the blurb you'll see kind of know practically it's going to be about, you know, a virus. This is what virus does. But the style is is very thoughtful and very interesting. And it's quite short as well. I think there's a lot to be said for you know, a book that really tells its story in the most economical way possible. And I think it's only about 250 pages. Very interesting. Very haunting, really creeped me out.


Cindy Burnett  29:35

Well, I need to add that one to my list. I've thoroughly enjoyed speaking with you today, Christina and I'm so glad you came on the Thoughts from a Page Podcast. I really appreciate your time.


Christina Sweeney-Baird  29:44

Thank you so much for having me. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you.


Cindy Burnett  29:50

Thank you so much for listening to my podcast. If you like this episode, and I hope you did, please follow me on Instagram @thoughtsfromapage, tell all of your friends about the podcast, and rate it or subscribe to it wherever you listen to your podcasts. I would really appreciate it. If you enjoy listening to this podcast, I have another podcast that I think you will enjoy as well. In the Best of Women's Fiction, author Lainey Cameron talks to bestselling fiction authors about where they found their story inspiration. I love that she asks authors not only what they have read and loved, but also what is on their upcoming TBR. I find so many great new books that way. Best of Women's Fiction Podcast can be found on all major platforms. And I interviewed Lainey in the fall, so check out her episode as well. The End of Men can be purchased at the Conversations from a Page Bookshop storefront, and the link is in the show notes. I hope you'll tune in next time.