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Meet Carrie Cox

 

Carrie CoxCARRIE COX is a journalist and author of a non-fiction book, You Take the High Road and I’ll Take the Bus, and novel, Afternoons with Harvey Beam. Her latest novel, So Many Beats of the Heart, is about love lost, friendships found, and rediscovering yourself.

 

Over the course of the novel, Evie reflects on her past work as a marriage counsellor  were any of these relationships informed by real people and their experiences?

The counselling case studies in the book are certainly based on real people and their experiences, but they are in most cases a conflation of several real stories distilled and merged into one. I’ve been very mindful about people’s privacy and the trust people placed in me. But it wasn’t hard to find stories – when I made it known that I was writing a book about midlife relationships and marriage breakdowns, there began a parade of offerings. I also read many, many online counselling forums and listened to way too many counselling podcasts for my own health.

It was important to me that I not only cover as many different relationship pain points as I could within one novel but also that each case study feels genuine and relatable; that the people seem real, that their pain is real. To have made stories up from nothing, from how I simply imagine a particular situation might be – I don’t think that would have worked. I think people would have seen through that and it would have been morally irresponsible.

So Many Beats of the Heart

What inspired you to explore broken-down marriages amid a global pandemic?

Weirdly, the two things are connected but not in the way you might think – ie that the stress of lockdowns and economic uncertainty forced many marriages to crumble during covid and that’s why I wanted to write about it. In fact my interest (obsession?) with the topic began a couple of years before the pandemic, yet it was the pandemic itself that led me to finally dive in and start writing.

Basically, I was working in a pressure-cooker communications job that became exponentially harder and largely unsustainable after covid hit. I was working 16-hour days, every single day, no weekends, on 24-hour call and just navigating one crisis after another, month after month, and the only way I could see myself making a defensible exit was to say that I was leaving to write the next book. Everyone bought that; everyone was happy for me. No-one said ‘Ah, she just couldn’t hack it’ (at least not to my face). So I left that job with lovely cards and flowers and then got home and thought, shit, now I actually have to write this book.

In what ways did the various lockdowns and COVID-19 shape your outlook on relationships?

Exactly two weeks after I quit my job to write the book (two weeks after I said to my husband ‘Are you sure we can do this – live on one wage for six months?’ and he assured me that yes we could; it would be hard but we could do it), he lost his job. Two weeks after that my eldest daughter lost her job in a bookshop due to covid and we had to cover her rent and our mortgage payments on zero income. We joked a lot about the apocalypse around that time, because we were starting to count on it.

Anyway, somehow we got through that period, maybe because we knew that there were many couples and many families around the country doing it even tougher. Being a keen observer of relationships, I did watch how the couples I knew managed the pressures of covid, especially lockdown pressures. Plenty of people have never had to watch their partners in ‘work mode’ and it can be quite confronting, even disturbing. The couples who worked from home with toddlers wrapped around their shoulders – God, how are they now? The couples who lost businesses, who lost family members, who lost all sense of purpose ... will there ever be enough therapy for all of us after this?

I think that covid has brought out the best and worst in humans, and in human relationships. If we miss the opportunity to learn important lessons out of all this, to understand ourselves better, to really see what matters when basic freedoms and luxuries are stripped away, then it will all have been for nothing.

Despite the heartbreak Evie suffers she maintains her humour – why is this so important?

Humour is my own coping mechanism against the vagaries of life; not always the best or most appropriate one but certainly the most instinctive. I seem to infuse most of my main book characters with a measure of humour so they’re ready for whatever gets thrown at them. Evie’s sense of humour developed over time in the writing process – it wasn’t there at the start. The character of Ronnie, on the other hand, was funny from the get-go, largely because she’s based on a real person – a friend of mine who is one of the funniest people I know.

What do you hope readers will gain from Evie’s journey of suffering but also rediscovery?

I really hope they’ll gain a renewed sense of self-belief – the knowledge that we are stronger than we think we are when the rug gets pulled from under us; that we’re worthier than we think we are when someone hurts us deeply; and that good things and good people lie on the other side of heartache.

Why is time so important for healing?

I explore the concept of time a lot in the book, both as hero and villain. Sometimes the weight of time keeps people together; sometimes it crushes them. I think the question at the heart of this book is whether it’s reasonable to expect two people to keep moving through space and time at the same pace, to keep wanting the same things. Who is the same person they were 20 years ago? I’m certainly not.

In terms of healing, the role of time is a cliché, but like so many cliches, there’s truth to it. Evie feels guilty that she’s taking too much time to move on from what’s happened to her, to make decisions about her future – she’s emotionally paralysed and it embarrasses her, especially someone with her training. But beneath her stillness, time is doing its quiet thing, knitting raw nerves back together and strengthening her resolve. When it comes to healing, I think we can underestimate the passive magic of time.

How does writing help you make sense of the world?

I used to think that’s what I was doing when I write – making sense of things – but largely through the experience of writing this book I’ve realised that’s not actually what I’m doing. I’m not putting things together; I’m pulling them apart. I’m lifting up the bonnet of the car to see how the machine works. That doesn’t mean I’m necessarily making sense of what I find, but I’m getting a better understanding of all the parts and the processes. It’s a messy process and I adore it.

In what ways did you draw on your own experience as a mother to inform how Evie navigates her relationship with her own kids?

My experience of raising teenagers directly informs my characterisation of Evie as a mother. You are constantly worried about them and forever second-guessing your decisions. You ruminate on how they see you, if they even do see you, if you’ve already stuffed the whole thing up.

My kids are growing up in a completely different world than the one I grew up in. The pace of technological change has fundamentally reshaped the way society operates. Anxiety is an epidemic, never mind the pandemic. It’s a tough time to grow up – you can’t just hide out in the library like I used to. (Some kid will take a picture of you and nerd-shame you all over social media.)

And what my experience has shown me is that it never ends. There’s no expiry date on parenting – no point at which you can officially stop worrying. That’s something I wanted to explore in this book – that the implosion of a family doesn’t only impact very young children. Older teens are not immune from the fallout just because they’ve permanently got headphones on.

So Many Beats of the Heart by Carrie Cox is published by Affirm Press

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