Darren Simpson attended our last conference and was there to represent and promote his book Scavengers. There was then a mad rush to meet him and read the book. We are pleased to help him shout about his newest book, The Memory Thieves. Please read on for a moving blog post from Darren!
For Anyone Who’s Hurting
The Pandemic and The Memory Thieves
When I received my author copies of The Memory Thieves, I did what I’m sure many authors do: I sent one straight to my mum.
She got in touch to say how much she enjoyed it. She would say that – she’s my mum. But she also asked about the dedication at the start of the novel: For anyone who’s hurting. She was curious as to whether the pandemic had inspired it.
The answer is no. I’d drafted The Memory Thieves and its dedication before COVID came into our lives. The novel’s main aim – besides entertaining readers – was always to resonate with anyone who’s feeling the strain; to highlight – albeit through an otherworldly, near-science fiction story – the importance not only of admitting to ourselves when we’re hurting, but of being open about it to others.
It all started with a car crash. Back in 2018, while driving my son home from a swimming lesson, I accidentally slammed into the back of a Nissan. It was entirely my fault, and thankfully no one was hurt. Nevertheless, I felt like an idiot and my self-esteem took a dive. I obsessed over how much worse things could have been. I started drinking more, and punished myself by not seeing friends. And all along, I kept the true depth of my anxiety to myself.
There was a limit to how much I could bottle up. Eventually I opened up to my wife and spoke with friends about how I felt. The difference this made was incredible. My family and friends understood. They’d made mistakes themselves. They’d felt low themselves. I wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t a bad person. After grasping that, I stopped being so hard on myself. The kindness of others makes us kinder to ourselves.
It was such a valuable lesson, and I decided to make it the theme of my next book. I was contemplating how to turn it into a story when – while on a family camping trip in Yorkshire – I watched the tide recede from the coast of Staithes, and wondered what it would be like if it never came back. I imagined boats, stranded and rusting on dunes. I saw huge whale skeletons, poking out from the sand. And I knew I’d found my setting: a remote island where the sea only ever recedes. It felt like the perfect symbol: a far-flung place for people to flee to from their feelings – where their old lives can ebb out of sight.
This island became the Island of Elsewhere, home to Dr Haven’s Elsewhere Sanctuary – a permanent retreat where children have their bad memories and feelings dulled by strobe therapy, medication, handless clocks, and rooms that shift like blocks in a puzzle cube. A carefree place of sand dunes, giant shipwrecks, quad bikes and hovercrafts.
But is fleeing such a good thing? Escapism and distraction have their merits, but how wise is it really to deny that you’re hurting – to ignore your pain or hide it from those you love? What will the consequences be for the children of the Elsewhere Sanctuary?
Hiding my pain didn’t help me. It was only when I reached out – when I connected with others and let everything out – that I was able to process what had happened and begin to recover.
And after that, I was able to write The Memory Thieves and dedicate it to anyone who’s hurting, in the hope that they’ll reach out too. In these times of struggle and strain, I believe this message is as important as ever.
The Memory Thieves is available now from Usborne and book retailers.