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How Christina Sweeney-Baird imagined The End of Men

By Kobo • June 10, 2021Author Interviews

In the novel The End of Men Christina Sweeney-Baird tells the story of a world reeling as a deadly virus threatens to wipe out men.

What are you reading lately?

I’m currently reading The Handmaid’s Tale, which, believe it or not, I haven’t read before. I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear it’s absolutely phenomenal [laughs].

I’ve been on a real Sarah J. Maas kick too. I’m a fantasy fan and her books are just addictively engaging.

And I read The Push by Ashley Audrain. I thought it was fantastic. I’m very excited to read what she writes next.

How was reading different for you over the past year?

Happily, it didn’t change too much, though I know a few people who struggled to read. Actually, I binge-read in a way you can only do when you’re stuck at home all the time. I’ve been able to read a book in a day, which you just can’t do if you’re balancing going to the office and having a normal life. Last year I read 100 books, which had been my goal for a while.

I've read that in earlier drafts of the novel there were many, many more perspectives. How did you decide which would go and which would stay? I imagine as a first time novelist, throwing out whole units of work like that must have been difficult.

The story of how the plague spreads across the world was always the same, and so when I thought of the book that way it was surprisingly easy to cut since it was clear which characters were key to the story. The doctor Amanda McClain who treats patient zero was essential, as well as Lisa Michael, a Canadian neurologist who’s trying to find a vaccine. And there’s a civil servant in the UK trying to keep the lights on.

Catherine, one of the main characters, wasn’t actually in the first draft. But I needed a character who could be the reader’s eyes and ears and be the emotional hook for normal people without special scientific insights or abilities. What would it feel like to just be a person trying to keep your family safe?

My agent is a genius editor, and we had these long discussions where we talked about the book, asking each other, “who do you find engaging?” and I had to think about which characters I enjoyed writing. I say to people that if you rewrite something, generally it does get better, so to me it was always exciting to talk about what the book could be and what would make it better.

We've seen a lot of offhand remarks during this pandemic about the role of gender in leadership for countries that have fared well and not so well. But in writing this novel you've spent more time than most considering what would actually change -- and what would stay the same. Was there anything that surprised you in the thought exercise of creating a world with so few men?

I think one of the things I found surprising was the breadth of responses that I think would have happened across the world. There are competent women and incompetent women, kind and unkind. So I found there would be dystopian pockets and utopian pockets here and there. Even in the best cast, you’d have female politicians taking over difficult circumstances and doing their best, which isn’t to say they’d be successful. Fundamentally I was interested in the variety of responses from different women in different contexts and cultures doing what they saw as best -- and it would sometimes work and sometimes not.

I’m quite optimistic about people’s resilience and hopefulness under COVID. That’s one of the things I’ve been quite comforted by. ◼

This interview has been edited for clarity.

The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird

The year is 2025, and a mysterious virus has broken out in Scotland--a lethal illness that seems to affect only men. When Dr. Amanda MacLean reports this phenomenon, she is dismissed as hysterical. By the time her warning is heeded, it is too late. The virus becomes a global pandemic--and a political one. The victims are all men. The world becomes alien--a women's world.

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