Accidents Happen is a novel that explores what happens when anxiety stops you living your life to the full. It’s the story of Kate Parker, a woman who obsesses about health and safety statistics in an attempt to keep herself and her 10-year-old son Jack safe. Kate has had more than her fair share of bad luck, having lost both her parents and her husband by the age of 30.
I became interested in the theme of statistics partly when, as a journalist, I wrote about the rise in numbers of ‘worried well’ taking print-outs of imagined health symptoms to GPs, and having whole body scans at private clinics, on the off-chance of spotting a hidden illness early. The hope was, of course, that early detection would improve the chance of successful treatment.
I understood the temptation to try to anticipate and control future danger, yet the media is so flooded with health risk factors and safety statistics these days – X hours of exercise a week will lower our chances of an early death by x%; X glasses or red wine will raise our chances of x by x%, etc – that the idea of trying to understand it all, and apply it to an individual life, would clearly be exhausting. I imagined a character who becomes so obsessed with risk, that everything from walking to the shops to being out in the sunshine, starts to hold hidden statistical dangers for her.
At the same time, a real-life friend revealed that on her second-ever parachute jump, her parachute twisted, and didn’t open. Despite an instructor screaming in her headset to deploy her reserve chute, my friend decided – as she hurtled downwards – very coolly, to try out her recently learned emergency training and kick her legs to untwist the main chute. She succeeded, landed safely, and asked to go up again.
In my head, I began to form ‘Kate’, a woman who has been both of these people at some point in her life: brave and adventurous in her twenties, then later so crippled with fear in her thirties, she believes she is cursed; that if she jumped out of a plane now, she would definitely be the one unlucky person in a million who finds neither of their parachutes will open. I wanted to write a novel about Kate’s journey from risk-taker to risk-terror, and the relationship she builds with the man who tries to shock her out of her fear.
Then I had another idea. What if Kate was actually right all along? What if she was just an incredibly unlucky person? And what if curing her anxiety leaves her unable to spot real dangers among the imagined ones – for example, the strange man who is watching her through the curtains from the house next door?
Accidents Happen by Louise Millar is published by Pan