If you haven’t heard about Bethany Clift’s unforgettable and powerful debut publishing in February 2021, then let us introduce you to the story of one woman’s journey as the last person in the world after a deadly virus wipes out the human population. Find out what inspired Bethany to write Last One At The Party and what it’s like to be publishing a book about a pandemic… during a pandemic.
In 2018 I was driving home after working late at a conference centre in Oxford. I was in the middle of the countryside, hadn’t seen a house or signpost for miles and was completely lost.
I’d had a rubbish day and a pretty crappy year so far. Two young kids, a stressful job, trying to find time to write amongst the thousands of other things that needed to be done every day and now this, lost in the Oxfordshire countryside, late at night.
Close to tears, I pulled over and got out of the car.
It was the beginning of January, about 10.30pm, the air was crisp and clear and the sky a celestial bedspread of stars. I became aware of the utter stillness around me. There were no houses, no cars, no airplanes buzzing overhead. I couldn’t hear road noise or any other human-made sound. It was so quiet I could hear the cows loudly chewing grass in the field next to me.
I was completely alone.
And then I thought, what if I wasn’t just the only one here? What if the reason it was so quiet was that I was the only one anywhere; that I was the only one left alive in the whole world. What would I do next?
And then I began to panic.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this became the idea for LAST ONE AT THE PARTY.
Authors are always asked why they wrote their books and my answer to this is simple: I wanted to read a book that combined all the elements of different books that I love and, because I couldn’t find one that exactly fitted the bill, I decided to write it myself.
I love science-fiction and apocalyptic stories about the machinations of survival in worlds gone bad but I also love romance and love and friendships and feminism and books about what it feels like to be a woman in society today.
So I started to write about the end of humanity and what might happen if humans completely disappeared. Who would be the top of the food chain if it was no longer the human race? If you were the last person left what would you do? What would you eat and drink? Where would you live? How would you live? WHY would you live?
I wrote about a woman who is real and flawed and honest. She isn’t someone capable and readily equipped to face the end of the world. She is like me, or my work colleague or the woman that lives across the road from me.
This character was not a heroine in the old world and is not one in this new world either. When the going gets tough, her instinct is not to try and find a cure and save humanity – it is to get drunk and ransack Harrods.
I wrote about her life before the end of humanity and her life after and about the physical and mental journey in between that leads her from the person she thought she was to the survivor that she really is.
LAST ONE AT THE PARTY is a novel with dystopian elements, about love and strength and discovering who you are and who you can become. It is about new beginnings and growth and allowing ourselves to accept that our past does not define our future. It is about life and the difference between being alive and actually living.
I wrote a book that I loved, and then the most surprising thing happened; I discovered that other people loved it too.
If I thought it was surprising that other people would love LAST ONE AT THE PARTY as much as I did, then I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined what would happen three months after I signed my publishing deal.
At the beginning of January 2020 my sister sent me a tiny news story which talked about a virus in China that had killed half a dozen people and jokingly asked me if my novel was coming true.
Three months later, as I was working on the second set of edits, the UK went into lockdown.
I have written a book about a fictional pandemic which will be published during, or within the aftermath of, a real pandemic.
How does it feel to be in the situation? It feels strange, unnerving and sad because I know a lot of my ex-colleagues at the NHS are battling on the frontlines whilst I stay at home writing. It also feels terribly confusing because on the one hand I am incredibly proud of my novel and think it deserves an audience but I do not want to be seen as either ‘cashing in’ or trying to encourage people to read a book about something which is proving so difficult for many to experience in real life.
So, I comfort myself with the knowledge that LAST ONE AT THE PARTY has never been a novel about a pandemic. It is a novel with a pandemic in it. I wanted to explore someone living after the end of humanity and chose a pandemic as the tool to get to this moment, but it could just as easily have been a war or alien invasion. The focus of the novel is set after the pandemic and not during it, so any readers looking for a novel that dissects a pandemic and the subsequent fall of society will find that this is not the book for them. This is a story about surviving post-humanity rather than post-pandemic.
This is a story about life, not death.
Two years ago, stood in an Oxfordshire layby, verging on panic and imagining I might be the last person left on the earth, I took a deep breath of the dark night, filling my lungs with sweet, clean air and, instead of panic, I felt a heady rush of being alone and alive in this quiet, green oasis where everything felt possible.
And, for the first time in a long while I felt like I might be okay – not only could I navigate home on my own but that, maybe, things would be alright. I would be alright.
I was alone but I wasn’t lonely or helpless. I could find my way. I could do this by myself.
This is how I want LAST ONE AT THE PARTY to make you feel and what I learnt before, and during, the process of writing the novel. We each write our own destinies and as long as we have life we have a chance to make things better for ourselves.
As long as we have life, we have hope.
I do hope you enjoy the novel.