Melissa Hill talks about the inspiration and research behind her new novel, Keep You Safe.

The inspiration for this novel was initially sparked by my own concerns re MMR vaccinations for my daughter as a baby. I have a congenital spine condition – a direct result of medication prescribed to my mother while pregnant, and for this reason like to put my mind at ease by carrying out due diligence on any medical recommendations.

My husband and I had heard about the Wakefield controversy and the vaccine’s potential connection to autism. Even though the link had been discredited, we were still hesitant about proceeding until we’d thoroughly researched the matter.

We did vaccinate our daughter, deciding that the risks far outweighed any misgivings, but for my part I was intrigued by the very negative response amongst some friends and family (and especially other parents) toward anyone who decides not to.

The issue raised its head again when my daughter’s school sent out MMR booster consent forms not long after she started. I recalled that overwhelmingly negative sentiment towards parents who expressed even the slightest reservation about the vaccine, and figured such feelings would be even more heightened amongst parents of school-going children – especially if an unvaccinated child happened to become ill.

For me it raised an interesting question: if you truly believed your child was in danger, should you still be expected to go against your better judgement for the greater good? And if you don’t, risk being effectively demonised by the community if the worst happens.

In the story, we meet two mothers who live very different lives in a small town outside of Dublin. Both are trying to do the best they can for their five-year-old daughters.

Kate O’Hara, who has recently become a single mum after the sudden death of her husband knows all about the importance of vaccinations — she’s a nurse. But her daughter, Rosie, suffers from a rare condition that makes her allergic to the gelatin in vaccines. For this reason, Rosie has not been vaccinated.

Meanwhile mummy blogger Madeleine Cooper, who seems to live a picture-perfect life with her husband and two children, has chosen not to vaccinate her daughter, Clara due to misgivings about the vaccine. But when Clara contracts measles and Rosie falls seriously ill soon after, will Kate end up paying for Madeleine’s choice?

Writing this novel, I wanted to explore some of the nuances behind MMR refusal and try to illuminate the very real fears some parents have about vaccination. It was also especially crucial to illustrate the massively serious and heartbreaking effects of disease on children who are unprotected, and thus completely reliant on herd immunity.

While I hope readers enjoy taking a thought-provoking journey with each of the characters, I also hope that the Cooper family’s point of view might help tame, for some readers, a little of the hostility and anger surrounding the vaccination debate. Yet at the same time, show that a decision not to vaccinate unquestionably provokes real consequences on a broader societal level, and thus comes with responsibilities outside of the personal.
Ultimately, both families in Keep You Safe are dealing with precisely the same issue parents/mothers over in the world and from all walks of life struggle with every day; keeping their children safe from harm.

Melissa Hill, 2017.

A mother always knows best. Doesn’t she? What if your choice for your child could harm someone else’s?
Every mother faces impossible choices. Vaccination is one of the hardest. For single mum Kate O’Hara, there was no decision to make. Her daughter Rosie is one of a small percentage of Irish children who can’t be vaccinated against measles. All Kate can do is hope that her little girl is safe.
For mummy blogger Madeleine Cooper, it was a leap of faith she wasn’t prepared to take when she and her husband declined controversial measles jabs for their daughter Clara. All she can do is pray that it’s the right decision.
But when classmates Clara and Rosie both become sick will Kate pay for Madeleine’s choice?

USA TODAY & International #1 bestselling author Melissa Hill lives in Co Wicklow. Her latest novel Keep You Safe is out September 2017. Her books have been translated into 25 languages and are regular chart-toppers in Ireland and internationally. A TV movie adaptation of A Gift to Remember will air on the Hallmark Channel in November 2017 and Something From Tiffany’s is also in development as a major Hollywood movie.

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