I swore I’d never do it. Having been a paramedic for seventeen years, I swore I’d never write a book about one. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written books where paramedics have had recurring roles or cameo appearances, and that was fine, but a paramedic in a lead role was another matter entirely, and not one I wanted to get involved in.
Why? You might well ask.
I think there’s a two-part answer:
- I wouldn’t want people to assume said paramedic was some thinly disguised version of me. I have a couple of names, and Mary Sue is neither of them.
- Contrary to popular portrayal, paramedicking is not sexy. It is an incredibly rewarding career, but it is also antisocial, bad for your health, and utterly exhausting. The uniform comes in one size fits no one, most of our calls involve octogenarians or people who should know better, and a “good job” is a patient who’s independently mobile and doesn’t puke on you. And who would want to read a book about that?
Then Jemima Pardon came along. A joke name at first, which gradually developed into a story idea I couldn’t shake off. Jem was a paramedic, a perennially unlucky, chronically wheezy paramedic, who was the very antithesis of those striding, heroic, drop-dead gorgeous paramedics so beloved of writers who aren’t me.
That’s not to say Jem isn’t a hero. She is. She’s brave and good at her job. She cares for all the patients who don’t want to thump her, and she’s dedicated to her career. To quote the meme, Not All Heroes Wear Capes. Some of them wear bashed-up Magnum boots and a fleece that lets all the cold in, and carry a Ventolin inhaler.
So there you have it. Breathe is the first book of mine that’s truly set in my world. I’ve administered those drugs, dealt with some of those patients, and slogged my way through thousands of those twelve-hour shifts. I’ve got the insomnia, the short-term memory loss, and the irritable bowel. I hear the damn radios go off in my sleep and am forever conditioned to respond to the bleep of a data screen. That family in green, who swear too much and eat too much crap and long for an uninterrupted meal and an on-time finish, they’re my family. That family in blue, who actually do have a very nice uniform and come along to help us out, share our sweets, and take the piss with us, they’re my family as well.
When I first told people what Breathe was about, someone immediately commented, “Sexy paramedics!” I couldn’t fault his enthusiasm, but he really should have known better. I hope Breathe redresses the balance somewhat, plonking a dose of reality slap-bang in the middle of a genre more famed for its dashing and daring. It’s not that we don’t need heroes. We do, now more than ever. But everyone has their own definition of what a hero is, and Jem fits perfectly into mine.