Define “Normal” by Cari Hunter

It’s taken a pandemic to make me realise the job I’ve done for almost nineteen years is far from ordinary. For a while there, those of us on the National Health Service frontline were treated like heroes, with a weekly doorstep round of applause, priority shopping at the supermarkets, and free food. So much free food. I’m not going to lie, it was great to be appreciated, but none of us really bought into the hype and believed we were fit to be lauded. We turned up for our shifts, worried about the shit PPE, caught covid, recovered, and came back, week in, week out, to do it all over again. In truth, many of us were relieved when the free stuff dwindled and then stopped altogether, and the regular pot-banging and hand-clapping came to an end. Not because it hadn’t been nice, and certainly not because it hadn’t been a welcome morale boost, but because we didn’t believe we were doing anything special enough to deserve it.

It was only when this blog hop rolled around that I put any serious thought into what influences my writing. Stepping outside my work boots, I considered my job from a layperson’s perspective and realised that what seems like a bread-and-butter day to me absolutely isn’t normal. It isn’t normal to go into the house of a complete stranger and see them at their most vulnerable. It isn’t normal to cradle a four-week-old cot death because her devastated mum can’t bear to, and then go straight to an elderly woman with a fractured hip who also needs every bit of your compassion. It isn’t normal to deal with the sick, the scared, the violent, the volatile, and the dying, and never know from one call to the next which of those you might have to deal with.

These same themes consistently crop up in my novels, all of which feature ordinary women keeping their heads down and cracking on through circumstances that anyone else would consider extreme. I write emergency responders because I know how we work and think, and how we learn to laugh about stuff so it doesn’t end up breaking us. I know how knackered we get, how much we swear, how much crap we eat, and how good a terrible hospital brew tastes at 3 a.m. in the middle of winter.

My books might be darker in tone and content than the average lesfic, but they aren’t all doom and gloom. As I’m writing this, my mate just texted me a photo: her ambulance windscreen with a box of biscuits a passerby had put on it. It’s these little gestures that keep us going, even when things seem pretty bleak. It’s Meg sliding across the kitchen floor in bed socks she’s pinched from Sanne, Rosie making Jem a toilet-roll flower, or Sarah and Alex sharing mud-splattered granola bars. These are my lesbian fiction equivalents of a box of biccies left on the front of an ambulance. I don’t write fluffy romances, and I don’t read them, because – even now, even in 2020 – I don’t want the escapism, and I love being able to bring elements of my everyday into my fiction. As the saying goes: it’s a dirty (and messy, and smelly, and upsetting, and uplifting) job, but someone has to do it.

My new novel Unbreakable – a thriller/police procedural will be released in October 2021




10 thoughts on “Define “Normal” by Cari Hunter”

  1. Love it and love the darker, more realistic novels. We started rewatching Happy Valley last week and the tone reminded me of your Dark Peaks books, so I’ve been listening to No Good Reason on my commutes. (Now I’ve just started Cold to the Touch and Sanne’s so sad 😥)

    1. In which case, you should love ‘Unbreakable’ because it’s very much a book to suit the 2020 mood! I loved Happy Valley and am gleeful to hear that it reminds you of the Dark Peak books because its creator is a definite influence on that series. I always struggle to re-listen to Cold, mainly because of poor Sanne trudging through the snow on her ownsome and getting into trouble with Eleanor, and I wrote the bloody thing 😉

      1. I’m very much looking forward to Unbreakable, but trying not to think about it!
        I think it was the ‘regular folk keeping going through all the shit’ type vibe that was very similar to HV. That and the recognition that sometimes the hero isn’t miraculously ok after saving the day! (My wife thinks Happy Valley’s make up dept does the best black-eyes on tv 😂)

  2. “My books might be darker in tone and content than the average lesfic, but they aren’t all doom and gloom.”
    I absolutely agree, the Dark Peak series has one of the best romances in lesfic…
    Can’t wait for ‘Unbreakable’!! Even if I enjoy escapism, I love your books. Keep making a difference as a paramedic and a writer!
    Gaby @ LezReviewBooks

    1. Thanks, Gaby 🙂 I think you’ll need something warm and comforting to wrap you up and cuddle you whilst you read Unbreakable. But it’s a rollicking ride with terrific characters (not two, but three leading ladies!) if you can handle its rather dark storyline.

  3. This is so well written, and as a health care worker who continues to go to work at the hospital, you have echoed my sentiments exactly. The hero moniker did not fit, it still makes me uncomfortable. I’m just doing my job. The ups and downs are real, and you are so right, the small gestures carry the biggest heart. Thank you for sharing your perspective, you’ve shed even more light on your writing style and influences, which is a treat!

    1. You’re very welcome 🙂 It was an interesting blog to write because I don’t usually do too much introspection – after almost 20 years, I just get on with it and dip into the details every now and again for my books. Our shifts are back to normal now – ridiculous workload, queues at A&E, being held in the back of ambulances with patients, pressure to do more and do it faster. Meanwhile, at my station, it’s easier to count those who’ve not had covid than those of us who have. There’s a kind of backs to the walls survivalist instinct that’s keeping us going and we’re watching out for each other because that’s far more effective than waiting for management to realise we’re struggling. I think Unbreakable is the book I needed to write this year. It’s dark and bleak and pretty brutal in places with a real sense of loss running through it, and then alongside that there are some lovely characters and relationships to make it bearable. Which seems like 2020 in a nutshell, really.

  4. THIS! ‘Stepping outside my work boots, I considered my job from a layperson’s perspective and realised that what seems like a bread-and-butter day to me absolutely isn’t normal.’

    This is why i love your books, they’re always interesting, raw, real. And i imagine they only skim the top of the iceberg of what first responders experience and that’s in a normal year ❤

    1. Thanks, Laura. I’ve been doing the job for so long now, I never even consider how it might seem to someone totally outside of it, and none of the fly on the wall documentaries come close to actually portraying things realistically. No matter how hard series like ‘Ambulance’ try to be unobtrusive, we don’t act like that off camera and the editors are very selective as to who and what they show. Give or take a bit of dramatic license, ‘Breathe’ gives a pretty good insight – at the very least, I think it captures the mundanity and the occasional sheer ridiculousness of the job quite accurately!

  5. I think it’s difficult for people to understand the range of emotions workers in the health care industry experience on a daily basis. It’s equally hard to understand the coping mechanisms we employ regularly to make what would be intolerable, just this side of liveable. When I read your descriptive narratives to do with medicine, I know they are an honest depiction of something you’ve undoubtedly experienced to some extent. It makes it so much more than just words on a page. I appreciate what must have been a really tough year for you, and as an RN on a Covid unit, I identify one hundred percent.

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