Hello! We’re reading The Butterfly Assassin together, following the calendar of the book, and discussing the worldbuilding and writing process. Jump to 17/09, Eraro to start from the beginning, or join us wherever you like!
On the 5th of October, Isabel continues to have a shitty day. She’s sufficiently unwell – and visibly so – that Ashvin sends her home rather than let her do her paper round, and she doesn’t make it to school. While she’s trying to remember how to think in a straight line, Daragh calls her, and gives her the results of her latest blood tests. They’re not good. You always know it’s not good when doctors start using words like “prognosis” and “palliative care”. But Isabel hasn’t given up, and she asks Daragh for Grace’s number.
It’s another brief one – though we get about a page and a half today, rather than yesterday’s scant handful of lines – and the focus is still on pain and illness. Some reviewers aren’t fans of that, finding it frustrating that Isabel spends so much of the book suffering. To which I can say two things: first, trust me, this was even more pronounced in the early drafts, and second, yeah, being in pain all the time sucks and is boring, I agree.
Sorry, did that sound bitter? If it is, it’s not because I’m annoyed at the reviewers (they’re well within their rights to dislike the book for any and all reasons they might mention, and it is in fact none of my business unless they tag me in it! Although sometimes they do tag me in it. Alas). The bitterness is because chronic illness and pain do suck… but also because it’s so rare to find characters who have those experiences and, in part, it’s because there’s a belief (perhaps justified) that nobody wants to read about being in pain all the time. For those of us for whom this is our lives, though, this basically just tells us we’ll never be the main characters of our own stories, and that’s… kind of a bummer?
In a previous draft, the AMM rewrite, this scene was another in-person appointment with Daragh, and Emma had come with Isabel for moral support, so it was Emma who gave Isabel Grace’s number:
“I’m sorry,” Daragh says, “but this is bad.” And what she hears is, You’re losing.
But she will not die like this. Nor will she go to her father and beg him to save her, which seems to be the only rope anyone can throw her as she drowns day by day in the encroaching blackness of the poison. Never mind that he’s missing, that she might not be able to find him even if she tries – she will not try. She refuses to give him the satisfaction of seeing her come crawling back to him.
And she won’t go begging at Ronan’s door, either.
She looks from Daragh to Emma and back at the test results on the doctor’s desk. “Emma,” she says, “do you have Grace’s number?”
As with many of the changes to this middle section of the book, it was largely for pacing reasons that I cut this appointment, combined several days into a single chapter, and made this a phonecall. And, of course, in the earliest drafts, Isabel would have been in hospital by then. Although she suggested they asked Grace for help, it wasn’t an active decision that she made as part of her attempts to solve this herself – it was, instead, part of her relying on others to fix things. I was very keen to push Isabel to be as active a participant in the plot as possible, and that was one of the main changes in the AMM rewrite: Isabel tries to save herself, and asking Grace for help is part of that.
We’ll see more of that in tomorrow’s post, in which you’ll get to learn about the chapter that required the most research of anything in the book. In the meantime, I want to hear your thoughts – anything and everything evoked by this chapter. Drop them in the comments and I’ll see you tomorrow!