Good Girls Die Last is feminist reality wrapped in fiction
I was so tired of crying.
It was the summer of 2021 and the news was full of the horrors of Sarah Everard’s rape and murder in London, the MET policeman who killed her, and the peaceful vigil to honour her that the same police force broke up, resulting in yet more women getting hurt.
The country was angry and so was I. Women were scared and I couldn’t remember a time when I hadn’t been. England’s capital city was once again in the spotlight.
London had been my home during the most crucial parts of my life.
As the daughter of a Spanish immigrant, I moved there aged seven before I could speak the language, and remained in the city until I was thirty and pregnant with my own child. I went to school in London, worked in London, learned to drive in London, and experienced every love affair, trauma, joy, and heartbreak in London.
Even when I went on to live in Spain, Australia, and the Netherlands, London continued to flow through me, my very own Thames surging through my veins. The city became a character in all my books; a beautiful, grimy, ancient, sparkling hero full of wonder and secrets.
That summer I was also at a turning point in my career. Having written fantasy novels for the last five years, I was struggling to secure the most beguiling of creatures – a literary agent. Two books had failed to garner any interest and I was beginning to consider a brand-new genre. Something commercial. Something everybody wanted to read.
During a long drive from Spain to my home in the Netherlands, I scrolled through Twitter, tears in my eyes, as Everard’s murderer was brought to trial. Women didn’t feel safe in London. The police couldn’t be trusted. No one knew who the good guys were anymore.
Somebody tweeted ‘it’s about time a feminist Falling Down was made’ and without thinking I replied, ‘I’m writing that book at the moment.’ I wasn’t, but five minutes later – notebook and pen in hand – I was.
I didn’t want to write a thriller where a woman was the victim, because every woman is always the potential victim of her own story. It had to be more than that. I wanted to write a book that was a great read but also reflected society. A love note to London. A poison pen letter to every man who ever got away with their crimes.
Good Girls Die Last is about Em, a woman on the verge of turning thirty. She’s just lost her job, is potentially about to lose her home, and as London descends into chaos amidst a record-breaking heatwave, she finds herself battling across the city to catch her flight on time. Oh, there’s a serial killer on the loose. But he’s not the most dangerous person on the streets.
The summer of 2021 carried with it a lot of pain, and the subsequent process of writing what would end up being my debut feminist thriller opened up wounds I’d forgotten existed. Writing Em’s experiences as she crosses the capital on foot, encountering obstacle after creep-shaped obstacle, forced me to think back to the days when I was in my twenties; what it was like to receive unrequited attention from men, how other women judged me, and how vulnerable I felt as a lone woman walking through the city in the summer.
Societal norms and levels of acceptance have changed a lot in the last decade or two, even more so following the Me Too movement, but many people haven’t. Not really. And that’s what I wanted to explore in Good Girls Die Last.
I suddenly found myself remembering how at eighteen, during my first day at work, my chair broke, and my new boss suggested I spend the rest of the day sitting on his lap. Everyone laughed. Or the time I was sexually abused on the Tube. Or how my breasts were grabbed in a busy bar when my hands were full of drinks. And the hundreds, if not thousands, of times during my life as a woman I’ve wished my clothes had pockets, or the women’s toilet didn’t always have a queue, or I could walk down the street unobserved. What it is for women to live our lives perpetual aware of the discomfort and inconvenience of our clothes being too tight, heels too high, periods too painful, all while expected to smile for the comfort of others.
All of that rage, that injustice and pain went into my book. My stories and those of my friends became my characters’ stories. As the heat rises in my fictitious London under threat, the tension builds, and the action mounts – until, eventually, Em snaps in a way that women all over the world have considered doing on a daily basis.
Using the thriller genre as a vehicle to convey the horrors that are still prevalent today became a game changer for me and my approach to writing by allowing me to wrap reality in a fictional bow.
By peppering my thriller with feminist issues, reflecting societal concerns that still need to be addressed, I’ve been able to reach people in a way no news story can.
This book was never just about the plot but the people. Readers came for a thriller and left feeling seen. Their anger, fears, passion and joy right there, on the page, alongside characters as real as the people they know.
Men have contacted me to say it was eye-opening, women have thanked me for not shying away from the raw reality of womanhood, and seventy-year-olds have been in touch to tell me their own stories – suddenly realising that, no, what happened to them fifty years ago was not OK.
As a writer of fiction, I get to make up stories every day. And as a writer of thrillers, I get to come up with harrowing crimes, murders, and threats to my characters. But sadly, with Good Girls Die Last, I didn’t have to look far for ideas. And it was that blend of raw reality and crime that got me an agent in three days, a publishing deal in three weeks, and consequently a TV series deal.
Because the scariest part of Good Girls Die Last isn’t a made-up monster, or the inventive ways one person can be killed, it’s that there’s not one part of that story that hasn’t and couldn’t happen to any one of us. At any point. Anywhere.
The summer of 2021 feels very far away now. I eventually stopped crying and that sadness turned into something else. Something wild and hot and burning which I turned into words.
I hope those reading Good Girls Die Last feel that fire. And I hope they pass the flame on. Good Girls Die Last is out now in all good bookshops, including audio and eBook. Visit save-em.com for more about Natali Simmonds and her writing.