Dear Reader: a letter from Belinda Bauer
When I was a child I was so curious to find out what was going to happen after I died that it bordered on impatience. I’ve been intrigued by death ever since.
A few years ago I heard about a group in the United States called the Guardian Angels, who volunteer to sit with people who are terminally ill while they end their own lives. While I have great admiration for the volunteers, the moment I heard about this group, I thought – what could go wrong? And so Exit started to take shape in my mind…
The right to die is a rich seam to mine. There are so many legal and moral hazards that need to be negotiated both in reality and in fiction. I wanted to explore both sides of the issue – the kindness inherent in supporting somebody who wants to die the way they choose, versus the dangers of abuse and exploitation of the elderly and the infirm. And, of course, anything veiled in secrecy is open to corruption.
The part of the writing process I find most interesting is not so much the story itself, but whose story it is to tell. Many of my books focus on children, but in Exit I felt the need to create a much older protagonist – somebody whose best years are a long way behind him, and whose future is short.
Once I decided that I wanted an older person to explore the theme of what constitutes a good death and a good life, Felix wrote himself.
Felix Pink has great empathy and selflessness, but he is not a saint. Even as he witnesses the deaths of the Exiteers’ clients, he is using his experience to prepare for his own death. As soon as his dog, Mabel, is gone, he plans to follow his wife and son into the unknown.
But before that happens, Felix’s smooth path to eternity becomes crazy paving, and – at the age of 75 – he becomes a fugitive from justice.
Much of the fun of the book comes from the staid Felix adjusting to life as a criminal, even as he tries to uncover the truth about what went wrong – and how to put it right. It was a real joy to explore the feelings of somebody who is having pivotal experiences so late in life – especially as he’d rather not be having them!
But Exit is about much more than Felix evading the police and investigating a crime. It’s about relationships, generations and regrets. About how the decisions we make affect the people around us – sometimes even beyond the grave. And about how one lonely man stops waiting to die, and learns how to live.