The inspiration for my latest novel, DON’T TURN AROUND, came from a few different places.
The first was an incident that occurred when I was driving to the grocery store in the middle of the afternoon. Another driver become convinced that I’d cut him off and proceeded to tailgate me for several blocks before following me into a crowded parking lot. Eventually he drove away, but though I came away unscathed, it got me thinking: if something like that could happen in broad daylight, what would happen if I’d been driving on a remote road in the middle of the night, with no crowded parking lot to turn into? The experience left me shaken, and I wanted to lean into that newfound fear and push it as far as it would go.
A second moment of inspiration came from an article about a charity offering transportation and lodging to women seeking abortions. Access to abortion has become increasingly scarce in many parts of America as clinics are forced to shut down due to state legislature. In some areas, the nearest clinic is hundreds of miles away, and some women simply don’t have the means to get there. There are charities that provide airfare and pay for accommodation, and others that rely on volunteers to women to their appointments. Not only was I was blown away by these acts of generosity – and horrified that they were needed in the first place – but it also got me thinking: what would that journey be like for those women, forced to rely on a stranger’s help when at their most vulnerable?
Primarily, though, I wanted to delve into the way that women live under constant threat to our personal safety. Activities that our male counterparts take for granted - like going for a run after the sun has gone down, or coming home alone from a night out – are for us laced with potential violence. I don’t remember the exact moment when I learned to clutch my keys between my fingers, or to turn off my headphones when walking at night, or any of the other tiny, imperceptible adjustments I make when moving through the world in order to feel safer. These are lessons we all learn at some point: that danger is lying in wait for us around every corner, and all it takes is just one small lapse in attention. One wrong turn.
And sometimes we do everything we’ve been taught and it doesn’t matter: violence can always find us, no matter how careful we are.
Fear is something that women live with - a constant, low-level thrum in our heads - and it’s also the unspoken burden we carry. With this book, I wanted to confront that fear head-on, and explore what happens when the threat of danger is made suddenly, shockingly real.
Don't Turn Around by Jessica Barry (Vintage Publishing)
Two strangers, Cait and Rebecca, are driving across America. Cait's job is to transport women to safety. Out of respect, she never asks any questions. Like most of the women, Rebecca is trying to escape something. But what if Rebecca's secrets put them both in danger? There's a reason Cait chooses to keep on the road, helping strangers. She has a past of her own, and knows what it's like to be followed. And there is someone right behind them, watching their every move.