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Rebecca Barrow on writing about grief in Bad Things Happen Here

Rebecca Barrow on writing about grief in Bad Things Happen Here

When I was asked to write this piece about grief and why I wrote about it in Bad Things Happen Here, I initially wasn’t sure what to say. Why did I write about grief? “Because it’s an integral part of life,” I thought. “Because it goes hand in hand with loss, and that’s what the book is about.” But then I thought about how much I had included it in the story, how central the grief is to Luca’s character. She’s a sad girl, at heart; she has depression, she’s melancholy, she lives in fear of the darker parts of her world. She’s also very conscious of keeping that side of her hidden from most of the people surrounding her.

Parris, the fictional island on which Luca lives, is not a forgiving place for anybody existing outside the rigid boundaries of “normal”. But in grief, there’s an understanding. Everybody knows loss, in some way or some form, or if they’re lucky enough to not know personally, then they’ve watched as somebody they love has gone through it. Grief, to me, feels like maybe one of the purest shared parts of humanity, and in that, there’s space. A space to pour all your sadness, over whatever it is you’ve lost; to keep going, filling up and up and up with everything you’ve ever felt sad about, every little thing you’ve mourned, to let it overflow. It’s an acceptable way to be sad, basically, and I think that is the real reason it became such a large part of the narrative.

When her sister is killed, of course Luca falls head-first into the depths of mourning her. But that mourning—it’s also a way for Luca to feel all her feelings with a diminished fear of judgment. And for once, the people around her—her parents, the friends that she and her sister shared—are experiencing some of the sadness that Luca deals with on a daily basis. For once, she doesn’t have to hide how she feels in order to placate other people. That’s not to say that she, or anybody who deals with depression, should have to hide how they feel, or look for a reason to be sad. But I think it is true that for people who don’t experience depression, it’s hard for them to understand the pervasive nature of the sadness and emptiness that so often comes with it.

As a writer, I suppose I unknowingly found a way to dive deep into Luca’s emotions and let them fully inhabit every word of the book. I think it’s a way, too, to bridge a gap between those who will immediately get Luca, and those who won’t. It goes back to that shared humanity: for anyone reading who doesn’t deal with mental illness, they still know what it is to grieve. I hope they’ll begin to understand what it means to feel that weight day in, day out, too.

Bad Things Happen Here is published by Hot Key Books on 28 June 2022

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