The Hush: the stories behind the story

Welcome to the inner world of The Hush.

Don’t read any further unless you’re prepared for spoilers! However, if you’ve read the novel and you’re interested in how I used real-life sources to construct the world within the story, or you want to find out more about my research, then you’re in the right place. Having spent five years constructing the world that the residents of Whitehaven  experience, I have folders of material, but what I hope to do here is provide a glimpse into some of the insights and news articles that informed my research. In some cases I read these or similar articles before I included them in the story; in other cases I found them afterwards, but they affirmed my vision of The Hush‘s unsettling near-future world.


The Hush began with a question: what’s happened to all the mothers?

I began asking myself this a decade ago now, when I began reading the  zeitgeist dystopias of the time, featuring Katniss Everdeen, Tris Prior (Hunger Games, Divergent), and their ilk. Probably because I’d just become a mother myself, I kept searching for representations of positive, complex mother-daughter relationships in this fiction featuring young female heroines, and I found very little. Many of the mothers were missing, and if they were present they were more likely to be some kind of impediment to their daughter’s success and personal agency than they were to have inspired it.

I was so intrigued that I began working on this topic for my PhD, and soon, if you’re keen, there will be a 30,000-word thesis you can read detailing all of my findings! In the meantime, l can tell you that while the absence of mothers was striking in this fiction, maternal themes were always present: I found that while mothers might be sidelined  they are far from irrelevant, and in some ways their absence underlines the power of the mother and maternal perspectives in society more than their presence ever could.


A recent article in the New Yorker, ‘Who Lost the Sex Wars’, sums up how feminism has often been derailed by disagreements and infighting. As well as the disparate beliefs seen between first, second and third wave feminists (who also often argued amongst themselves), we now have anti-feminists and post-feminism, which both decry the importance and relevance of modern-day feminism. However, I’ve found that it is impossible to spend so much time reading articles about feminism, motherhood and gender and not feel passionately about the ongoing essential struggle for women to live fair and free lives on equal terms with men.

There have been so many gains since the suffragettes fought for the fundamental right of a vote for women, but losses too, as the stories emerging from the contemporary lives of women show, particularly those that centre around all kinds of abuse, as well as online bullying, disenfranchisement at work, the double-shift of housework, and the demands of motherhood. Despite all the discussion and stop-start progression around women’s rights and autonomy, it’s clear women’s rights and women’s voices are always in danger of being decentralised and delegitimised. Some of the obvious contemporary circumstances are the current plight of women and girls in Afghanistan; the new abortion laws in Texas, US; the politically driven undermining of sexual assault victim Brittany Higgins in Australia; and the worldwide effects of Covid on women’s ability to work and take care of their children.

But, the story of fractured feminism and continued female oppression is only part of the picture. For I myself, along with many women I know, will attest to the power of being borne up by the women around them, not pulled down. Women have incredible power, resilience, and adaptability, both individually and collectively, and I wanted to tell the story of one such group of women in The Hush.


One of the questions I wanted to ask while writing The Hush was how  women might fight back in worlds where their rights were sidelined, and surveillance and government intervention had become omnipresent. The concept of ‘RGN’ – which stands for Recovery (or as Geraldine prefers it, ‘Rebel’) Groups Network – grew up through a number of sources. The rebel in me likes the idea that if the government is corrupt then there will always be ways of sidestepping it and forming new networks to help people. The Underground Railroad is a prime example. In The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s the network of Marthas and handmaids who work to get those they can to freedom, which we see even more clearly in the TV series than perhaps we experience  in the book. And only recently, I found an article detailing a network that had formed in Afghanistan to aid safe passage for those whose lives are in danger. The concept reminds me of the famous Margaret Mead quote: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.


Escape from Kabul: how an Australia-linked group is working in the shadows to get people out, Christopher Knaus, The Guardian, 5 Sept 2021


Anyone watching politics over the last few decades can see that, for many powerful men, scandal, discreditation and malfeasance are often mere blips on the way to inevitable rise to power. Personally, I am incredibly frustrated that neither side of the political divide can offer a fresher, more morally upstanding vision of power than they do at the moment (and I’m convinced that we will only get closer to this when there are stronger laws around leadership and financial gain). The characters of Whittaker and Halston echo that frustration in The Hush. These two men have their differences, but in some ways they are the same. Certainly, they are not the kind of people who go home and look at themselves in the mirror in the dead of night with any kind of moral reckoning. They sleep well; they have a fixed set of beliefs, and a clear agenda, and they will pursue it no matter the cost to others’ lives and freedoms.


Barnaby Joyce backs ‘incredibly intelligent’ Christian Porter for eventual return to the front bench, Paul Karp, The Guardian, 20 Sept 2021

Donald Trump favourite to win 2024 election with bookmakers, Newsweek, 12 Oct 2021

Boris Johnson: His rise, fall, rise, fall and rise, Brian Wheeler, BBC, 14 July 2016


One of the most interesting aspects of my research over the last few years has been finding books and theorists who choose to question the popular representations and assumptions about mother-daughter relationships. This includes what Debold, Wilson and Malave, in their book Mother Daughter Revolution, term the ‘Lie of Separation’:

Mothers are set up in patriarchal culture by lies told about separation. Separation between races and classes are not the only separations that culture depends on: we must separate from our mothers, as conventional wisdom has it, to become strong, independent individuals. Scientific experts tell mothers that each child should separate to achieve autonomy. This is a lie. This distorted view of good mothering places as mother’s feelings at odds with cultural perceptions of what is necessary for her child’s growth and well-being. Moreover, this lie of separation leads mothers into an unintentional betrayal of daughters. (17)

The more I researched, the more I began to understand how easily we can be duped into disparate identities as mothers and daughters. In constructing Emma and Lainey, I wanted to write about a mother and daughter who recognise this, but do not accept it. Throughout the novel you’ll see there are a number of places where Emma defies authority figures to support her daughter. They use their bodies as language when words are not enough. They don’t always agree with each other, but they trust one another. And that is an excellent place to start.


The slow creep and acceptance of intrusive, pervasive technology is a key element of the disturbing society in The Hush – and yet I’m sure most readers recognise how real it is to us already. We joke about Google and YouTube listening in to our conversations; we don’t mind that our location can be tracked and used to serve us adverts; we have all but given up on reading the lengthy fine print that might protect our security on the apps we download. One of the most shocking articles I found while I investigated this for The Hush was the idea that watches could easily read your handwriting or typed documents by learning the movements of your arm.


Dystopian world: Singapore robots stoke fears of a surveillance state, Agence France Presse, The Guardian, 6 Oct 2021


Caesarian or natural? Home birth or hospital? Breast or bottle? Despite a concerted effort to change the conversations, there is still shame in all these choices. It’s just one of many ways that women and mothers are shamed whatever the choice they make: to have children or not, to work as a mother or not, etc, etc. But it’s long past time for change, and in particular to make sure that expectant mothers have access to all possible information.

There are other questions too. Are we really at war on these issues? If so, where does it stem from? How much is a media mirage? And who benefits from stoking the fires of these arguments and keeping them going?

A personal story: I was determined to include the breast crawl in my book as I struggled to breastfeed my first child, and despite all the help I received, no one told me about the ability of a baby to do the breast crawl. I found the technique by chance and was fascinated, and tried it with my second, with success: turns out she didn’t need her head shoved onto my nipple all the time, she could  find it on her own if given the chance. Of course there are many reasons why breastfeeding is and isn’t possible or desirable, and this is a complex issue, but I love the idea of sharing and celebrating (or commiserating, if things didn’t go to plan) as many different stories as possible about the different aspects of transitioning into motherhood.


It doesn’t need saying that the thought of someone with a belief in the viability of eugenics getting anywhere close to the seats of governmental power is beyond terrifying. So I’ll leave this one here.

Eugenics: I’m not surprised about No 10 hiring Andrew Sabisky | The Independent