“My father killed himself in January 1987– his first day back to work after the Christmas holidays.”
Jane Brittan’s father was a senior military scientist engaged in highly classified defence projects for the MOD. Between the years 1982 to 1988, Dr John Brittan, along with at least 24 other military scientists died in circumstances which have never been fully explained. In her second novel, Bad Blood (published today in paperback) Brittan revisits her father’s apparent, but still mysterious suicide.
“Bad Blood is a work of fiction with origins in reality. My reality. When I was a young woman, living and working away from home, my father killed himself. It was the time before mobile phones and he’d been dead eleven hours by the time I got the news.
Many people have written about the very particular shadow cast by the suicide of a loved one. I went through the gamut of emotions: from shock to resignation to anger, denial, bitterness even. And always, always, the question that never really leaves me: why?
My father, Dr John Brittan, killed himself in January 1987– his first day back to work after the Christmas holidays.
My teenage brother found him dead at the wheel of our car in the garage with the engine running.
He’d been morose over those weeks – I was home over Christmas – and he was changed. Quiet, preoccupied, completely unlike himself. I remember asking my mother what was wrong and she said she thought he was ‘tired’. But looking back, the change in him happened months earlier – after the brakes in his car failed on the motorway coming home from work. He was unhurt but shaken. He said he thought they’d been tampered with – that someone was trying to ‘get at him’.
He was a senior military scientist engaged in top secret work for the MOD.
Between the years 1982 to 1988, at least 25 military scientists died in mysterious circumstances. They were all specialists in their respective fields, working on highly classified defence projects. And people – families, journalists, MP’s – started asking questions. Tony Collins, a correspondent for the UK’s Computer Weekly, wrote a book about it– Open Verdict – which concluded the spate of deaths were suspicious. The government stonewalled, and still today, people are asking, and still there are no answers forthcoming.
Bad Blood starts with a boy who finds his father dead in the family car, in the garage. And it looks like suicide except things start to happen that suggest that maybe it wasn’t. And that’s when things diverge from my own reality as Ben sets out to find out the truth about what happened to his father. In doing so he uncovers a secret that will change the course of his own life and everyone around him.
I became so involved in Ben – it was terribly important to find his voice and make it truly authentic – to recognize and honour his feelings. For me, coming-of-age stories are the most important, the most significant: they are all about the present moment where everything and nothing mean something; they’re about lights and darks, about truth and owning the person you are and will become. I hope I did that.”
Jane Brittan, 21 September 2016
NOW OPEN: The Bath Children’s Novel Award
Judge: Julia Churchill, literary agent at AM Heath
Prize: £2,000 with an additional £500 shortlist award
Closes: 20th November 2016
The Bath Novel Award & The Bath Children’s Novel Award are sponsored by Cornerstones Literary Consultancy