Who We Were

Who We Were is Lucy Neave’s first novel, published by Text Publishing (Melbourne) in May 2013.

Who we are book

Praise for Who We Were

Lucy Neave’s Who We Were is a tense and coolly assured first novel…Neave avoids stereotypes to explore shades of political grey. At the novel’s core is Neave’s sympathetic—but not too sympathetic—portrait of Annabel, a woman doing fine but questionable work in a man’s world. Annabel is fascinating, whether engrossed in her lab work, failing to make small talk or reflecting on her life choices…Who We Were is a thought-provoking and entertaining debut. (Patrick Allington, Adelaide Advertiser)

A hand [is] described exquisitely as a ‘china teacup hand, cool and hard.’ Neave has an eye for these sorts of descriptions, presenting a familiar world to us in an unusual way – agar plates, for example, are described as being ‘dead as moons’. For a writer, this is a rare gift. (Gretchen Shirm, Southerly. Read the full review on the Southerly website here)

 About the Book

It is 1938, and Annabel’s dream is to be a scientist. Falling in love is not part of her plan. But when she meets Bill Whitton, a medical student, she believes that they are destined for each other.

She has to wait for him to come back from the war. Then, the newlyweds emigrate to New York. They are at once captivated by fellow immigrants Frank, an ex-Communist from Hungary, and his playwright wife, Suzy. It’s the 1950s and the Cold War is in full swing. Frank, Annabel and Bill find work on weapons projects, experimenting with lethal infectious diseases.

Annabel’s whole being is anchored in her ardour for Bill and their work together. But other forces—suspicion, paranoia and deceit—are at play…

The Backstory

Who We Were emerged from a long process of writing and re-writing.

As a veterinary student, I took part in a Cornell Leadership Program for veterinary students interested in scientific research. As part of this program, I visited the United States Army Medical Research Institute in Infectious Diseases in Maryland, where biological weapons research was carried out during the Cold War.

I was interested in how it affected scientists to be engaged in weapons projects: how they dealt with the ethics of their work. The experience of visiting the labs gave rise to the idea for the novel, but the writing of the book involved extensive research into Cold War-era American society, the persecution of suspected communists and infectious disease research. Alongside reading histories about the time, I had to work out who my characters were and their story: whether their love for each other could withstand their doubts about their work and the atmosphere of the time.

Listen to an interview with Lucy Neave about Who We Were (Zed Book club).

Buy the book through the Text Publishing website (with links to online booksellers) here. Or, purchase it from your local independent bookseller.