Hazel McHaffie

Questions and Challenges for “Killing Me Gently”

Literary questions for reading groups

For discussion

Q. Anya Morgan is a competent, intelligent, career woman, but she struggles as a new mother. What elements of her background and personality do you think have contributed to this? In her shoes, whose support and advice would you have found most helpful? Do you agree that modern career women think in terms of targets and outcomes, and can find motherhood difficult, as Dr Brownlee suggests?

Q. Leon Morgan is torn between his domestic and work responsibilities. How much of what goes wrong can be laid at his door? What part do the Morgan & Sons business problems play in this story? Leon decides not to tell Anya about them; to what extent does this influence what happens?

Q. How would you summarise relationships within the whole Morgan family – senior parents, the three sons and their wives? Compare that to Anya’s relationship with her family – her father, sister and Claire’s partner Jim. What light does this shed on Anya’s actions?

Q. At one point Anya says to Leon, ‘I think your definition of loyalty comes out of a different dictionary from mine’. What part do you think a) perceived disloyalty, b) refusal to discuss issues, c) both of them talking to others ‘behind their backs’ and d) lack of trust, play in the deteriorating relationship?

Q. How would you describe Tiffany Corrigan? In what ways do a) her medical knowledge, b) her current post in the Sick Children’s Hospital, and c) her diagnoses and hints, influence both Leon and the medical team in suspecting Anya? She has a plausible medical/psychological explanation for everything; how does this add to the suspense of the story?

Q. Health visitor Lucinda Devonshire is the first to have doubts about Anya’s ability to cope. To what extent do the different personalities, status, and degrees of involvement of her community colleagues, play a part in decision-making? Why do you think they dismiss Lucinda’s qualms initially?

Q. Jane Carver’s boss thinks she’s too soft; Lucinda thinks she’s safe and mature; her fiancé thinks she’s a maverick – what do you think of her as a social worker? Was Brenda Brooks a better substitute? Should resources be allowed to dictate clinical responsibility in these sensitive cases?

Q. A number of senior doctors – both community and hospital – become involved in this case, each with their own inclinations, experience and areas of expertise. To what extent does this spread of responsibility help or hinder an accurate diagnosis? Tiffany repeatedly refers to paediatrician Dr George Harper as slow to act. Would you have trusted him? Was his caution justified?

Q. Why do you think the author chose to make this story a domestic psychological thriller?
When did you first suspect what was really threatening Gypsy? What alerted you?

Q. When the social workers are brought in, both Leon and Tiffany say that the family don’t fit the usual profile, the GPs feel it’s a waste of resources which are badly needed elsewhere, and Anya sees it as a slur. Has this book changed your own perception of the kinds of families who might require additional social support?

Q. Professionals have a duty of care to ensure children are safe. At what point do you think they should have decided Gypsy could not be left with her mother? Was anyone negligent in this case? Was anyone too precipitate?

Q. It’s commonly said that social workers at the coalface are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. What do you think the consequences would have been if Gypsy had been a) taken away sooner, or b) left with her mother? How would you have felt about the authorities in either circumstance? How might the press have reported things?

Q. The Child Protection system involves medical staff working alongside social services and the police. No organisation is infallible, and at several points in the Morgan case, anomalies result in procedures not being followed. Are the professionals appropriate in their responses? If not, what should they have done?

Q. The authorities agree to Anya taking Gypsy home after the convulsion provided she has assistance in the house and monitoring by the professionals. Were they right to regard this level of supervision as adequate in the circumstances? Would such an order to considered sufficient in a more disadvantaged family? If you were Hannah Morgan in Chapter 40, how would you have felt when Anya decided she’d take Gypsy for a walk outside on her own?

Q. When should a woman’s right to parent a child as she sees fit, be overridden by the authorities?

Q. In Chapter 57 Staff Nurse Rosemary Stewart describes her ambivalence about adoption. What differences could you identify between adopting Holly Justine, daughter of the teenage Tiffany, and Gypsy Morgan? Should a child like Gypsy ever be permanently removed from her biological family, do you think? How would you decide between so many competing rights and interests?

Q. Why do you think the author introduced poison pen letters in the escalation of threat to Gypsy?

Q. Gypsy is detained in hospital under constant scrutiny and yet harm still comes to her. Do you think there is ever a case to be made for electronic surveillance – either overt or covert – in such circumstances? Would the potential benefits of gaining evidence of high risk behaviours outweigh the invasion of privacy and circumventing of choice and consent?

Q. Frustrated by the lack of official action, Lucinda and Jane concoct a plan to establish the truth. What did you think of their actions? Were they justified in hastening the process? Were the Child Protection Team in any way to blame?

Q. Confidentiality plays a major role in these cases, but it can bring its own problems. At what points do you feel that greater openness would have been beneficial here? Once Gypsy is safe, the psychiatrist, Dr Gabrielle Fournier, feels that those closely involved deserve to know the facts. Is she justified in sharing confidences at this point?

Q. Why do you think the author leaves certain longer-term storylines unresolved?