Me After You is a memoir about my first two years as a young widow. It charts life from the moment my husband collapsed and died as we made love one idle February evening, through chaos and despair to madness and euphoria, with a generous slug of red wine thrown in. It is a story of grief and rage and hope and the indomitable nature of the human spirit, but at its core, it is a story of true love. Why I was halfway through the second draft of a novel when my husband, Mark, died, aged just 37. Work on the novel ground to a halt overnight. I told my agent I was physically incapable of writing another word and that I would be in touch when, and if, I ever felt like returning to it. But it seemed unlikely to me that I would ever muster the will to write again. A year later I started a blog entitled Wife after Death – a roar-howl into the ether about the injustice of it all. I pounded my heart and soul into the keyboard, spilling my darkest and most desperate thoughts out into the void. I wrote because I simply didn’t know what else to do. And people began replying. Widows, widowers, women who’d lost children. But other’s too – those who wanted to show their support or simply to say ‘Hi’. I wrote almost every day for over a year, and the blog became a raw and intimately documented journal of grief. The blog went on to win an award, and I caught the attention of a national newspaper editor. My agent asked me if I felt up to writing a book based on the blog, about the first two years of my widowhood. I wrote my memoir, Me after You, in about three months, in between school pick-ups and in moments of sleeplessness. Writing it was time spent with Mark, and it helped me to try and make sense of the senseless nature of his death. What I learned. Me after You is my first full-length book to be published – prior to that it was short stories and articles. My publisher – Virgin Books – handled me and the book with skill and sensitivity, but I have learned that once your material is out there it becomes fair game. That is to say ownership of it almost ceases to be yours and anyone is able to comment on it. With memoir, especially one as emotionally charged as Me after You, this can be hard. Whilst most of the reviews have been positive (including a glowing cover quote from Andrew Marr) I have been criticised for being so candid. As a result at times I have questioned myself and the entire project, but I am fortunate in that I have a strong and supportive network around me. The best piece of advice I received was from my brother, who is also a writer and far more prolific than me: “In this business you need to develop a rhino hide,” he told me, “and never lose sight of what you set out to do, and what you have now achieved.” I am now working on my next book – a biography about an American sculptor. That, and my rhino hide. http://www.wifeafterdeath.com http://www.luciebrownlee.com Me after You is published by Virgin books priced £11.99
Many thanks this week to Sandra Danby for telling us a bit about her writing journey
My new book : Ignoring Gravity is the story of Rose Haldane’s own “Who do you think you are?” television programme. Rose is confident about her identity. She pulls the same face as her grandfather when she has to do something she doesn’t want to do, she knows her DNA is the sam as his. Except it isn’t: because Rose is adopted and doesn’t know it. Ignoring Gravity connects two pairs of sisters separated by a generation of secrets. Finding her mother’s lost diaries, Rose begins to understand why she has always seemed the outsider in her family, why she feel so different from her sister Lily. Then just when she thinks there can’t be any more secrets…
The publishing world is changing rapidly now, as indie publishing becomes established alongside the traditional business. Ignoring Gravity is a part of this, published by a new crowd-funded publishing imprint by BNBS books, called Britain’s Next Bestseller. This is a hybrid indie/traditional publishing deal in which the author has control in the early stages (cover design, PR, Book trailer, social media promotion). Once an agreed pre-order target is hit, BNBS takes over as a traditional publisher, publishing the book in traditional and e-book formats. My provisional publication date is September 2014 when the book will be available from Amazon.
Why I wrote Ignoring Gravity: I was an imaginative child. I would lie awake in bed at night and wonder what it would be like to live in another country, with a different family…what if…I was a boy, or lived in a busy city, or was good at arithmetic? If I had grown up in France not England, with a father who was a businessman not a farmer, would I be a different person now? Or have I, through my personality and life experiences, essentially made me, me?
This idea stayed with me. It wasn’t something I actively thought about but it stayed in the back of my mind. I’m not adopted and had a happy rural childhood in Yorkshire. When I turned from journalism to fiction 15 years ago, I started to think about my identity again. One day, when I was at my creative writing class, a sentence came to me fully-formed. Rose Haldane thinks children should be served lightly grilled with a green salad. Rose has a very clear idea of who she is until the day she discovers she is adopted. Her family history is a blank page, but Rose is still Rose.
My tutor Nina said,”That’s it, that’s the first line of your novel, now go away and write the rest of it.” And that was the beginning of ignoring gravity. It changed along the way; the biggest alterations were a switch from first person to third, and the introduction at an agent’s recommendation of a storyline for Rose’s sister Lily.
The first draft was a whopping 140,000 words. The thought of cutting it was frightening, but I was ruthless and cut it to 99,000. Anything less, and the story would be lost. “Rose”, as the manuscript was (and still is!) known in our house, spent various periods sitting in a box while I wrote other things. It is 13 years since that first writing exercise, and the story has changed out of all recognition. I learned to let the characters do the things they wanted to. I learned a lot about story planning, character arcs and sowing clues and red herrings to keep the mystery alive.
Watch the book trailer http://youtu.be/dGjnw-7qaa4
Watch my author interview here http://youtu.be/VOnFDPr90y0
Strange creatures, writers. You will seldom meet a group of people so acutely aware of the world, aware of the place where they fit or, more often, don’t fit. We squeeze ourselves into boxes called genres because marketing likes a good box. They make things easier to package and shelve. They make them easier to sell… to describe.
Describe (v) – to remove the personality of the writer from the equation
I jest but it’s a dark one, because, whatever you are as a writer, you are not a genre. You are not even who you were last year and you won’t be the same person next year. You are Becoming.
What are you becoming? Well, I don’t know it’s your journey. You might pass through several phases of writing and many genres. And then you find a genre where you settle for a while and it will be the right one for who you are at the time, because you are not a genre, because you are Becoming.
It is part of the thrill of being alive to watch people Become. And who we become is influenced every day by who we want to be. We don’t always get what we want and we seldom if ever get what we expect but we all get to change, to develop, to be new. I don’t know the final destination of the journey. I haven’t had the opportunity to peep at the last page of my story and I don’t think I would want to. I am enjoying Becoming and I look forward to seeing you Becoming, for all the days of my life.
Thank you to the wonderful @janeisaacauthor for inviting me to this blog challenge. You can find her post at http://www.janeisaac.co.uk/blog.
This post is a little late due to network problems (do not get me started ) so I apologise for that in advance.
The idea of the challenge is very simple, to liken some of your favourite books to chocolate bars. At least it seemed simple at first glance but it took me quite some time to whittle down my reading list to the following contenders, even though I limited my choice to books read in 2014 to give myself a smaller task. Here goes,
Dark Chocolate – 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
A beautifully written story which explores the nature of reality. It is a surprisingly gentle read for a book covering very dark and difficult themes. Thought provoking with touches of bitterness the content moves from the banal to the shocking and back with the same unnerving ease that Murakami moves across the boundaries of reality. Expect the occasional talking cat.
Milk Chocolate – The Analects of Confucius
This is not an easy read but well worth the perseverance. It is a collection of snapshots from the life of one of humanity’s great thinkers. The passages jump from event to event and conversation to conversation but, if you relax and let them wash over you, you begin to appreciate the warmth and the humour of the man. These works provided the foundation for one of the world’s greatest civilisations. You were not considered educated unless you could quote the teachings of Confucius and as such they are the wonderful Milk Chocolate of all that is China.
White Chocolate – Bridget Jones – Mad about the boy by Helen Fielding
As white chocolate isn’t really chocolate so this isn’t really literature but I did enjoy it. Admittedly I listened to the audiobook rather than reading it but I appreciated the silliness and the glimpses of a rushed home life were all too familiar. The eponymous heroine seems to have aged without maturing at all, which made me feel slightly sad for the character, but this is not a book to engage deep thought, it’s frothy and silly with an occasional effort to touch on darker themes. Great company while cleaning the kitchen.
The follow up post will be courtesy of the lovely Rebecca Mascull. You can find her at
If you like to write you should visit Sandra Danby’s blog.
“If you are to be Hercule Poirot, you must think of everything.”
In other words, you’d better have thought of everything, every twist and turn, every character trait, every possible and impossible plot angle… or your readers will catch you out in unpredictability, spot your mistakes. And then there are the things that happen out of your control. So beware!
Click here to read The Guardian’s article about bloopers in books…
… and here to read how the UK edition of Jonathan Franzen’s Corrections had to be withdrawn from print because the wrong version was printed.
Click here to read The Bookseller’s report on how Penguin had to pulp copies of Lolita because of a missing foreword.
Just to take a step aside, to let the world run and flow,
the colours streaming wild and free, the noise, the rushing to and fro
And in that moment
me, complete and whole.
I could live here, in this space, this place outside
But I am here to observe, not hide
And in I dive
For the second post in the Writer’s Reflections series I am pleased to welcome Jane Isaac, to talk to us about her latest novel.
Thank you so much to Rachel for allowing me to guest on her lovely blog. My second book, THE TRUTH WILL OUT, was released last month. I started this novel in the spring of 2011 and it took me almost eighteen months to research and write, six months to find a publisher and another twelve to work with Legend Press to transform the pile of paper that it was into the book that sits on my shelf today. THE TRUTH WILL OUT is a police procedural/psychological thriller crossover, the second in the Detective Chief Inspector Helen Lavery series, although written as a standalone novel and sees her biggest case yet.
Why did I write the Truth will out? Aside from being a crime fiction fan for most of my life( I was raised on Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie which later broadened into Peter James and Jeffrey Deaver), my main interest lies with people. I’m fascinated by putting ordinary people into extraordinary situations and watching how they react. In this novel Eva Carradine witnesses an attack on her best friend over Skype and, due to a shared secret, is unable to go to the police. Fearing she will be next, she goes on the run. We follow the police investigation into her friend’s murder through the eyes of DCI Helen Lavery and the other side of the story through Eva’s eyes.
I researched extensively into Helen’s character for my first book, An Unfamiliar Murder, and interviewed police officers at different levels in my local force to create a character that is based on reality. She is not a lone divorcee, that role has be carried out by so many other authors – she is a single parent of teenage sons, juggling her home responsibilities with carrying out a murder investigation.
I genuinely like Helen: she is a strong, focused character with a vulnerable side. She is not interested in promotion or management, more in making a difference to the people of her town by catching the really bad guys and that often pushes her to pursue unorthodox methods to solve a case. When I finished the first book, I found it hard to leave her behind and it wasn’t so difficult to find new challenges to stretch her further.
What did I learn from the experience?
First drafts should be viewed as such – a rough diamond to work into shape. I set out to write page turning roller-coaster rides with characters that feel real and twists and turns aplenty; a book that I would like to read myself. My biggest challenge is unravelling a plot and developing characters while keeping the pace fast and the tempo high, and it can take several re-drafts of each and every scene before this is achieved.
Much like your last reflections post this book may never have been published. I decided to switch from an American publisher to a UK one to help distribution, but I received several knock backs simply because it was the second in a series. Luckily it was picked up by the lovely Legend Press team, who have been great to work with.
It can be difficult to write a second book featuring the same character. There is always the worry that people will be disappointed in their further development, but so far we have been blessed with wonderful reviews and it’s great to receive messages tweets and emails from readers who have enjoyed.
I wish your readers all the very best with their own writing and look forward to reading about their experiences in future weeks.
Facebook: Jane Isaac Author
Hello, come in and take a seat. I’m just taking a short break from work, it’s a great time to chat. What have I been working on today? Well, I’m writing a short story in which my protagonist has quite a distorted world view. He may or may not have killed a man and I’m not sure that I’m going to find out in 6000 words or so but he certainly believes that any action he took was inevitable. It’s quite nice to write in first person as a different character. It gives you a bit of a break from the self and lets you explore other people’s motivations and thought processes. I suppose it could be viewed as quite a dark story but the tone is deceptively light because the narrator isn’t particularly concerned by his actions. It works well because it’s a nice juxtaposition.
I’m enjoying writing in short story form at the moment. Every day is very different. It allows a lot of time for play. I like to play about with words and ideas and the whole format works supremely well for that.
Yes, I probably should get back to it too. Good luck with your current piece. Drop in soon.
This month I am starting a Guest Post series on my blog. I want to ask writers not so much how they wrote what they wrote, but why, and what did they learn from the experience. The marvellous Rebecca Mascull has agreed to be the first writer to ponder.
( If you are interested in contributing to this section of my blog then feel free to contact me @stirlingwriter or by leaving a comment and contact after this post. )
Rebecca Mascull: A Writer’s Reflections
My latest book is my first to published, THE VISITORS. It came out in January this year but I wrote it from January to May in 2012. I was researching it for about a year before that. Time can move in a stately fashion in the world of publishing. Since, then I have finished my next novel and started researching another one( but I’ll save those for future blog posts…) This book is about a deaf-blind girl called Adeliza living on her father’s hop farm in late Victorian Kent, her relationship with her teacher Lottie and the mystery surrounding the Visitors.
Why did I write THE VISITORS? Well, I’d worked with deaf students when I was teacher training and loved the experience. I also watched a Hellen Keller bio-pic as a child and was fascinated. I wanted my character to learn to communicate, to experience friendship and love, and to go on an adventure. I also wanted her to learn some truths about herself and the world. I’d written an historical novel before this one and it was a huge learning curve. I taught myself how to research, how to find what was required and resist the temptation to waste time down fruitless avenues. I learnt how to record my findings efficiently so that I could find them easily when I was writing; to always look for at least two sources for every key fact; and that I needed to leave the research for the second half of the book until I came to write, as otherwise I’d forget it all by the time I got there. All of this came to fruition when I wrote THE VISITORS. Files of research were distilled into an intensive five-month period of writing.
I’d written three other novels before this one, and two text books. The novels I wrote before THE VISITORS were not as good as this one. They were very good practice though. Some lucky writers get it right the first time, but for the rest of us who try, try and try again, it’s encouraging to note that. I thought it felt good when I was writing it, but I had no clue if it was good enough for publication. I was more surprised than anyone when Hodder and Stoughton made an offer. I’d had a good few years of publishers( and agents) saying No Thank You and you get kind of jaded about this stuff after a while. But now THE VISITORS is out there, and I’ve read some lovely reviews from people who have been moved by the book, have perhaps looked at the world a little bit differently after reading about Liza, and at the very least have enjoyed it as a good read. And that’s been wonderful and made it all worthwhile. It really has.
Keep Writing, my friends!
Rebecca Mascull author of THE VISITORS published by Hodder and Stoughton Jan 2014
Sometimes I write bad words. No, let me correct that. Sometimes I write truly awful words. Shocking. The thoughts in my head good sentences will not do. Like that one. Sometimes sloppy thinking meets sloppy sentence structure and before I know it I’ve confused myself never mind anyone else.
But that’s okay.
It’s okay to write bad words.
It can be difficult not to sink into the Slough of Despond when the words don’t flow, but if you are sitting there with your head in your hands and mentally melting door knobs with an Edvard Munch type scream, let me just point out this one thing,
You know that they are bad words.
How do you know that?
Because your mind is comparing them to a checklist of things that you ought to be producing and sending up the red flag. Even if you don’t know why they are wrong your mind is gently prodding you in the right direction. Our wonderful minds notice and compare so many more things than reach our conscious awareness. Each one of us is brighter than we think.
If you know that something isn’t right you are at least halfway to fixing it. So put down the knitting Miss Marple, put aside the tisane Poirot, and get the little grey cells working on the problem. Each case of mistaken word identity, adjective kidnapping, or punctuation theft that you solve makes you significantly better as a writer, and sometimes the solutions that evade us the longest are the lessons that teach us the most.