Anne Brooke Interview
Posted on 24 July 2006. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to author and publisher Anne Brooke, who WW regulars will know as HollyB.
Tell us something about your background.
I write poems, novels and short stories (although I've made a recent decision not to write any short stories for a while in order to concentrate on the novels, as it was beginning to get rather overwhelming). My poetry can be quite dark, and sometimes violent, and comes from a different space entirely to my other work. I've written five novels and am currently working on my sixth, "The Gifting", which is my first fantasy novel, parts of which are showcased on site in the Novel 1 Group. Two of my novels, "The Hit List" and "Pink Champagne and Apple Juice" (both comedies) are available, with a third (in the dark, gay psychological thriller genre - if that exists!), "A Dangerous Man", being published by Flame Books later this year. It's proving very hard to sell my fourth novel, "Maloney's Law", (also in the gay crime genre) even though it's been shortlisted in the Harry Bowling Novel Awards and the Royal Literary Fund Mentorship scheme, and longlisted for the Betty Bolingbroke-Kent Novel Prize. It's surprising how disheartening that is, in spite of some success in other parts of my writing life - as "Maloney's Law" is a novel I feel particularly connected with. My fifth novel, "Thorn in the Flesh", is currently out with my agent, John Jarrold, for his thoughts, and has just been longlisted in the Debut Dagger Awards.
I don't think I could spend all my life being completely involved in the writing world, as it's quite hard. As a result, three days of my working week are spent in the Student Care Services department of the University of Surrey, where I'm involved in committee minuting and website maintenance. I find it difficult to have two lives but I suspect it does keep me sane. In writing terms, I also edit novels for friends on an occasional basis (I find I'm much sharper with other people's work than I am with my own!) and I'm also involved as a director in new publishers, Goldenford (http://www.goldenford.co.uk), by whom "Pink Champagne and Apple Juice" is published.
How did you start writing?
I've been writing poetry since my early 20s (I'm 42 now) when I was going through a particular bad time emotionally. The only way of getting through it, I found, was to put my feelings down in verse. It wasn't great (at
all!) but it helped keep me alive. After things got better, I kept on writing poetry, eventually joining an Adult Education Poetry Group, and then started to send my work out to small press magazines. I've been published in a few now, but the poet's dream of a commercial collection has so far eluded me. That said, I did publish my own collection, "Tidal", in 2004 in order to raise money for my church. Much to my surprise, that raised about £400. During 2000, I went through another bad time - as did my husband, who was made redundant that year - and found I simply couldn't write any poetry at all. I moaned about this (and other things) to my mother so much that, one day, she lost her cool and told me just to write prose, if I couldn't write verse any more. I took her at her word, and "The Hit List" was started. Looking back, it is very much a "first novel", but it was where I was at the time and I'm proud of that. It also has its comic moments, which I'm proud of. Having started with prose, I was hooked and kept on going. By the way, the poetry came back in the end.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
A whole range of these! I love Jane Austen for her subtlety and wit, Murakami for his sense of humanity, eccentricity and style, the poet Neil Rollinson for his passion and commitment, and Gerard Manley Hopkins for his unique and urgent sense of God.
How did you get your agent/first publication?
With a great deal of effort! I learnt very quickly that nothing comes easy in this game. I discovered from the Writewords site and from writing magazines that John Jarrold had become an agent and was particularly interested in crime and fantasy. I sent him the MS of "Maloney's Law", and he agreed to take me on. I have to say the MS had been very much "round the houses" by then, and he was the last agent I was intending to submit to before going down the self-publishing route once more. But, in spite of his enthusiasm and its various shortlistings, we've been unable to sell it one year down the line. In terms of my first publication, this was a poem called "Roses" (about my husband) which was my first ever acceptance. It was published in "Poetry South" and I have to say that I'd had (and continue to have) so many rejections by then that when I opened the letter I couldn't understand why they'd forgotten to write the phrase, "No thank you, but thank you for thinking of us …" I had to get my husband to check that what I was reading was real.
What's the worst thing about writing?
The knock-backs. Boy, how they floor me. Yes, they do. No matter how many other marvellous things are happening, one rejection can make me feel like it's simply not worth it and I have no abilities whatsoever. That may of course be my manic-depressive tendencies speaking but, my goodness, those tendencies can make themselves known in no uncertain terms when they wish to. And I dread the moments when I have no idea where my characters or storyline are going, and I'm floundering around like a gaffed salmon on the bedsheets (to misquote Wodehouse). That's hell too.
And the best?
Oh, those rare moments when I'm rocking and can't stop typing, not even to eat. When a poem goes well and the blood starts singing, or when a scene I'm working on (usually the sex or violence scenes, I have to say …) just flows and my head is buzzing with it. When I can hear the character's voice in my head and know they're part of me and I of them. Oh, that's good. And when somebody says they enjoyed something of mine they've read and I choose to believe they're not simply being nice.
Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.
People tend to say good things (when they say anything at all) about my poetry, which gives me the energy to keep on trucking. In terms of the novels, "The Hit List" gained mixed reviews, with some people enjoying it and some hating it - so that was difficult to handle. Still is, if I'm honest. With "Pink Champagne and Apple Juice", the reviews and responses have been positive so far, but I must admit I'm waiting for that bad response to come through - I'm nothing if not pessimistic at heart! In terms of the first ever response to my prose, I have to say that the first agent I ever directly showed my work to back in 2001 said I was "unpublishable, unmarketable and unreadable." That really floored me and I was too stressed and unhappy to write anything for a while. With the help of Guildford Writers' Group (http://www.guildfordwriters.net) and my husband, I got over it, but it still rankles.
Getting my agent, John Jarrold, last year. That made me feel as if I might make some sort of a career from this writing game, one day. And when Flame Books accepted "A Dangerous Man" earlier this year, hell, that felt good.
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