Old Friends

Each time a new novel hits the bookshelves, there’s a good chance that the author will already be deeply immersed in their next book, it has certainly been the case with me. It’s sad but true that the characters I’m about to introduce to readers when a new book is released will already be getting pushed to the back of my mind while my fickle heart develops new relationships with a new set of characters. Slowly but surely, the intricate details of the lives I have spent months creating will begin to fade and some of the minor characters will be forgotten completely.

It’s only when I think back to those earlier novels that I realise how much I miss those earlier characters as if they were old friends. Another Way to Fall was my second novel and it’s currently on special offer as part of Kindle’s Twelve Days of Christmas and the promotion has got me thinking about how much that story means to me. Since writing about Emma and Ben, I’ve completed two novellas and two more novels (the latest one, The Missing Husband is due for publication in July 2015) so I suppose it’s not surprising that I haven’t thought about them for a while.

I don’t think I could ever completely forget them, and I can still picture some of the scenes I created in my mind as if it were only yesterday. One particular scene that springs easily to mind is Christmas Day in the Traveller’s Rest when Emma and her family shared presents around the table, including the framed photograph that Ben took of Emma in the museum. That photograph never existed but I know it so well that it might as well be amongst the photos hanging on my wall.

Out of curiosity, I’ve checked back on some of my older posts and I can’t believe that it was only two years ago that I was going through the page proofs of Another Way to Fall. As you’ll see if you read the post [click here], I really did love that story and there was one character in particular who will always have a special place in my heart – the Shopkeeper. So if you have read the book or download it as part of the latest Kindle deal, I’d love to know what you thought of it and if any of the characters and scenes made an impression on you.

Another Way to Donate

I’m about to start writing a new novel and as always, it’s a daunting prospect to have so many empty pages and 100,000 words waiting to be written (then deleted, rewritten, edited, moved, etc, etc, etc) but this story feels different. Without giving away too much, which I couldn’t do anyway because much of it is still developing in my head, I can tell you it involves organ donation.

It’s a very emotive subject which involves a life-saving gift that comes not only from the donor but their family – after all, they are the ones who will be asked to carry out the donor’s wishes at what must be the single most devastating time of their lives. I already know it’s going to be a tough one to write and maybe this week isn’t the best time to start such a project as I creep ever closer to the anniversary of my son’s death. But then what better time to reflect on the amazing gifts that families like mine have received from strangers which gave our loved ones a fighting chance for life.

I don’t know how many people tried to save my son and that’s not even counting the incredible medical team at Alder Hey Children’s hospital. There were all those people who donated the blood that sometimes had to be ‘blue lighted’ over to the hospital, and then of course there was the unrelated bone marrow donor. I know the donor was male but that’s about all I do know about the faceless hero whose stem cells gave my son his only chance of survival and although Nathan died, at least I know he died cancer free. He beat you, Cancer! He may have lost the war but damn it, he was only three years old and he beat you.

And yet despite his courage and fortitude, this wasn’t a success story, so Nathan will never be a ‘poster boy’ for bone marrow donation, but I wish he was. It would be incredible if just one person reading this post would take time out to register as a bone marrow donor or even just give blood; it would be good to know that Nathan’s still making his mark on the world. And who wouldn’t want to give such an amazing gift when the best part is that you don’t have to wait until you die to do it? You get the chance to feel good about your altruistic self just by giving a little of your time and a unit of healthy cells.

Sorry, I didn’t meant to turn this into a personal campaign so I’ll leave it there…but if you do have a penchant for donating to good causes and your wallet’s taken too many hits of late then here are some other ways to donate:

Bone Marrow Register http://www.anthonynolan.org/

Give Blood http://www.blood.co.uk/

Organ Donors https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/

One final indulgence from me is to include a photo of Nathan.  He’s standing in the kitchen next to the cupboard that had his favourite Maryland chocolate chip cookies inside and I know he’s about to say, ‘only one.’ I couldn’t deny him anything. Could you?

Nathan in 2006

Nathan in 2006

 

Inspiring Writers

I was honoured to be invited along to the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind as part of the Off The Shelf Festival recently and since it was my first ever trip to Sheffield, I didn’t quite know what to expect.

I was met at the station by Julie Smith who gave me a whistle stop tour of the city – I can see now why it’s described as one of, if not the greenest city in England. I love Tudor history so I was particularly interested to see Sheffield Manor Lodge where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned. After the tour we then set off for Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind to join the Mappin Writers Group who shared some of their beautiful, funny, touching, emotive, thought-provoking and incredible writing and poetry.

It was a very special event at SRSB and I felt privileged to be able to talk about my third book Where I Found You and my heroine Maggie who is a visually impaired mum-to-be. I explained how challenging it was for me as an author to describe Maggie’s world in a non-visual way, but then I had to have words with myself… What kind of challenge was that compared to living without sight?! I can only hope that my novel came somewhere close to doing justice to those real-life mum’s, some of whom I met, who haven’t let their disability hold them back. All in all, I’m so glad I got to meet a remarkable group of people and to listen to their experiences coming through in their own writing.

Thank you to Sue Coggin for inviting me, to my fellow writers who made me feel so welcome and a special thanks to Julie Smith for the amazing poem she gave me. I would also like to thank SRSB for the flowers and the elephant – which I have now adopted and have a certificate to prove it. I think I’ve made some lovely friends in Sheffield and will have to go back there soon.

SRSB Elephant

Searching for Inspiration

Where do I get my inspiration for my stories from? It’s a question I’ve been asked many times but one I’ve never really found a satisfactory answer to and I’m not sure any writer could. What we’re all on the constant lookout for is the kind of storyline that will keep us awake at night until the final chapter is written and in turn will keep the reader enthralled until the very last page, but finding that initial idea or premise is more like a stumble in the dark rather than a carefully laid out route map.

Searching for Inspiration

Searching for Inspiration

I’ve recently returned from a lovely cruise along the Norwegian Fjords and the scenery was breath-taking and if I had my way, I would hire a cabin there with a picture window to soak up the view as I spent my days writing, and writing and writing. But while the stunning surroundings could inspire me to sit and write, I don’t think the craggy mountains and glassy lakes would ever help me catch upon the initial premise for that truly amazing story that I want to write. I would need to have my ideas at the ready before I closed the cabin door.

Thinking back to the novels I’ve written so far, those embryonic ideas that would lead to fully developed stories came out of nowhere; an advert on the side of a bus; a news report; jogging past a park bench; or reflecting on my own life and past experiences. The only thing they had in common was that they invariably started with that single thought, followed by enough questions that allowed my imagination to catch the spark of the idea and let it burn. Questions that usually began with ‘What if…’

So if I’m honest, if there was inspiration to be drawn from my holiday it’s not going to be the scenery. I’m more likely to get ideas for new stories from the people I’ve met and the conversations I’ve had – or just as likely, the people I’ve observed and the conversations I’ve overheard. Those potential stories are stored in my subconscious, waiting for that flash of inspiration that will turn them into stories that my fingers are itching to write. So now I simply have to wait for inspiration to strike…

 

Read ‘Me’

I love reading and I especially love that sense of anticipation and uncertainty when I start a new book and especially when it’s by a new author. Am I going to like the story? Are the characters going to be people I will love and admire, disagree with or even hate? What kind of world do they live in? How are they going to react as the story unfolds and would I do the same?

The more I’m drawn into a book, the more I become immersed in this other world which isn’t just constructed from the author’s imagination, because I just have to throw in my own embelishments. The way I visualise and interpret the story will be heavily influenced by my own experiences, values and perceptions.

But it was only recently while I was going through the latest rewrite of Leaving Me that I began to appreciate just how intimately an author’s experiences can be woven into the novel too. It can’t all be make-believe!

I have to admit that when I’m writing, I’ll sometimes make a conscious decision to include a little bit of me in my books. In Yesterday’s Sun and Another Way to Fall, there were certainly emotions that I could only have expressed because I identified so closely with them, but there have been more subtle elements added to my novels too. The painting Holly draws in Yesterday’s Sun, for example, was one of mine; the memory about one sister saving her Easter eggs to tease the other in Another Way to Fall was my memory too; and Maggie’s aromatherapy business in Where I Found You was fuelled by a hobby I once enjoyed. And then of course there’s the park bench which has a starring role in Where I Found You, it’s my bench, the one I can clearly remember sitting down on when I was contemplating being a mother for the very first time. If you want to find out more about that, you can read my blog on the Waterstones site [click here].

But it was only when I was rereading the draft manuscript for Leaving Me that I realised how much of me I’d put into it unconsciously.  Certainly some things I’ve used have been exaggerated and redefined but there are others that are a little too close for comfort. What they might be, I don’t think I need reveal just yet, if at all. Leaving Me will be out in Spring 2015 so I think I’ll wait until then to decide.

So now that I’m aware of this additional ingredient that I’ve put in my books, I’m starting to wonder if other author’s do the same and to what degree. And if they are there, could I spot them? I think I’d better pick up another book and see if I can… Any excuse to read!

 

A Token of My Appreciation

Dear Reader,

In the run up to the publication of my latest novel, it occurred to me that while I spend endless hours writing for you, I’ve never actually written to you. So I apologise now because this letter is way overdue.

I’ve been wondering for a while if you realise how important you are to me; you, the reader who invests your time and money into reading one of my books.  I say one book but if you then went on to read more of my work, then (wow!), thank you so, so much! Believe me, that’s just about the biggest complement you can give an author, to pick up another book and take another chance.  I hope I haven’t let you down.

Thank you for helping me get Where I Found You published.

Thank you for helping me get Where I Found You published.

It’s hard to imagine you reading the words I’ve spent hours agonising over, adding to the text, cutting scenes, tweaking the personalities of my characters and what motivates them and generally squeezing every ounce of emotion out of the story and the author. Do you laugh when I want you to laugh or, more likely with one of my books, do you cry when I want you to cry?  Are you sorry when the story comes to an end and for that matter, is the ending you think the story deserved?

It’s those kind of questions that are spinning around in my head when publication day arrives and my novel is released into the world. The problem is that I don’t get to see the effect my writing has on you, I’m not an actor on stage who can hear your gasps or peals of laughter.  What I rely on is the reviews from the amazing army of book bloggers out there and from individual readers who also leave reviews or post comments on my website or Facebook page, not to mention the occasional tweet.  I wonder if you realise how precious that kind of feedback is to me.  Did you know the comments you leave can make my day or, if it’s bad, make my heart sink?

Of course if you asked my publisher, then the most important feedback would be the sales figures which in turn drive the rankings and I can’t lie to you, that’s important to me too.  And it’s not just your direct contribution to those figures that I appreciate. Let’s not forget the new readers you’ve sent my way through your blogs, reviews and the personal recommendations to your friends. Even if they borrowed your copy, there’s always the chance they then went on to buy my next novel.  It all mounts up and it all contributes to my continued existence on the bookseller’s shelves.

It’s a harsh world out there in the publishing industry and I thank you all for your amazing support in getting me this far. I hope it’s the beginning of a long and beautiful relationship but even if my publishing adventure were to end and my stories were left languishing on my computer then perhaps that was meant to be. But for now, thank you for making my dream of becoming a published author a reality.  Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

With much love,

Amanda Brooke

Digital vs Paper – An Author’s Perspective

This week sees the publication of my second novella, ‘If I Should Go,’ which will be quickly followed by my next novel, ‘Where I Found You,’ out on 5th June 2014. There are some obvious differences between the two; the covers for one and the small detail of the novella being a mere 27k words compared to a hefty 111k in the novel. But there is for me a far more notable difference, namely, If I Should Go will only published as an ebook whereas Where I Found You will have both a physical and digital presence.

If I Should Go

Published 8th May 2014

And as the author, I have a very different emotional connection to each of them. The writing process may be very similar; write, rewrite, edit (repeat as necessary) but once I had completed the novella, I didn’t get that sense of crossing a finish line, not even when the cover design was finalised. There was no specific moment where I could sit back, relax and congratulate myself for all the hard work I’d put into its creation and in spite of the fact that If I Should Go is a story I’ve enjoyed writing and can’t wait to share, there’s still a disconnect with my e-book. It’s a little like seeing the baby scan and not being able to hold the baby.

Where I Found You was another matter entirely. The initial stages of writing were the same, albeit much longer and at times more agonising but unlike the novella it would take a physical form as I discovered last week when a padded envelope dropped on my doormat. I ripped it open excitedly to touch my beloved novel for the very first time. It was real, it was tangible and it was so much worth the effort. What’s more, it’s there now sitting pretty on my bookshelf where I can admire it from afar or pick it up and yes, I will admit to this, smell it.

Where I Found You

Published 5th June 2014

I am of course talking from an emotional rather than commercial point of view. I love the fact that my books are available digitally for as long as people want to read them but I would hate to see a day where the need for paper copies is completely dispensed with and thankfully there’s still a firm body of support for traditional printing to protect us from that possibility for some time yet…but maybe not forever.

Digital versus paper is a subject that divides friends, families and generations and the subject cropped up at a book club I attended at Mersey Travel in Liverpool last week. There were strong advocates who extolled the virtues of Kindles and the like. They’re easily transportable and even more so now that many of us use Smartphones for our literary fixes.  They’re great for downloading samples or taking on holiday, you can adjust the font so you don’t have to reach for your reading glasses and for the avid reader, you don’t have to worry about shelf space.

The traditional booklover’s response was at times far more emotive but there were practical considerations too. A traditional book doesn’t lose battery power and you can flick to a favourite passage on the page far easier than you can on a screen. The cover design lodges in your memory when it sits there on your bedside table and the book becomes an intimate friend with whom you can while away the hours.

It was clear from the discussion that a reader’s relationship with a paper novel was akin to a love affair as opposed to a more casual, functional relationship with an ebook. At least we were all agreed on one thing; books in any form are a great way to escape into a world made from equal measures of the author’s and the reader’s imaginations.

A World of My Own Making (and a cover reveal too!)

Deciding where to locate a story is a big decision for any author and one I tend to give a lot of thought to. After all, I know that for months to come I’ll be spending much of my waking hours there – if not during my sleep too. Should I set my novel somewhere new and face the challenge (or pleasure) of going off on a research trip? Should I stay a little closer to home and base the story in my hometown or favourite haunt? Or could I create a fictional world where only my characters will ever inhabit?

I’ve dabbled with all three options to some extent. Yesterday’s Sun was set in a fictional village, Another Way to Fall in my home town and once in a while I’ve written about places I’ve had to visit before I could include them in a particular scene. But when it came to writing my third novel, Where I Found You, I really had no choice at all. By the time I got around to committing the story to paper, I already had a very clear image of that opening scene in my head. I imagined a traditional Victorian park with a main avenue slicing it in two. It had a bandstand and playing fields, and there was a lake snuggled away from view where my main character, Maggie could sit quietly and let the world go by. I knew every intricate detail of that first scene, right down to the layers of paint on her favourite park bench but that was the problem. The bench, the lake and the layout of the park existed only in my mind and when a lengthy internet search failed to uncover a park that matched my expectations, I had no choice but to create a town called Sedgefield, nestled in the Cheshire countryside with a busy high street and of course the perfect park where my heroine could blossom. By the time I finished writing Where I Found You, I was sorry to say goodbye to the town I had created.

So naturally, I went back there.

I’ve just finished a novella called If I Should Go which will be out as an e-book next month. Not only is it set in Sedgefield, but my central character had already made a cameo appearance in Where I Found You (although if you blink, you’ll miss her!). And because the novella will be released a month before the novel, readers will get the opportunity to have a sneaky glimpse of the town of my imaginings. It was a first for me to write two stories that are ever so slightly interlinked and it was a joy. Like I said, the town was intimately familiar to me and writing the novella felt like coming home.

If I Should Go is about a young woman called Rachel who is a single mum and making ends meet by working in a care home and living at home with her mum. She has a second chance of happiness or at least that’s how she sees it when Martin offers her a new life. Writing it was about exploring what happiness means to different people. It’s not only about the sacrifices that we might contemplate taking but also how little we sometimes appreciate what we already have. The novella is out on 8th May 2014 and I really hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

And don’t forget to look out for Where I Found You which is out on 5th June 2014!

If I Should Go

Novella

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Work Goes On

I was lucky enough to be invited along to the Cancer Research UK laboratories in Liverpool recently and I can’t even begin to describe how much of an impact the visit had on me but this blog is my attempt to put those feelings into words.

My son was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia when he was twenty one months old and during his treatment, I felt powerless to help him.  For a period of about eighteen months while his cancer remained indolent all I could do was research my son’s disease as much as I could so that I was best placed to be his advocate.  That was over seven years ago and I’ve forgotten much of what I learned but now all of those memories have come flooding back.

An oncologist once told the parents of a little boy that the treatment they were about to embark upon would one day be considered barbaric.  Their child had the same type of leukaemia as my son and eventually Nathan faced an identical course of treatment, only his consultant referred to it as ‘heroic measures.’  It involved pumping three different types of chemo into his small body over a matter of days to stop his bone marrow from producing cancerous blood cells, quickly followed by a bone marrow transplant.  And when my son was at his lowest, it also involved withdrawing anti-rejection drugs so the new cells would fight Nathan’s own cells and kill off any residual cancer.  The life-saving treatment was so intensive that it was also life-threatening.  It was a lot to ask of a three year old and in Nathan’s case, too much and he died a month after the transplant.

Talking to the staff at the labs, I realised just how much there is still to do, not only in the search for a cure but in the treatment protocols that patients of all ages must endure if they are to stand any chance of getting that all important ‘all clear.’   Yes, cancer treatment has come on in leaps and bounds but with more people developing cancer than ever, now is not the time to take our eye off the ball.

CRUK

Cancer Research Lab -Liverpool

Since I lost my dad to cancer some twenty years ago, I’ve always supported cancer charities. I’ve completed nine Race for Life events with my daughter for Cancer Research UK and I ran the London Marathon for the Children with Cancer charity.  But until now, I never stopped to think how the funds raised might be used.   Other than coming across the occasional awareness campaign or reports on the latest statistics or break-throughs, the work undertaken by cancer research charities isn’t particularly visible or obvious.  In the labs, I was able to see some of that research first hand. There were stacks of Petri dishes containing live tumour cells and experiments to see what effect different drugs had on the cancer, the aim being that when those drugs are used, patients are given enough to do the most damage to the faulty cells and the least damage to the healthy ones.  I saw that kind of balancing act when Nathan was being treated, treatment which was based on the best knowledge at the time but which caused horrendous side-effects that are simply too painful to describe.  I have to believe that one day there will be a better way.

What heartened me most about my visit to the Cancer Research UK labs was hearing how much collaboration goes on behind the scenes.  It’s not just about individual organisations working to serve their own interests but a joint approach with other cancer charities, the pharmaceutical companies, the universities and the doctors, all working together for one common cause – to beat a disease that is likely touch everybody’s life in one way or another.

Cancer is on the increase and where I live in Liverpool, in the North West, statistically I’m more at risk.  We all know how to reduce those risks (quit smoking, drink less, eat healthily, exercise, avoid sunbeds and sunburn and generally be aware of the subtle changes in our bodies to spot the early signs) but we can’t eliminate those risks completely – if a three year old child can get cancer then none of us are immune.

What happened to my family was the single most traumatic experience of my life and it continues to affect me.  I became a writer to make sense of what happened and writing my second book Another Way to Fall placed me back amongst the kind of devastation that cancer can bring.  The novel is brimming with strong and inspirational characters who would much prefer to lead ordinary lives.  The same was true of my family.  I didn’t want my life to change, I didn’t want my son to have to be that strong.  I would rather Nathan’s treatment had been a little less barbaric and that he hadn’t been called upon to be so heroic.  The truth is, I would rather he was still here and while I have no choice but to accept that can’t happen, I can still pray that the next child won’t have to be so heroic.  It’s a hope, and one that’s kept alive by the amazing work of the scientists, doctors and fundraisers that I’m dedicating this blog to.

Thank you to Emma Squibb and Jamie Wilson for giving me such a thought-provoking tour.

From Heart to Canvas

This week I spent an evening with Cancer Research UK at their shop on Bold Street, Liverpool.  As well as promoting my new book Another Way to Fall, it was also an opportunity for my brother to show some of his paintings for the very first time.  The three paintings were created to accompany poems I’d written about my son; my words and my emotions transferred onto canvas.   But I can’t claim it was only my feelings being represented in his amazing pictures.  I wasn’t the only person affected by my son’s death and for that matter, I’m not the only mother to be affected by the loss of a child.

Amanda Brooke

Claire at the Cancer Research UK shop

Having my family there on the night highlighted to me exactly how much Nathan has influenced all our lives.  My brother Chris is a plasterer by trade and art had always been a hobby that he never took too seriously.  All of that changed after Nathan came into our lives only to leave us too soon.  My brother’s art became not only a way for him to direct his own emotions and experiences but so much more than that.  If Nathan taught us anything it’s that life’s too short, too unpredictable and too precious to waste.  Chris is taking his art far more seriously these days and I hope he makes a success of it because it’s undoubtedly another one of Nathan’s legacies.

Amanda Brooke

Chris Valentine and his works of art

The paintings will be on display at the shop for a little while so if you’re in Liverpool then please, please call into the shop.   You’ll find them on the first floor which is where all the second hand books are kept.  You might even find me there, I was checking out the bookshelves and have was a long list of books I want to get my hands on!

If you can’t get to see the paintings in person, then you can always check them out in my previous blogs:

Autumn child – http://wp.me/p2B9JM-45

Golden Thread – http://wp.me/p2B9JM-4k

Where Ocean Meets the Sky – http://wp.me/p2B9JM-4z