The Writing Life of: Vivien Brown
This week I am thrilled to be interviewing author Vivien Brown. Vivien will be sharing with us detail of her writing life, telling us all about her latest book ‘Five Unforgivable Things‘, which was released on 4th October 2018 and answering a few fun questions too. This post contains affiliate links.
Vivien Brown lives in west London with her husband and two cats. She worked for many years in banking and accountancy, and then, after the birth of twin daughters, made a career switch and started working with young children, originally as a childminder but later in libraries and children’s centres, promoting the joys of reading and sharing books through storytimes and book-based activities and training sessions.
She has written many short stories for the women’s magazine market and a range of professional articles and book reviews for the nursery and childcare press, in addition to a ‘how to’ book based on her love of solving cryptic crosswords. Now a full time writer, working from home, Vivien is combining novel-writing and her continuing career in magazine short stories with her latest and most rewarding role as doting grandmother.
1) As a child did you have a dream job in mind?
I can’t remember having any particular plan. I was always good at English, especially poetry and fiction, but a job as a writer just didn’t seem like an option, and careers advisers back then certainly never mentioned it, probably due to the unsteady/unlikely nature of success and earning a decent income!
I fell into banking and accountancy, using numbers instead of words, but they were never my dream job. That came later, when I started working with very young children in libraries, and inspiring their love of stories.
2) Who was your favourite childhood author (s)?
I loved the magic in the Mr Pinkwhistle books by Enid Blyton, not among the best known of her characters but always my favourite. I won one in a drawing competition at school when I was five, and must have read it many, many times.
3) Was there a particular point in your life that you realised you wanted to be a writer?
I was writing poetry when I was 16, doing my O Level English, and just loved putting my thoughts and feelings on paper. I only got into fiction much later, when my kids were small and I joined a writing class, had a magazine story accepted and won a national novel competition, all in quick succession. Then I knew it was possible, I gave up paid work a few years back to try my hand at being a full-time stay-at-home author, and I love the freedom it gives me.
4) What is your average writing day like? Do you have any special routines, word count, etc?
No two days are quite the same. I write in big bursts when I feel the urge, but can then go several days without writing a word. I aim for about 10,000 words per month, but that speeds up as I get near to the end of a book or have deadline to meet. I am lucky to have a study so I don’t have to clear a dining table or share space, and in the summer I like to write in the garden.
I have always found it easier to write in the evening than in the morning, probably because I like to clear any admin and chores before my mind feels ready to make a start on the creative stuff. Being at home every day also allows me to decide when I can help out with my grandchildren, take a rest day or go on holiday, with no boss to have to ask for time off.
5) How many books have you written? Any unpublished work?
I have had around 140 magazine stories published, but came to novels quite late. My first novel found an agent after its opening paragraphs won the annual Mail on Sunday ‘best opening to a novel’ competition, but it never did find a publisher. Novels two and three (and one for kids) also failed to get published, but I put all of those words down to learning my craft. I self-published novel four, but numbers five, six and seven have all had commercial publisher contracts, first as Vivien Hampshire and now as Vivien Brown.
6) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I do need a rough idea of what it’s about and whose story it is, but I don’t plot in any fine detail. Having said that, I certainly don’t just ramble away, making it up as I go along. The theme and main story arc are clear in my head, along with the ending I am heading towards, but sometimes what happens in the middle works itself out as I go along. Characters do take over and surprise me a lot!
Concerning your latest book:
Publisher – HarperImpulse
Pages – 512
Release Date – 4th October 2018
ISBN 13 – 978-0008252144
Format – ebook, paperback
Almost thirty years ago, Kate’s dream came true. After years of struggling, she was finally pregnant following pioneering IVF. But the dream came at a cost. Neither Kate nor her husband Dan could have known the price they would have to pay to fulfil their cherished wish of having their own family.
Now, years later, their daughter Natalie is getting married and is fulfilling her own dream of marrying her childhood sweetheart. Natalie knows she won’t be like most brides as she travels down the aisle in her wheelchair, but it’s the fact her father won’t be there to walk beside her that breaks her heart.
Her siblings, Ollie, Beth and Jenny, gather around Natalie, but it isn’t just their father who is missing from their lives… as the secrets that have fractured the family rise to the surface, can they learn to forgive each other before it’s too late?
7) How did you go about researching the content for your book?
I write domestic dramas, set largely in the present day or near past, about families and what can happen within them – marriage, divorce, infidelity, infertility, secrets, romance, rivalry, etc. I could never cope with writing historical’s or anything that needs a lot of research.
I write from what I know and observe, and from the heart. With IVF in the 1980s very much at the centre of the latest novel, ‘Five Unforgivable Things’, I didn’t need to research much at all. As a former IVF patient, I lived it! Although the story is fiction, all the medical and emotional detail comes from my own memory and experience.
8) How long did it take to go from ideas stage to writing the last word?
It takes me about a year to write a book, but bits of each one have probably been in my head for a lot longer, waiting for their turn to enter a short story or novel. Ideas are everywhere and sometimes they have to queue! IVF is a topic I have wanted to include in my writing for a long time, but I needed to work out the best way to do it.
9) How did you come up with the title of your book?
After going on an article writing course led by Simon Whaley, I knew that including a number in a title could intrigue readers. ‘Five Unforgivable Things’ that could alter the course of a marriage… What were the five things? Could they guess what they might be before even reading? I was hoping readers would be curious. On this occasion my publishers did not try to get me to change the title I had chosen, although they often do.
10) Can you give us an insight into your characters?
The book starts on the day that Kate and Dan meet, forty years ago, and follows them through all the ups and downs of marriage and parenthood. Kate is telling her story, so we only hear one side of it, but is everything really Dan’s fault? Alternate chapters are told from the points of view of their now adult children, each of whom has problems and secrets of their own – including miscarriages, unfaithful partners, dissatisfaction with careers, disability and alcoholism. With a family wedding approaching, everything is going to come to a head, but can they all learn to forgive each other in time for Christmas?
11) What process did you go through to get your book published?
Luckily, Harper Impulse gave me a two-book contract when they bought my previous novel, ‘Lily Alone,’ so I always knew this one would be published and when. And the whole thing came about through meeting my editor, Kate Bradley, at a Romantic Novelists Association conference and being invited to the Harper offices for a ‘chat’ which turned into an offer!
12) What’s next for you writing wise?
I do miss writing short stories for the women’s magazines so I will probably get back to doing a little of that, but the next book is also well underway and I hope to see it published in 2019.
1) If you could have any super power for the day which would you choose?
I would love to be able to read minds and find out what my nearest and dearest (and my publishers) are really thinking and feeling but are not willing to say out loud. A day inside my husband’s head would be an eye-opener!
2) Do you have any pets?
I am a cat lover and have always had them around since I was a child. I currently have two – Dixie and Pixie, who are four years old and came from Cats Protection. I also have the last in a long line of goldfish, Mandy, who has survived longer than all those who went before.
3) If you decided to write an autobiography of your life, what would you call it?
‘Never a Cross Word’ – because I try not to argue, hate confrontation of any kind, and have always loved doing cryptic crosswords! Compiling crosswords for a newspaper would be a perfect job for me.
4) Your book has been made into a feature film and you’ve been offered a cameo role, which part would you choose, or what would you be doing?
If I could be a main character, I would have to be Kate, as she is about my age. Someone else would have to play the younger Kate, forty years earlier, though. But if it’s just a walk-on cameo role, I would be on the medical team at the IVF clinic, maybe doing the scan that reveals how many babies Kate is carrying.
5) Where is your favourite holiday destination?
You can’t beat Italy. Hot sunny weather. Not too far to have to fly. Beautiful cities with lots of history, lovely beaches, and of course Venice, which is just so unique in every way.
6) A baseball cap wearing, talking duck casually wanders into your room, what is the first thing he says to you?
‘Can you direct me to the nearest pond?’
I would like to say a big thank you to Vivien Brown for sharing with us details of her writing life and for a wonderful interview.