Introducing Anne Brooke
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I grew up on an apple farm in the heart of rural Essex. After gaining 3 A levels and 1 S Level, in which my specialist subjects were Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron, I read English at Durham University. There I focused on Medieval and Old English, and must be one of the few people who has read the Anglo-Saxon poem, “Beowulf”, in the original language. However, I remember almost nothing about it now.
After University, I spent six months doing voluntary work before taking a series of administrative jobs in insurance, education and legal conferencing. When I could stand it no more, I went back to Durham University to take my MA in Medieval English and Latin. My final dissertation concerned the love poetry written by James I of Scotland and Charles, duc d’Orleans (although not addressed to each other), both of whom were separately held hostage by a foreign power for many years, thus earning the departmental shorthand title of “Anne’s sex and bondage thesis.”
I married my husband in 1993 and moved to Surrey, where I have lived for the last seventeen years. I work part-time for Surrey University in Student Care Services. Interests include playing bad golf, theatre-going, birdwatching, reading books with at least one dead body in them, and of course writing, which – sometimes – keeps me sane.
What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?
My first book was actually m/m romantic comedy, The Hit List, which has just been published by Amber Allure Press. I self-published it locally, way way before it was ready, in 2004, and then took it out of print in 2008. It really wasn’t very good back then, and had lots of strange content in it! Last year I spent some considerable time rewriting it, and so you could say it’s taken 6 years for me to be fully happy for it and for it to be published. Which, coincidentally, is about the same time it takes Jamie and Robert in The Hit List to work out their relationship.
When did you start writing Mystery & Thrillers, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Gay & Lesbian Fiction? What about these genres interested you the most?
I started writing fiction in 2000, after a period when I had a writer’s block with the poetry I’ve written for years. I naturally fell into the way of writing from the point of view of a gay male, as to be honest that’s the voices that are always in my head. Once I started writing them, they became a lot stronger, and now I’d miss them if they disappeared.
How many books have you written thus far?
I’ve written eight novels, of which six have now been published. My two fantasy novels are the unpublished ones – so far.
Do you write full time?
No, I think writing full-time would drive me insane! I work part-time at the local University and write part-time, and enjoy that sense of balance.
Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?
A bad bout of depression in my early twenties drove me to writing poetry, and once I recovered, I kept on writing. So I suppose it was a way of working out the bad things in life, so in some ways it chose me. I do tend to write about the dark side of life, even in the comedies like The Hit List or Pink Champagne and Apple Juice.
On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
Doing a fair amount of displacement activity to begin with, and then writing bits and bobs in the morning. I usually find it easier to write in the afternoon when the deadline of the end of the day is approaching. I try to get about 1000 words done in a day – it used to be 2000, but that was way too demanding so I had to ease it down rather.
When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
I’m hopeless at plotting. I start writing and let the characters get into the situations they do because of who they are. It’s odd because every other part of my life is totally planned – it’s only when I’m writing the novels that I feel more liberated. Some reviewers have mentioned the feeling in my work that anything could happen at any given time, and that’s probably because I’m winging it too! Which I hope makes both the writing and the reading process an exciting one.
What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?
When I get an idea or a character, I simply start writing and do the necessary research as I go along – with further research at the end if required. One of the nurses at the University where I work is really helpful with the medical details needed for the gay crime novels, so I’m hugely grateful to that. The Internet is also a good source of information – as is asking people who might know!
How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? How do you approach development of your characters? Where do you draw the line?
I think all my characters are to a certain extent an amalgamation of myself, and people I know. My mother’s turned up in minor roles in both of my two comic novels, and there are key aspects of my husband in more major roles. I also playact different characters in my head and try out different roles all the time, so that comes into it too. In addition, I’m very keen on jotting down things people might say, so conversations and phrases work colleagues say have found their way into my novels – and they do know that!
How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read?
About 18 months to two years.
Do you write straight through, or do you revise as you go along?
I tend to write in a linear fashion on the whole, but I do revise as I go along. That said, I’ll tend to write what I think the ending might be fairly early in the process and then change it to suit when I get there. In one of my gay crime novels, Maloney’s Law, I had to rewrite the ending completely as I realized Paul Maloney would never in a thousand years do what I had him doing initially. Everything changed. But that felt okay as I’d got to know the character extremely well by then.
Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?
As I mentioned earlier, I did get something of a block during a bout of depression, but there writing, in a different format, actually helped. If there are days I can’t think what to write, I either write anything even if it’s rubbish just to get something down that I can play with – or I’ll start a different project, ie if you’re stuck in a novel, have a go with a short story or poem instead. It gets rid of the anxiety and allows you to have fun with writing again. Which is always a good thing.
When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
I’d like a reader to feel that they’ve got to know a character intimately and been involved in the world I’ve tried to create. I’d like for them to feel that they’ve seen how another person (even a fictional person) might live, and I’d like for them to feel more alive and engaged with the world as a result. It’s what my writing does for me, and I hope the same for any reader.
Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
- Get your work professionally edited. Twice by different people if you can manage it
- Don’t worry about what the market is doing – write what you want to write, from the heart and from the gut
- Not everyone will like your work – don’t be afraid of that, as it’s natural. After all, not everyone likes us.
Does the title of a book you’re writing come to you as you’re writing it, or does it come before you even begin the first sentence?
Titles tend to come as I’m writing the book. Or even at the end, when it’s done, as for Pink Champagne and Apple Juice.
How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?
Quirky! I love TV programmes like Friends and Frasier, and the recent outbreak of UK comedy news programmes is just ideal for me. Bring them on.
What is the most frequently asked Anne question?
Why does a happily married straight middle-aged woman write about traumatized gay young men?
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a gay werewolf story for Amber Allure (I hope), the 3rd novel in my fantasy trilogy, and my online prayer novel. Never say I don’t have variety in my life …
What was the best piece of advice you’ve received with respect to the art of writing? How did you implement it into your work?
Don’t use adjectives – make those verbs work! Oh, and edit, edit, edit. Both pieces of advice are invaluable. I make a conscious effort to go easy with the adjectives when I write, and it does produce clarity and strength in a piece of writing if you do that.
When it comes to promotion, what lengths have you gone to in order to increase reader-awareness of your work?
I’m a regular blogger, and I do a lot of networking on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Writing is obviously not just how you make your living, but your life-style as well. What do you do to keep the creative “spark” alive – both in your work and out of it?
Keep observant and take part in what’s going on around you – when you’re engaged in life, you’re also engaged in creativity, and that really makes a difference. Plus take regular “time out” just to enjoy yourself – that keeps the spark alive!
What pros and cons surround the e-publishing industry, and how do you envision the future of e-publishing?
I think the epublishing industry is more open to work that’s not mainstream or is seen as different, and that is a powerful plus point in today’s literary world. On the other hand, it’s currently a small part of the reading market, and many people are not aware of it at all. I think it will become much more accepted in the future and give people a far wider choice of reading matter, and that can only be a good thing.
What kind of books do you like to read?
I enjoy reading m/m novels, crime fiction, dark contemporary fiction, and spiritual non-fiction, as well as modern, off-beat poetry.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
I’d love to be on the stage (I come from a long line of actors!) but I’ve never had the courage.
I recently read your novel The Hit List. Where did you get the idea for that story?
It’s a modern, gay retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma, plus I wanted to write a novel about a young man’s relationship with his father, that was set in the country – I’m a country girl myself – so the idea grew from there.
When it comes to the covers of your books, what do you like or dislike about them?
I’ve been lucky as the covers I now have for my books are ones I love. I particularly like the way that they mirror something of the tone of the story inside them, even though I write in very different genres. For instance, the cover for A Dangerous Man was produced by a wonderful artist I know – Penelope Cline – and she’s also done the covers for Pink Champagne and Apple Juice, and Thorn in the Flesh. For Amber Allure, I think the covers have all been fabulous, and they are very open to suggestions writers might make, which is great.
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
I love going to the theatre – I’m a real play junkie – as well as bird-watching (obsessive but peaceful) and playing incredibly bad golf. The latter two are great for getting some exercise too which, what with writing and an office job, I definitely need.
Any special projects coming out soon we should watch for?
I’ve got a couple of short stories coming out with Amber Allure Press in March and April – Give and Take is a light bondage m/m story, and The Delaneys and Me is a m/m/m ménage story with a quirky comic touch. I hope people will enjoy both.
New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Do join writing groups, either in your local area or online, and be prepared to learn from them. Attend writing conferences too – they’re great for learning and also for networking. Also write what you want to (as I’ve said before) and not what people tell you to – after all you need to enjoy the process too.
What future projects do you have in the works?
I’m working on my fantasy series, and am about to get seriously into writing the third one, The Executioner’s Cane. The first of the series, The Gifting, is being considered by a couple of small publishers at the moment, and the second, Hallsfoot’s Battle, is in the editing process. It’s the longest series I’ve ever been committed to and I’m learning a great deal from it.
Can you please tell us where we can find you and your books on the Internet?
You can find my website at: http://www.annebrooke.com/ and my journal at: http://annebrooke.blogspot.com/