Published by HarperImpulse
Ebook : 15 June 2017 | Paperback 5 October 2017
For my turn on the blog tour to celebrate the paperback release of Lily Alone, I have a Q&A with author Vivien Brown.
It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the blog Vivien, would you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?
I worked for many years in banking and accountancy jobs before finding my dream job working with the under-fives in children’s centres and libraries, introducing them and their families to the importance of reading and the magic of stories. I am the mother of twin girls and became a granny two years ago, which kind of shows my age! I have been writing alongside the day job for more than twenty years, concentrating largely on magazine fiction and articles, but have recently been bitten by the ‘novel bug’ and am now working on novel-writing as a full-time career.
Without giving away too much information, can you please tell us a little about your debut novel, Lily Alone. Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
Having worked with very young children and watched them at close range, I was fascinated by their growing confidence, independence and level of self-care, and started to wonder how well they might manage if left entirely alone. I interviewed a few parents and searched my own memories too, and realised that, actually, children do still very much need adult guidance, particularly in terms of staying safe. Lily has been left alone at home and is far from safe. But why is she there, and why is there no one to help her? Well, her mum is in hospital in a coma and unable to let anyone know Lily is alone, for a start! The story follows a cast of characters, all linked in some way to Lily and her plight, and I hope goes some way towards exploring other forms of loneliness and abandonment too, including through old age, being in foster care, relationship breakdown and bereavement.
You have previously had a romantic comedy and other books, including non-fiction, published under another name. Lily Alone is a departure in genre. Do you have a preferred genre for writing or are you content to ‘mix it up’?
Yes, I wrote initially as Vivien Hampshire and have had a lot of success in the women’s magazine short story world, as well as many professional nursery and childcare articles and a couple of earlier books published under that name. When I have the time, I do still write romantic and family ‘womag’ short stories, something I still enjoy doing very much. However, when I wrote Lily Alone, in a different genre and tackling more serious themes, my publishers (Harper Impulse) thought a new name would help to mark that new beginning. Having remarried just three years ago, I have chosen to now use my real married name of Vivien Brown for my novel-writing, marking a new start in both my personal and writing lives!
How did you plan/research your books? Do you plot in detail or just see where the story takes you?
I start with an opening scene and a vague idea and just take it from there. A lot of my plotting and planning takes place as I go along and changes as the characters develop on the page. Because I have chosen to deal with relationship themes and set my novels in contemporary London (a world I live in and know well), research is actually quite minimal. For Lily Alone I did have to check out quite a lot of detail about the Social Services system in relation to children and families, the possible effects of a brain injury, and what goes on in a hospital A&E department and Intensive Care ward, but my next book, which should be out next year, required virtually no research at all. I know many novelists, especially those writing historical stories, who adore research almost as much as the actual writing, but I am not one of them!
What is the best writing advice that you have received? And what advice would you give to anyone trying to get their novel published? Is there anything that you wished you had done differently?
The best advice I have received, and would pass on, has to be never to give up. If you love writing and have a dream, then believe in yourself and don’t let anyone or anything put you off. It helps to have some natural talent, but perseverance is just as important. A lot can be learned and improved, so always join a class, attend author talks, mix with others who are in the same boat and who understand. Be prepared to set time aside, which might mean a whole day at the weekend, getting up early and writing before work or giving up watching your favourite soap opera! And try not to be precious about your work. Listen to advice and criticism, accept that rejection is a normal part of the process, and be prepared to cut out maybe thousands of words if they are not working… and to trust your editor, if you are lucky enough to get one. They do know what they are doing. Would I have done anything differently? Got published and made writing my career much earlier, but that is not always something we can make happen, much as we might like to!
Is there any part of the writing process which you enjoy (or find the most difficult) – i.e. researching, writing, editing?
The best bit for me is starting out with that blank page and a spark of an idea and finding out where it leads. But, like most writers, I am not a great fan of editing. Once the book is written, how lovely it would be to put it aside and start the next. Unfortunately, writing ‘The End’ is often only the beginning of creating what will be the final version. A lot of work must then go into checking, proofreading, improving, cutting, adding and all the other constant re-reads and re-writes that go towards making the book as good as it can be. The opening chapter of Lily Alone was re-written so many times until it felt right, and quite a lot of things I had explained early on later found themselves pushed much nearer to the back of the book to keep the readers guessing.
Do you have any favourite books or authors which may have inspired you? What type of book do you enjoy reading for pleasure, and what are you reading now?
My tastes vary from light romance to psychological thrillers, although I do tend to gravitate towards female authors. I set myself the ‘Goodreads’ challenge back in January, with a reading target of 35 books in 2017, but it is looking like I will exceed that figure with ease, as I am never far from a book, even when I am heavily into writing my own. I try desperately hard NOT to be influenced or inspired by what I read as I want my own plots and my fiction voice to be unique. Some of my favourite reads this year have come from Clare Mackintosh, Iona Grey, Mary Jayne Baker, Veronica Henry, Milly Johnson and Elaine Everest. After years of reading to kids at work and writing book reviews for the under-fives market, I also still love a good picture book, with Stick Man out in front as my current favourite. Watch out for a really cute new book called The Backup Bunny, coming out next year, too.
When you’re not working or writing, what do you do to relax?
I spend time with family and my two cats, enjoy eating out, going to horseracing meetings, the theatre and boy band concerts, and I am a cryptic crossword fanatic! I really love solving the trickiest of clues, compiling my own puzzles, and have written a book helping others learn how to solve them. I complete the crossword in The Daily Mail every day and time myself, my record being 8 minutes, and when I have more time to spare I take on the harder puzzles in The Telegraph or Times. I also like watching TV quiz shows, and have appeared on a few of them, sadly without winning any enormous cash prizes (so far).
If you could take 3 books to a desert island, which ones would it be and why?
I am a sucker for dictionaries, discovering new words and what they mean, and pride myself on my spelling, so the first would have to be a big dictionary, preferably illustrated and in several volumes. No period of isolation would be complete without a good work of fiction, but it would have to be a story I could read over and over again, still get emotional over, and find something new in every time. So, I choose a Jane Austen novel and, on balance, I would have to go for Sense and Sensibility. Lastly, a cryptic crossword book, with tough puzzles that take hours to work out, to help keep my brain active, but it must have the answers in the back, in case I get stuck, because not being able to solve a clue and having no way of finding out the answer could quite possibly drive me mad!
Thank you Vivien.
About the book:
What sort of mother would leave her all alone… a gripping and heart-wrenching domestic drama that won’t let you go.
Lily, who is almost three years old, wakes up alone at home with only her cuddly toy for company. She is afraid of the dark, can’t use the phone, and has been told never to open the door to strangers.
But why is Lily alone and why isn’t there anyone who can help her? What about the lonely old woman in the flat downstairs who wonders at the cries from the floor above? Or the grandmother who no longer sees Lily since her parents split up?
All the while a young woman lies in a coma in hospital – no one knows her name or who she is, but in her silent dreams, a little girl is crying for her mummy… and for Lily, time is running out.
About the author:
Vivien Brown lives in Uxbridge, Middlesex, with her husband and two cats. For most of her life she has immersed herself in words – as an avid reader, writer, poet, library outreach worker, storyteller, gifter of Bookstart packs to babies and toddlers, creative writing tutor and crossword fanatic. She enjoys dipping into dictionaries and exploring the meaning of words, and watching and/or taking part in TV quiz shows. In the evenings she loves nothing more than losing herself in a good book, a compelling TV drama or her regular supply of women’s magazine short stories – which all help to provide inspiration and ideas for her own fiction. ‘Lily Alone’ is her debut novel.