Monday, 2 October 2017

Interview with Vivien Brown - Lily Alone

Interview with author Vivien Brown

I am delighted to welcome Vivien Brown to my blog today for her blog tour of Lily Alone. Congratulations on your superb novel. Vivien has joined me today to talk more about her novel and writing process.

Tell us more about your novel 'Lily Alone'.
‘Lily Alone’ is my first novel written as Vivien Brown. It is a domestic drama, which is a move into a new genre for me after many years of writing romcom fiction and short stories for magazines as Vivien Hampshire. The novel asks the question: Would you leave a very young child at home on their own, knowing that terrible things can happen in the blink of an eye? Lily, who is not yet three years old, wakes up alone with only her cuddly toy for company. She is hungry, afraid of the dark, can’t use the phone, and has been told never to open the door to strangers. In the flat downstairs, an elderly woman keeps herself to herself, She wonders at the cries coming from upstairs, but doesn’t like to interfere. Lily’s father has been abroad, absorbed in his new job and his new girlfriend, and her granny lives miles away. Meanwhile, a young woman has had a road accident and now 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.

What made you think of the idea for the novel?
I once lived in a flat and I know that, despite having just a floor between them, close neighbours may know very little about each other. My elderly character Agnes has come from a detached home in the country and is struggling with a soulless and solitary city life. She wonders what is going on in the flat above but doesn’t want to stick her nose in where it may not be welcome. Next thought: What if a road accident victim fails to come home one day, yet nobody notices, and nobody misses her? From those two ideas, it was just one small step to thinking about a small child who that person may have left behind, and who nobody realises is now all alone and vulnerable.

Was it hard to write? ‘Lily Alone’ was a very gripping and emotional novel to read.
I actually enjoyed writing it very much. I wouldn’t call it hard in an emotional sense, as I love tackling stories that pull on the heartstrings. In my magazine fiction I have touched on all sorts of sad and challenging topics, from a blind baby to a Downs syndrome heroine, and those have often turned out to be my best stories. In a physical sense though, it was hard. Sitting down day after day to write a long and serious novel takes its toll, eating up time, creating back problems, making it tough to snap out of the story sometimes and get on with my own life. But in a way that’s true of writing any novel. The characters and their problems become very real.

Who was your favourite character to write in the novel?
I love all my characters and can empathise with them all, no matter what they have done, because I understand their motivation and their back story. I know what has happened to them in the past to make them what they are, and this is especially true of young mum Ruby and of Geraldine, her one-time mentor and little Lily’s gran. I suppose I have two favourites though. One is elderly neighbour Agnes, who reminds me very much of my own grandmother, living alone, with stiff knees, wearing cardigans and tweedy skirts, and sitting in her old armchair with a cup of tea. But I also love Smudge, her cat! He is old too, but still likes to wander around his territory, curl up on a lap or a warm bed, and make his mark – in more ways than one, as you will find out if you read the book!
How do you select the names of your characters? Was the name 'Lily' difficult to choose?
I enjoy choosing just the right name for every character. Their age and social standing, which part of the country they come from, their ethnic roots, the time period in which a story is set, all have an impact on what name suits them best. Quite often I will start to write a story and only a good part of the way through do I realise that a character’s name just isn’t right, so I change it. ‘Find and replace’ is a wonderful tool, except when you find that it has not only changed every mention of Ben to Paul but that words like ‘benefit’ have suddenly changed to ‘Paulefit’ too! Lily was always Lily, right from the start. I like flower names for little girls – Poppy and Daisy are also favourites and may well turn up in future novels. Finding the right title for the novel was much more difficult, and took a lot longer, than naming the characters.
Are any of your characters or their characteristics based on real people?
It is very dangerous to base characters on real people, who may well spot themselves, or imagine that they do. They might be thrilled, or annoyed, or insulted, and I’m sure friendships have probably ended as a result.  Of course, all authors draw partly on their own experiences and it is inevitable that little real-life scenarios and memories play out on the page in some way, but I make sure everything is fictionalised and that characters are made up of many component parts, never copied from just one individual. There are even bits of me in some of them, but I would never say which bits! Lily, and how she copes with being alone, came from a big melting pot of all the wonderful little toddlers I had the privilege of meeting, observing and working with over my many years in the childcare profession.
Do your story ideas come to you easily?
For a short story, yes. I might just get an opening line in my head or picture a scene, and the story grows from there, often written and submitted in no more than a day. But a novel is a whole different ball game! It’s almost impossible to see the whole picture from the start, to know what characters are going to appear and how the plot will pan out. Ideas fly around all the time but they don’t all have the meat to fill a sandwich! I have often started, written a chapter and then realised I have no idea about, or interest in, what happens next, so have abandoned the project in favour of one that grabs me more firmly and fires my imagination. When that happens, the story just takes off and even I don’t know exactly where it will take me. You can probably guess that I am not a planner.

Do you have any hobbies?  
Do pets count as hobbies? I have two beautiful little cats, Pixie and Dixie, and two goldfish called Pip and Mandy.

As you can imagine, I have to keep the two species apart, so the fish live in my study and, unless I am in there to supervise, the door is kept shut! I am also really into cryptic crosswords. My dad taught me when I was very young and I love the intricacies of the clues, playing around with words, all the little tricks the compilers use to lead you up the wrong path, and learning how to spot them. I turned my hobby into a money-maker in 2013 when I wrote my book ‘How To Crack Cryptic Crosswords’ for How-To Books, under my then name of Vivien Hampshire. It has sold really well, and I now also compile personalised crosswords, based on the recipient’s own life and interests, and sell them as unique gifts. You can visit my facebook page:  to see some examples and prices.

Are you working on a novel at the moment?
Yes, I am! It is another domestic drama, tracking the course of a failed marriage over forty years while also looking at its impact on the lives of the now adult children.
What is your favourite children's book?
In my day job, I used to read and recommend picture books to children and their parents in libraries and children’s centres, just about every day for twelve years, so I have so many favourites! Julia Donaldson books stand out for me. They have such lovely natural rhyme and characters that leap off the page, so it’s a tie between The Gruffalo and Stick Man.
What made you leave your previous job to become a writer?
The time was right. The urge to write was strong, doing it at night while holding down a busy day job was becoming tiring, and the right financial package was on the table. It can be a bit lonely writing at home alone when I have been used to being part of a friendly and lively team though, and I definitely miss all the children.

Where can we find you on social media?
I use facebook and twitter every day, not just to promote my books, but to chat to readers and friends too.
Twitter: @vivbrownauthor

Many thanks for taking part in this author interview! I really enjoyed having you on my blog today. Congratulations again on your novel and I look forward to reading more of your books in the future.

Emily xx
Thank you for inviting me. I have had fun chatting, and hope your readers will enjoy the book!

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