Interview with Anne Brooke by Liam TullbergAuthor Anne Brooke
Tullberg: Anne, your novels, Maloney's Law and A Dangerous Man both have gay male central characters. What made you choose these protagonists?
Brooke: Their voices – Michael in A Dangerous Man and Paul in Maloney’s Law – were both so strong in my head that it would have been almost impossible not to choose them. A Dangerous Man came first and Michael was a character I’ve always wanted to write about. Writing him meant I got to know the dark side of myself a lot better.
With Paul, I dreamt the first scene in Maloney’s Law one night, woke up in the morning and simply wrote down that scene. Everything came from there. Actually, in many ways, Paul is similar to Michael, and just as screwed up, but as he’s older he’s more mature and able to cope better with his life by using humour. Something I suppose I’ve learnt for myself. I hope!
Tullberg: Well, they do say write what you know. So, how and why did you choose to write in first person perspective?
Brooke: I always write my gay male character novels in the first person perspective and my straight/bisexual female character novels in the third person. I find it very difficult to think like a woman and identify far more easily with Michael and Paul than I ever do with my female main characters. In fact some of the scenes in A Dangerous Man and in Maloney’s Law did, in effect, happen and I just rewrote them from my main character’s perspective. The “I” there in those cases is fairly interchangeable with me.
Tullberg: That’s really interesting. Did you do much research to get into the mind of these characters?
Brooke: I did very little character research as such – I just take the things in my own head which are hard, if not impossible, to express as a “UK British female” and express them in a male persona. It’s a relief to have some of this stuff out in the open, I can tell you! In many ways, it’s more a question of getting them out of my mind and onto the paper, rather than me getting into their minds. I think we’re already fairly joined at the hip – somehow.
Even now, I find myself in situations at work or in my personal life and wonder how Michael/Paul would deal with this or that. And, yes, I do talk to them still. Especially Michael. I suppose in that respect, it’s a way of tapping into my own strength and cussedness and using both in a way which I can’t do when I’m being “Anne”. That said, I’ve always enjoyed reading novels with strong-minded gay male characters, and have done from a very early age. I must be the only person I know who read all of “Dance to the Music of Time” before she was 15. And these days reading anything by Maria McCann, Patricia Duncker or Barry McCrea is always fantastic research!
In terms of other research, it’s fairly organic. I always do the writing first, then highlight issues I need to check out or go and investigate afterwards. For instance, after the almost-final version of A Dangerous Man was done, I went round London with my husband and pinpointed and photographed areas which meant something to Michael – eg Jack’s house, the gallery, where Michael starts off living etc etc. It made it more real, and I wanted to get London very much into the book, as it’s haunted me ever since I lived there in my 20s. I’ve always thought of the city as a very dangerous place and I hope that comes over in the novel too.
Tullberg: Yes, it does. Having read the novel, I can see that the city itself it almost as much a character as those with dialogue and actions. In regards to the development of your work, were the results what you had expected?
Brooke: No, to be honest. I didn’t think A Dangerous Man would be quite as dark and violent as it is. As I’ve already said, it’s certainly taught me a lot about myself. It also went through extraordinary amounts of changes. At the beginning, Michael was a cleaner rather than an artist, as I didn’t have the courage to believe I could carry it through if I made him into something that I didn’t know much about. When The Literary Consultancy persuaded me to make him into something more interesting, I took that step, wiped out 80-90% of what I’d written and then started again with him obsessed with his art. At that point, it was strange that the parts where he’s drawing became simpler than I’d anticipated – I just wrote about his drawing as if I were writing about writing. If you see what I mean. Which means that Michael’s anger, his obsession, his passion about his art, his incredible frustration with the business he’s in is actually mine. In many ways, I made myself more vulnerable in Michael than I have in any of my characters. It actually became quite frightening putting all that in, as well as exhilarating.
With Paul, yes, the results were nearer to what I’d thought the novel would be. The things that surprised me were how much of a “now” feeling the novel has – everything Paul does is done in the current time, so the whole novel is written in the present tense. The reader sees almost everything (excepting two flashbacks) as it happens to Paul. In fact this concept of time became a vital part of who he is, and his obsession with trying to control it. The other thing that surprised me with Maloney’s Law was when I was about one-quarter of the way through, I was getting very twitchy and knew something was missing, something was wrong with it, though I had no idea what. Then one morning, I woke up and heard a voice in my head saying, as clearly as if there had been someone else in the room: what about my sister? At that point, everything became clear and I had the key to Paul’s character – once I’d written her in, the novel took on a whole new life. I really enjoyed it. In fact, Maloney’s Law is probably the novel I’ve enjoyed writing the most, whereas A Dangerous Man is possibly the novel where I gave most away.
Tullberg: Having looked at your website, I see that Maloney's Law is set to be published in the States. That must be an exciting prospect.
Brooke: Very much so! So far it’s been a joy to work with PD Publishing, and I’m very glad that they chose to take it on, especially as they specialise in gay/Lesbian fiction. I’m also hoping that having a novel in the States will help widen my readership a little, as I like to think I might have something to offer (when I’m feeling confident, that is!), and it seems easier to sell gay novels in the US than it is in the UK. At least, that’s certainly been my experience. I’ll have to see!
Tullberg: I’ve got my fingers crossed for you. Now, you’ve been writing for seventeen years. What's your writing routine like? Do you have any strange habits when it comes to putting pen to paper/fingers to keyboard?
Brooke: In terms of fiction, I used to aim for 2000 words every writing day (I write two or three days each week when I’m not doing my paid job), but this became too much. So if I can do 1000 words in a day, then I’m happy. It keeps the whole thing moving – if I stop for too long, it’s much harder to get back into it. I tend to write fiction straight to the screen (although this can vary if I feel I need the extra stimulus which comes from doing it differently), but write poetry out in longhand first before transferring it to the computer.
I do always have a writing “tic” which keeps me going. I used to fiddle with a broken green rubber band in between typing, but it just became too fragmented. Sadly! Now, I can’t start my writing day without playing two games of computer Solitaire, and I always go back to this if I have a mental pause. It helps me sort plot out when I’m doing something else, I think.
Tullberg: That’s great. So, Anne, what advice would you give to someone poised to write their first novel?
Brooke: Write what YOU want to write, not what the market says you should write. First and foremost, you write for you, not other people. If you get that right, then you’ll produce the best book that you can. But if you try and change what you have inside to suit others’ expectations, then you’ve failed at the first hurdle. And, hey, you don’t have to write every day either – it’s a myth! Most of all though, enjoy it. Apart from your relationship with your partner/family/friends, it’s the best thing ever.
Liam Tullberg is currently working on his novel, Keeping You A Secret, and can be contacted through www.liamtullberg.com
Labels: Author Interview