Guest Author Vivien Brown talks about Five Unforgivable Things

Today we talk to friend and author Vivien Brown, who’s new gripping novel, Five Unforgiveable Things, is due out tomorrow

Welcome once again to the Write Minds blog, Viv.

Kate, the main character in your latest novel, Five Unforgivable Things, has undergone IVF treatment in the past. What kind of research did you do on this subject?

The novel looks at a long marriage, from the 1970s to the present day, and the infertility treatments in the story take place at the end of the 1980s when things were done a little differently, and with far less success, than they are now. Having been in Kate’s situation myself back then, and undergoing five ‘rounds’ of IVF, I had to dig more into my own memory than do any kind of formal research! But I made sure not too much of the actual nitty-gritty needles, medicines and operations stuff made it onto the page. It’s the emotional side of it all, the ethical dilemmas and the effect on the couple’s relationship that I wanted to convey more than the physical processes. In fact, it is the long-reaching results of the IVF that create many of the ups and downs of the story, much of which is told through the eyes of their now adult children in the present day.

Like your last novel, Lily Alone, Five Unforgivable Things looks set to be full of twists and secrets. Do you work these all out before you start the book or do some occur to you as you’re writing?

I always knew I wanted there to be a few big events/ mistakes that defined Kate and Dan’s marriage – the moments when if one or the other had done things differently or made a different decision then all that followed would have altered. I soon settled on the number five (not too many, not too few, and it made for a good title!) but it was only as I wrote that I decided exactly what the five things were. But the children of the marriage have their secrets and heartaches too – things they cannot always talk to each other about, for various reasons which will become clear as you read!

Do you have a favourite character in the book? Or a least favourite character?

I do love Kate because she is there throughout the whole book, from page one until the end some forty years later. Alternate chapters are told in her voice, so I guess I know her best – what is in her head and why she does what she does. Some of her husband Dan’s traits may be annoying or seem rather cold, but he is a practical person, an accountant, led by his head and his wallet rather than his heart. I certainly don’t dislike him for that.

What songs would be on Kate’s playlist, and why?

Kate has no interest in music. And, later, she has no time for it! I could try to think up songs that fit with her life, but they would be my choices, not hers.

When you begin a new novel, do you have a particular type of reader in mind?

Having written for the women’s magazine fiction pages for a very long time, I suppose I can only ever see my readers as female, interested in relationships, families and emotional stories, preferably with happy endings. That’s the type of story I enjoy reading so inevitably it’s what I end up writing too. But I do make sure I include a wide range of characters, from babies to the elderly (In my first novel, Lily Alone, one of my main characters, Agnes, was in her eighties), so I hope to appeal to readers of all ages. I have also written short stories in the past about a downs syndrome teenager and a blind baby, and in this book I introduce my first major novel character with a disability.

You’ve been a prolific writer over the past twenty years with short stories, articles and now novels. Do you ever get writer’s block?

I wouldn’t call it that. I gave up my day job four years ago and now that I work from home I do feel I can allow myself days off, even weeks off if I feel so inclined, but when a deadline looms I will just sit and get on with it. Planning goes on all the time, in my head, so when I get to the desk I hope to already know what to write and where the story is going. There is nothing worse than staring at a blank screen with no idea what to write, so I never do that. There is always admin, social media and promo to take care of in between creative bouts.

Which book has most influenced you in your life, and why?

Dictionaries! I have always loved them, and discovering new words, old words and unexpected meanings is always fascinating. As an avid ‘crossworder’, they have often saved the day when I have got stuck solving or compiling a clue. When it comes to novels, so many leave their mark – in terms of their use of language, emotional connection and just generally not wanting the story to end. I couldn’t name just one.

You introduced us to the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, the meetings of which we’ve greatly enjoyed. Tell our readers something about the organisation.

The SWWJ is a wonderful society, which I discovered about fifteen years ago and have belonged to ever since. It is the oldest society in the UK for professional writing women (and a few men these days too), and celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2019. I am now a Council member and a Fellow, and run both their social media platform and their writing competitions programme. With some prestigious and very  enjoyable social events, well-known past and current members and patrons (Joyce Grenfell, Shirley Williams, Victoria Wood, Jane Corry, Tim Rice, Floella Benjamin), a lovely quarterly magazine, and a press card for every full member, it is well worth joining – and if your level of published writing doesn’t quite qualify you for full membership, you can join as a ‘friend’. Take a look at the website for more info: http://www.swwj.co.uk

 It’s been lovely as always to have you on the blog, Viv. The very best of luck with Five Unforgivable Things.

 Thank you!

 

FIVE UNFORGIVABLE THINGS

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?

Click here to buy from Amazon

 

ABOUT VIVIEN

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.

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Food, Glorious Food

Elaine and Francesca on researching food and how they use it in their writing.

Victorian China

Victorian China

Elaine: If we write short stories or novels, historical or modern, regardless of genre, we should always include food and of course plenty of cups of tea. When writing about a character eating, the author is giving the reader information about them. What food they eat could reveal their social standing in society. How they eat it could depict not only their social standing, but also when they last had a meal, and of course their manners. Food is often used in romantic and sex scenes; that was nicely depicted in the Disney film, Lady and The Tramp when they had a spaghetti dinner. What and how we eat has changed over the years and therefore, the meal could indicate the time the novel is set in.

I remember attending the opening of the first McDonalds in Britain, I believe it was 1972. The group I was with were totally shocked that we had to eat with our fingers and we decided there and then that it would never take off. Obviously, we couldn’t have been more wrong. This demonstrates the importance of making sure the food facts are correct because it is easy to get caught out.

Mrs Beaton's Cookery Book

Mrs Beaton’s Cookery Book

I am writing a first draft of a Victorian Saga and there is a lot of information about everything on the Internet; sometimes I wonder how authors managed twenty years ago. However, I purchased a Mrs Beaton’s Cookery Book, which is wonderful. It is more than a cook book. There are pages and pages of etiquette of that time, even what to do if the Queen pays you a visit.

@RobertsElaine11

Francesca: Looking through my fiction I find that food features large – quite apart from those endless cups of tea/coffee imbibed in the kitchen!

Competitions often have a food theme to comply with. I have a couple of stories in this category that have enjoyed comp success. Far From Home, set in 1915, features an Italian called Margherita who is in England without many of the ingredients normally available to her. She has to use lard instead of olive oil, for instance. Through research I also discovered that garlic wasn’t often grown and was viewed with suspicion! Food is the means by which she gets to know a handsome Canadian soldier.

A table of characters ready for a romance, a family bust up or a little mischief?

A dinner table full of characters: are they ready for romance, a family bust up or a little mischief?

Insatiable included the themes of gluttony, lust and greed (the general theme of the comp was the Seven Deadly Sins, so I thought I’d go for a few!) Cue lots of food metaphors in the lustful parts! More research, this time into 1950s food, was required, bearing in mind there was still some rationing in the early years.

But I don’t seem to need a set theme to employ food in my plots. Goat’s Head Soup is about Miranda who holds a dinner party for her husband’s condescending friends. They get their comeuppance when Miranda serves up something a little unconventional.

Then there is Thinking Outside the Cakebox (about a cupcake shop), Foolproof (where the pensioner next door saves her neighbour’s dinner party) and An Alternative Christmas  (where the local hippies save Christmas for their neighbours after a power cut because they have an Aga!).

The cafe above which I was born in the late '50s.

The cafe where I was born, in the late ’50s.

Two of the novels I’ve written are set in cafés. Not surprising since I was born in one. They are a great basis for all sorts of shenanigans. In one of these novels, and in a couple of my others, the main protagonists indulge in dinners a deux – not to be underestimated for their romantic potential.

Yes, food is certainly very handy when it comes to time and place setting, for the senses, for a family bust up, a romance or a little mischief. It’s something we can all relate to.

@FCapaldiBurgess

You can read Far From Home  in the anthology 7 Food Stories from Rome