Honey Brown lives in country Victoria with her husband and two children. She is the author of four books: Red Queen, The Good Daughter, After the Darkness and Dark Horse. Red Queen was published to critical acclaim in 2009 and won an Aurealis Award, and The Good Daughter was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award in 2011. After the Darkness was selected for the Women’s Weekly Great Read and for Get Reading 2012’s 50 Books You Can’t Put Down campaign. Her fifth novel, Through the Cracks, will be published in 2014.
Monique: The Australian has described you as an “accidental author”. Can you tell readers a bit about that?
Honey: The title of that article came about because of the accident I had in 2000 when I was 29-years-old and living on a cattle farm. While herding an aggressive cow I was charged and knocked over, my spine was damaged as a result. I now live with the challenges of a spinal injury and life in a wheelchair. My writing began in earnest after the accident, and I suppose it could be said that I wouldn’t have set aside the time needed to be an author if not for what happened that day. I do believe, though, that at some point I would have tested my creativity and attempted a novel.
Monique: Your books have attracted high praise from reviewers, as well as a number of awards. How does it feel to hear your work described this way? Do you still feel nervous when you’re about to release a book?
Honey: I always feel nervous when releasing a book. I doubt that will ever change. In terms of the craft of creative writing, each new novel feels like starting over again. I find myself making novice mistakes and needing to refer back to quality authors and their writing and “How To Write” books in an effort to do my story justice. As for having my work critically acclaimed, it’s a surreal and wonderful feeling. But then the reality of keeping up a high standard sets in, and I feel a degree of pressure, which levels out any high.
Monique: You’ve said that your novels come about as a result of asking some “What if?” questions. Do you have the next “What if?” in mind?
Honey: Yes, I do. I’m so excited about it too. I have a rule though – I try not to say too much about my next novel, because I find my enthusiasm and drive to write it lessens the more I talk about it. It’s as though each word spoken out loud is one less word I’ll put down on the page. So I bottle it up and let it bubble inside me.
Monique: You’ve just released your fifth novel, Through the Cracks. It’s on my review pile, so can you tell me what I have to look forward to? What’s the “What if” that inspired this book?
Honey: In the very beginning, it was “What if during your childhood you’d been abducted and abused?” I began writing the story from an adult survivors perspective, with the reader only seeing in flashback what the survivor had been through. My interest was, initially, how an adult abuse survivor dealt with such a traumatic past. But, as with most flashbacks, I found that cutting between the past and present drained the novel of its intrigue. I also could see how the “past” chapters of the story were the best. In the end I think the “What if” question is very simple – “What if you were a survivor of sexual abuse?” I hope the novel takes the reader on that journey, and instead of viewing survivors of abuse or abduction as different from us, we see them as one of us.
Monique: What do you like most about Through the Cracks?
Honey: I’ve never been asked this question before … let me think. For me it’s about being proud overall of the work; there are things within the novel I would change and fix, but the theme of survival and telling the story from a survivor’s perspective is something I’m proud to have done. I also enjoy having met Adam and Billy, the two main characters in the book. They’re fascinating young men full of grace, strength, mystery and beauty.
Monique: How long did it take to write Through the Cracks?What sort of research did you have to do?
Honey: I wrote the raw draft in about six months. If I include the edits and rewriting, it took about a year. My research only ever involves reading newspapers and watching TV news. I’m automatically drawn to stories of crime. Through creating characters and telling a story, I’m able to explore the darker facets of humankind, in a way that’s more satisfying to me than reading it in a textbook or studying real life cases. It feels to me that inside each of us are the answers to why crimes are committed, and I try and tap into that, and draw from that to inform my character’s reactions and behaviour.
Monique: You’ve said that you’re fascinated with the idea of good people doing bad things. Why are you drawn to this?
Honey: When it comes to humans behaving badly, I find myself suddenly curious (unless it’s animal cruelty, and then my outrage takes over and I am simply angered and appalled). I like exploring the good and bad in people, I’m interested in what it takes to push a person to a commit a crime, or what it’s like to survive a crime. The darkest and blackest of human souls don’t interest me though, because I don’t see them as layered or textured, my interest lies in good people pushed to do bad things, or bad people capable of doing good. It’s that light and shade that I find fascinating, and I don’t think I’m alone, most people who pick up a thriller or crime novel are just as intrigued.
Monique: You have dyslexia. How does this affect your writing process? What would you like people to understand about this disorder?
Honey: This is another question I’ve never before been asked, and it will be a tough one to answer in just a few sentences. Dyslexia affects each person differently, with me it’s an inability to visualise or properly memorize words. Whereas most people put words, names, numbers to memory and the information sticks, my brain struggles to retain it, or it jumbles it up. It means I can trip up, over and over again, while spelling certain words. No matter how many times I write a word it doesn’t mean it will ever come easily or naturally to me, and under any sort of pressure my mind will ‘jam” more than usual, and I can forget how to spell the simplest of things. Dyslexia affects me everyday in so many different ways and it slows down my writing speed, but it also leads me to think outside the box, and it leaves room in my mind to remember and focus on other things – like human behaviour, social encounters, emotional responses. I would like people to understand that each human brain is wired uniquely, and just as academics and scholars are celebrated for the important contribution they make to society, dyslexic thinking should be equally valued and supported. Humankind needs diversity in order to thrive and survive, and our minds are no exception to that.
Monique: You wake in the middle of the night with a brilliant book-ish idea. What do you do?
Honey: I grope for my phone in the dark, and while squinting in the glare of the screen, I type it into notes. Needless to say, some of these rushed notes can read as pretty damn strange in the light of day. It would make for a great novel actually – a wannabe novelist gets hauled in by the secret service because of the highly questionable typed notes andinternet history they have on their phone and computer.
Monique: One (or more) of your characters is not behaving, or does something unexpected. How do you handle this?
Honey: I stop and sit back from the work for a moment. I take the time to think of the novel as a whole, and what the themes are, and whether this new character trait or plot twist is going to work in the long run. If a character is straying too far off course, or won’t do as I say, it’s usually a case of going back to where the character was behaving as expected, and starting again from there, recreating aspects of the character’s personality, until he or she develops into more what I was aiming for. Some characters won’t budge though, and when that happens the novel invariably fails. You just have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and move on to writing the next book.
Monique: How do you get into the headspace of a villain? Is it hard?
Honey: Because my villains are usually the good guys too, it’s not hard to put myself in their heads. If I’m writing a story with the worst sort of villain in it, I’ll usually avoid focusing on them. In Through The Cracks there are child abusers and animal abusers, and I don’t bother getting into their minds. It’s not even because I see them as evil or monster-like, to me they’re boring, a slave to their own obsessive urges. The best villains are always the ones we can relate too. I’ve been watching the new TV series “Hannibal” and it’s a great example of a villain who contains light and shade, so much so we find ourselves on his side, and suddenly questioning our own morals and beliefs, because we like him so much.
Monique: Do you become emotionally attached to your characters? What happens when the book is finished? Do you close the door or wonder what they’re getting up to?
Honey: It’s not so much that I wonder what they’re doing once the book is finished, because I’m always happy to let them go: I’ve spent so much time with them and slaved over their every utterance that I’m ready to shoo them out the door. But I do wish they were flesh and blood, so that I could meet them for real. It feels like they’d be bigger and better than what I made them.
Monique: Have you ever cried while writing an emotive scene?
Honey: Oh yes. I cry at some point during every novel. It’s always while writing an emotive scene that it happens, not when reading back over it. Through The Cracks made me cry more than any of my other books.
Monique: You’re having trouble writing. What do you do?
Honey: I take a good look at the characters. The answer always lies with them. Writer’s block for me is when the characters have stopped talking to me. It’s usually because I’ve made them do something out-of-character. If you keep forcing your characters to jump through plot hoops, without first laying down the foundations for them to realistically do it, then I find they lose all credibility and they stop feeling real. I go back and rework the scenes they’re in and rewrite their dialogue, until they turn into something interesting and real again.
Monique: What do you do when you’re having doubts about your writing?
Honey: I have a whinge and a sook to other writers and to my friends and family. They remind me that I carry-on the same way during every book, and that every single time I make the startling statement that this novel is rubbish and I’ve lost all creative ability; they pretty much tell me to pull my head in and get on with my job as an author.
Monique: What’s the biggest myth about being a writer?
Honey: That it’s an academic pursuit. It’s not. It’s a creative one. “Novel” means new, and to make something new and different means you have to be able to create. There are plenty of academics who write great novels, but it’s only because they have a creative mind as well as a scholarly one.
Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?
Honey: Spending too much time at the computer, forgetting to take a break. My writing suffers when I go too long without stopping. I have to set myself rules and limits. I write from 9am to 3pm during the week, and only on the weekends if I find myself home alone.
Monique: Which books have impacted on you in your life?
Honey: Rich Man Poor Man, because it was the first book that swept my away into another world. All Quiet on the Western Front, because it’s amazingly written. Anything by Joyce Carol Oats, because I realised I’ll never write like that, so I don’t even try. Deliverance, because it’s crazy, and it showed me it’s ok to be a bit crazy when I write; actually anything by Steven King also falls into this category. The Old Man and The Sea, because it’s so simply written and reminds me that if I write simply too, I can do it.
Monique: Do you ever skip ahead a few pages or read a book’s ending?
Honey: I rarely read a book from first page to last. I don’t read novels for the story, so where I am in the book doesn’t matter to me. I know it’s strange for an author not to read novels. I study them instead, I read passages, I look for style, craft, technique; I don’t open them up as a form of relaxation or escape. But I truly hope none of the readers of my novels are like me in this way, all I want is for them to be swept away by the story.
Monique: Which book in your collection would you most like to have autographed by the author?
Honey: None. I probably wouldn’t be that interested in meeting my favourite authors either. I feel like their work is enough; I don’t need to know them beyond that. Their writing is them putting their best foot forward, so in the flesh they’re likely to be a bit of a letdown. Hopefully I can get away with saying that because I’m an author!
Thanks for answering my questions, Honey.