Thursday, December 17, 2020

Karen Brooks

Australian-born Karen Brooks is the author of numerous novels, an academic, a newspaper columnist and social commentator, and has appeared regularly on national TV and radio. Before turning to academia, she was an army officer, and dabbled in acting. She lives in Hobart, Tasmania.

Brooks's latest novel is The Lady Brewer of London.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title progresses readers into not only the heart of the story, but catapults them towards its conclusion. It’s indicative of the aspirations of the lead character, Anneke Sheldrake, who when the book opens, is forced, through family tragedy, to fall back on her Dutch mother’s craft of brewing ale to support her household. While women in medieval times were brewers, to make a business of it as Anneke does, a woman of good birth (hence “lady), is both unusual and dangerous – especially when she moves to the city. So, I like to think the title is evocative and the juxtaposition of “lady” and “brewer” raises questions in a reader. London, of course, gives us a place. The original title of the book (in Australia) was The Brewer’s Tale (which has a raft of meanings). The title was changed for the US/UK market. I really like it.

What's in a name?

I think there’s a great deal in the names of characters and I spend a lot of time considering their realism (in terms of the era and cultural origins), but also the meaning and sound. Anneke is a Dutch name, so it indicates her cultural background. Leander, the “hero” is also a character from Greek myth, who braved the waters of the Hellespont every night to visit his beloved Hero. Inferred (apart from the name rolling of the tongue so beautifully), is a man who will do whatever it takes to be with his love – or will he? I also like subverting myths.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I think she would be very surprised first, by the subject matter: beer/ale, something I still don’t drink, but also by how brutally and dismissively women especially have been treated through the ages and that this is something this book doesn’t flinch from exploring. Never mind the fact I wrote the damn thing!

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings. Always beginnings. I know how my book will end – that hasn’t changed in 14 books – but the beginnings I write, rewrite and alter a great deal. Talk about blood, sweat and tears – they happen mostly in the early stages. That’s mainly because I’m very linear, so I have to have the first chapters right before I can proceed!

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Sometimes they do – I think that’s inevitable because in order to give them authenticity, you try and put yourself in their (in this case medieval) shoes, and imagine how I (or another woman or man) would react in a given situation. But mostly, they’re an invention, a composite of historical truths and humanity. For all we’ve advanced as a society (and haven’t!), emotions and reactions, especially within families and relationships, are still fairly consistent. We love, laugh, grieve, anger, hurt, seek revenge, feel disappointment, sorrow etc. That’s universal across time and cultures, so my characters are closer to who I am than not.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Music definitely – I listen to period music while writing. I burn scented candles to evoke a mood. I think everything influences and often inspires me – family, friends, news, politics, films, TV shows. I don’t live in a vacuum, so it would be impossible for things not to, even if I didn’t intend it to happen.
Visit Karen Brooks's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Lady Brewer of London.

--Marshal Zeringue