Six Sharp Questions
1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?
Thank you! The Brewer’s Tale is an epic story about a medieval woman’s efforts to support her family in the wake of tragedy by taking up the trade by which her mother’s family prospered: brewing ale. What she doesn’t count on is her humble efforts attracting first the attention and then the enmity of powerful men whose mission is to see her fail at any cost. It’s a story of great passion, terrible betrayal, fierce loyalty; about someone remarkable rising above catastrophe and, despite the forces moving against and with her, never losing hope.
The book means the world to me as it’s the first novel I wrote after losing one of my best friends and being chronically ill as well. The idea came to me during a very dark time and it was a blessing and a delight to write – also the amazing people it brought into my orbit and the long-term impact it’s having are astounding and more than a little bit magic. Because it’s my first work of historical fiction and released into the adult market, it also holds a very dear place in my heart and head. It’s like being a first-time novelist all over again – thrilling and utterly nerve-wracking.
2. Times pass. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?
It’s been a few years of dark and light, but you can’t appreciate one without the other, can you? That whole “you can’t have rainbows without rain” philosophy is very true. On the best side, there’s been the writing of and build up to the publication of The Brewer’s Tale and the enthusiasm and support of my wonderful agent, Selwa Anthony, and fabulous publishers, Harlequin, never mind my husband, Stephen, kids, and friends.
Stephen, inspired by the research he helped me with for the novel, has opened his own craft brewery, Captain Bligh’s Ale and Cider, in Hobart. There was also his riotous 50th in August, shared with fantastic and beloved friends, many who travelled long distances to be with us. There’s nothing like the company and love of family and friends to remind you of how lucky you are and have been, even when you despair. On the worst side, there have been cancer diagnoses, hospital trips, operations, illness, recovery, and sadly, the death of Stephen’s dad, Ron Brooks, and the tragic loss of one of my dearest friends, Sara Douglass.
I have two that are meaningful to me. “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” Henry David Thoreau
It’s like a kick up the bum and reminder not just to live in your head, but get out there and experience life and love, and all the wonderful risks these entail.
And, “A truth that’s told with bad intent/Beats all the lies you can invent” William Blake.
I can’t stand liars… but I have more trouble with people who use the phrase, “I’m just being honest” or hide behind “honesty” to hurt others. No, you’re not being honest; you’re being mean. So unnecessary – if we were all kinder to each other, and ourselves, the world really would be a better place.
4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.
Who describes writers that way? Who? Show me! LOL! I think if you asked my husband, you might get a different answer. I don’t think I’m “difficult” to live with… I hope not. A bit schizophrenic sometimes when I am lost in a novel and carrying around dozens of different characters and their voices in my head (Stephen just sighs when I don’t answer him sometimes and says, “You’re in the ‘zone”, aren’t you?”), but otherwise, I believe I’m normal, apart from wanting to talk about the period I’m writing in or comparing standards of living, clothes, politics, customs etc of the past to now… Oh, that makes me sound so boring!
I treat writing as a regular job. I go to my study each morning and work an eight-ish hour day, knock off for dinner, go out on weekends, walk the dogs daily, play with the cats, watch crap and good TV, read, meet up with friends, travel. I’m a professional writer (I also write a weekly newspaper column for the Courier Mail) and do take everything about the work seriously (as in, I respect the profession and everyone involved). The only time I get a little pissed off is when people think because you work at home it’s OK to pop around or phone for a chat – any time. That separation of home and office (when they’re one in the same) isn’t hard for me, but is for some others. Actually, that’s when I can be difficult. Oh dear. A little terse, shall we say? I struggle with being pulled out of the zone… But come beer or wine o’clock, I’m anyone’s… ummm… that came out wrong. You know what I mean!
5. Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).
I sit somewhere in the middle. I don’t obsess over it but neither do I completely ignore it. As a reader, and someone who reviews books, I am aware of trends and changes, but I don’t let these dictate what I write. Neither will I, say, go and write a book about sparkly vampires (done) or erotica (I don’t think I could – there are others absolutely excellent at that). I take the advice of my agent; write to my strengths, but also with one eye on commercial appeal. I would be a fool not to, I think.
6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?
Complete Works of William Shakespeare (I know this is sort of cheating, but you can get them in one book!): We’d not only read them together, but also act out each play. If Shakespeare does not cover human experience, plumb emotional depths, prompt laughter, tears, fear, rage, frustration, despair, betrayal, magic, mayhem, great love and passion, as well as terrible tragedy, all of which contribute to understanding and thus civilising humans, then we are lost before we begin. In taking on roles in each play, the kids would invest in the characters and their actions, learn about what motivates people and the consequences of certain choices and behaviours, learn so much about life and each other, and have great fun to boot. If I could only chose one play, I would read and perform Macbeth – what isn’t there to like about ghosts, witches, daggers appearing and disappearing, drunken porters, slaughtering kings, mad queens, walking woods, prophecies, blood and consequences?
Homer: The Odyssey. Great epic fantasy and superhero story all rolled into one with war, traitors, a throne and lives at stake. A great read, an adventure for the ages with powerful lessons at its heart about loyalty, nobility, friendship, honour, love, father-son relationships, forces beyond our control and how the monsters you face are sometimes within.
Philip Pullman: The Northern Lights. Almost for the same reasons as above. A classic story of friendship, courage, risk-taking, trust, loyalty, honour, faith, manipulation and how to rise above the plots and cunning of those who don’t have your best interests at heart. The true meaning of sacrifice is also explored in a tale that spans worlds as well as science, religion and magic.
Khaled Hosseini: The Kite Runner. A heart-wrenching and sublime story of friendship, class and ethnic difference, politics and their cruel impact on ordinary people, war, families, terrible brutality, forgiveness and love, told initially through the eyes of a wealthy young boy against the backdrop of the last years of the Afghanistani monarchy. At once moving and shocking, reading this book changes you. It’s a tale that intricately explores how actions and consequences are so interrelated, how seemingly innocent choices (or not so innocent) can have devastating and unforseen outcomes. It explores the damage lies can wield but also how they can be told to protect. Such an ethical, tragically beautiful and beautifully tragic book, populated with characters who sometimes struggle to find their moral compass, it has lessons to teach every reader of any age in abundance. Even unruly, ill-educated teens would love this accessible, wonderful book.
William Goldman: The Princess Bride. Number of reasons I chose this one. Not only is it a great read, but because it’s also a parody of so many other heroic princess-in-distress-is-saved-be unlikely-hero and revenge (Inigo Montoya) fairytales with swords, beasts, giants, ruthless kings, wonky magic, gorgeous leads and flawed side-kicks, it also opens the opportunity to tell the stories it draws from as well. The tale of Westley and Buttercup and the characters that enter their lives and either try to tear them apart or ensure they live “happily-ever-after” (a concept that is also played with in the novel) is timeless, funny, unbearably sad and unputdownable. And, if the ill-educated adolescents have seen the film, we can act it out. I bags being Inigo! “As you wish…”
Karen, thank you for playing.
by Karen Brooks
It had been Mother’s secret and mine, one passed down through the de Winter women for generations. I would ensure it was kept that way, until I was ready to pass it on. When Anneke Sheldrake is forced to find a way to support her family after her father is lost at sea, she turns to the business by which her mother’s family once prospered: brewing ale.
Armed with her Dutch mother’s recipes and a belief that anything would be better than the life her vindictive cousin has offered her, she makes a deal with her father’s aristocratic employer: Anneke has six months to succeed or not only will she lose the house but her family as well. Through her enterprise and determination, she inadvertently earns herself a deadly enemy.
Threatened and held in contempt by those she once called friends, Anneke nonetheless thrives. But on the tail of success, tragedy follows and those closest to her pay the greatest price for her daring. Ashamed, grieving, and bearing a terrible secret, Anneke flees to London, determined to forge her own destiny. Will she be able to escape her past, and those whose only desire is to see her fail? A compelling insight into the brewer’s craft, the strength of women, and the myriad forms love can take.