Author Nick Brown is a full-time author who straddles being writing supernatural thrillers and historical fiction. He claims that both genres show how humanity can never escape its past. Please welcome him to No Wasted Ink.
My name is Nick Brown and since 2010 I’ve been a full-time author. I have seven published novels and am currently writing the biography of a major British artist. Prior to this, I was an archaeologist and the Principal of one of the UK’s most successful Further Education Colleges. I studied at Leeds and then Manchester University but never wanted to work in education, my dad was a teacher. Unexpectedly, due to quite hard experience in my late twenties of dealing with the aftermath of two racial murders and race riots in Greater Manchester I was asked to open a multiracial college in Oldham, a racially segregated town. I’m very proud of the achievement but it left its scars which can be traced in my books. I was made an ‘Officer of the British Empire’ by the Queen and found talking to her in front of an audience at Buckingham Palace more frightening than any physical danger I’ve faced. I’m a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and live with my wife and sons in a reputedly haunted house in Cheshire where my Skendleby series is set.
I’ve always wanted to write and decided that once the college was well established and I’d paid my dues to society for my education I would give writing a go. It was a good experience for me to fail at first; I couldn’t get an agent or a publisher, no one was interested in what I was writing. Then I was given some quite brutal, constructive criticism by a friend of mine who is a successful author. I heeded the advice, for which I’m very grateful, and took the time to learn the craft. I self-published my first book, ‘Luck Bringer’, in 2013.
When and why did you begin writing?
I began to consider myself as a writer about four books in. I was offered a publishing contract out of the blue and was then approached by a film company to make a movie of Skendleby, the first in my ‘Ancient Gramarye’ series. The film is in the pre-production stage and I co-wrote the script with my youngest son, Gaius, who works in film. This was an interesting experience, to say the least. Being bossed about by your youngest offspring can be a chastening experience.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
My current book is ‘The Dead Have Gathered’. It is the final instalment in the ‘Ancient Gramarye’ series. It deals with a series of inexplicable worldwide disappearances and the search for the cause of these. Like the rest of the series, it is a supernatural thriller but also with overtones of current politics and a looming ecological Armageddon. I think it’s fast-paced and gritty but sprinkled with mordant humour and provides an unexpected answer to the questions the rest of the series posed. It is a dark book which reflects the troubled times we live in and I guess could be read as a metaphor of the mess we seem to have got ourselves into. I can’t imagine how they’ll film this book if the Skendleby film is successful.
What inspired you to write this book?
I thought I’d finished the series with ‘Green Man Resurrection’ but I had a cataclysmic dream about a new character in that book, the shady U.S. secret service spook, Choatmann, and an unworldly mutating tree. I couldn’t get the dream out of my head so started to write ‘The Dead have Gathered’. I wrote it against a backdrop of the political chaos Brexit has plunged the UK into and the emerging story of climate change. I think it is the most frightening thing I’ve written and a fitting conclusion to the series.
My writing style varies depending on the book. The ‘Luck Bringer’ series, set during the Greco- Persian Wars of the 5th century BC, is based on my academic background and, although visceral, has quite a literary style. It attempts, in an exciting way, to fill in the gaps left by the historians. The ‘Ancient Gramarye’ series is very different and although based on archaeological evidence, is more gritty and written in a modern idiom. I think a writer’s style should be led by the nature of the characters being written about. If the characters don’t ring true the book fails, in this sense, the characters write the books.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
Deciding a title for this final book in the series was more difficult than any other. My first idea, to call it Choatmann after one of the main characters I rejected as uncommercial and it took almost as long to choose an appropriate title as it did to write the book.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes, there are a couple of messages which I’ve tried to develop across the five books that constitute the ‘Ancient Gramarye’ series. The series is an exploration of fear and how ordinary people cope with it and the idea was to begin with a simple ghost story in Skendleby and mutate it into something much stranger in the other books. The series has a core cast of ordinary women and men whose, relationships, faith and loyalties are increasingly tested and as such is an examination of the strange ways in which we find the courage to deal with what faces us and the consequences that all our actions have and what we have done to the planet.
The second theme explores the nature of what it is that generates the horror we fear: are there ghosts? Are they merely a consequence of quantum physics that we have yet to understand? Do we generate evil ourselves?
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know or events in your own life?
Some of the experiences in the books are based on events in my own life but I was unaware of this as I wrote them. I think the best example is an episode of rage that Mandrocles, the young hero of the Luck Bringer books, directs at his lover the, the flute girl, Lyra. The episode takes place months after a traumatic episode in his own life which he thinks he has forgotten. After I finished writing the episode I sat back thinking ‘where did that come from’. Days later it hit me; ‘That’s how I felt months after some of the experiences with violence in Greater Manchester. I think the writing had sprung from my subconscious. Examples of some supernatural events in the Skendleby books stem from experiences in my own house, however, I don’t speculate on these; they happened but I’m unsure of what the cause might have been. I think to an extent it’s difficult for any serious writer to exclude at least trace elements of the autobiographical from their writing.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
I’ve always been influenced by writers since my earliest childhood memories, particularly those that capture the feel of a place. The foremost of these is Alan Garner who, although not prolific, has written with great intensity about Alderley Edge and its grip on the psyche. In ‘The Dead Have Gathered, I revisit his wizard, shamanic figures. I think that the most intensely felt emotional scene in world literature is Hector’s death and the events leading up to it in the Iliad and that has certainly also been an influence. In terms of psychological depth and human embarrassment, I think ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens is the most acute. I know Dickens included a lot of padding to his narratives and a great deal of slapstick humour but at the heart of Great Expectations there lies an all too familiar bleakness. I have read avidly and collected books since childhood.
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
My mentor as a writer would be the war hero/ poet Aeschylus. He fought at Marathon and probably Salamis and brings that harrowing perspective to his plays. Unlike the ancient Greek historians, he writes major parts for women and allows them to carry the action. Sadly only seven full plays and a handful of fragments have survived but every word carries integrity. I’ve included Aeschylus as one of the principal characters in the Luck Bringer books in an attempt to try and get a picture of the man. He would make a testing but fascinating mentor.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
For my first six book covers I’ve had the same illustrator, Samuel de Cecatty, I like his work and the covers are original and have been entered for awards. However for ‘The Dead have Gathered ‘, I have a new illustrator; Marcus Brown who is a graphic artist and also my son. He came up with a vision for the cover which portrays the cataclysmic events in the book through the dramatic juxtaposition of the key elements defining the series.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I always offer the same advice to writers; ‘write because you love it not for money and fame because both are ilusive and illusory.’ Writing ought to be a creative joy. My other advice would be learn what you can from criticism but don’t be put off, persevere and you will get better and develop integrity to your style.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
To my readers, I’d like to say ‘Thank you’.
Manchester, United kingdom
The Dead Have Gathered
Illustrator: Marcus Brown
Publisher: New Generation Publishing
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