Today I’m very pleased to have Hannah Beckerman on the blog. Welcome Hannah! Hannah is the author of The Dead Wife’s Handbook, which was released in Australia and New Zealand yesterday. Congratulations! This is Hannah’s first novel and she has graciously answered some questions put to her by yours truly (proving that I am no journalist, even though I did do work experience at a newspaper in high school). I love meeting a fellow planner!
Thank you so much for joining me today Hannah on Sam Still Reading. A lot of people say that they’d really like to write, but never get to that part where they put words on the page. What was your journey to writing The Dead Wife’s Handbook?
When you tell people your debut novel’s being published, I think lots of people assume that it’s the first book you’ve ever tried to write. I suspect that’s probably not true for anyone. The Dead Wife’s Handbook is probably the third or fourth book I’ve started (although only the second I’ve ever finished!) I’ve been writing in my spare time for the best part of fifteen years. And everything I’ve ever tried to write I believed was a strong idea. But I guess different ideas stick at different times and I got lucky with The Dead Wife’s Handbook in that an agent and then a publisher thought it might be an idea that could stick right now. So I think most publishing journeys are probably long and fraught and populated with self-doubt.
How do you organize your writing? Do you meticulously plan or let the characters take over? Do you write regularly, even if you feel the words aren’t flowing?
I’m a very meticulous planner! After I’ve had an idea and sketched out a rough plot, I start researching – and that can take anything from a few weeks to a few months. Then I write a detailed chapter breakdown, filled with the notes I’ve made and the ideas I’ve had, which leaves me with a pretty detailed plan (usually about 25k words long). And then I start to write. Different things then emerge during the writing process – links you hadn’t been aware of before, new aspects of someone’s character – so things always change a bit. Also, I redraft a lot: the finished version of The Dead Wife’s Handbook was the twenty-second draft, I think. And I probably could have gone on and on if I hadn’t had a deadline!
Do you have any tips for budding authors?
I think my advice to any aspiring novelists is really simple: read a lot and write a lot. It’s so true that you only become a writer by actually writing (and that you often have to write quite a lot of rubbish before writing something half-decent). And reading is really where you learn your craft: I’d be amazed if there were any good writers in the world who weren’t also avid readers.
The Dead Wife’s Handbook has a very emotional plot – was it difficult writing this? Did you draw on any resources?
I was definitely very emotional when I was writing it. Some of the scenes between Max and Ellie (the widower and his daughter) I found quite painful to write and would frequently end up in tears – even on the fifteenth or sixteenth draft.
In terms of drawing on resources, I studied a lot of psychoanalytic theory as part of my English degree and that’s an area I’ve always been interested in: for me, it’s less big events in the world that interest me as the nuances of human relationships. So I read a lot of books around grief and loss, both memoirs (such as Joan Didion’s brilliant ‘The Year Of Magical Thinking’) and psychology books (most notably, Irvin D Yalom’s wonderful ‘Staring at the Sun’).
Social media plays a big role these days in promotion of everything – whether it be news, music or books. Do you believe the author has a role on social media and if so, what do you think that role should consist of?
I think an author should be on social media if it’s something they’re comfortable with and they enjoy. I love it so I’m on it a lot! I do think it has a huge role to play in the publishing world today – not least book bloggers who have a great influence on books achieving word-of-mouth success, which is all good since they’re readers first and foremost. In terms of what the role should consist of – I suppose I don’t really think of it in those terms. I just think you should be yourself and people will either warm to that or they won’t. I definitely don’t think social media should be used purely for self-promotion (I tend to unfollow anyone on Twitter who bombards me with endless sales pitches!)
I completely understand why some writers don’t want to be involved in it: it does take up a lot of time during which you could otherwise be writing. But I really like and value the conversations I have on social media: I’ve met some lovely people, I’ve had phenomenal support and getting bloggers’ feedback first-hand has been really instructive and instrumental for me in thinking about book 2. So I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Thank you Hannah for stopping by. You can find Hannah on Twitter (@hannahbeckerman) – she really is lovely, I can attest to that – or at her gorgeous website (hannahbeckerman.com). Here’s more about The Dead Wife’s Handbook for you to read about – doesn’t it sound like a great read?
‘Today is my death anniversary. A year ago today I was still alive.’
Rachel, Max and their daughter Ellie had the perfect life – until the night Rachel’s heart stopped beating.
Now Max and Ellie are doing their best to adapt to life without Rachel, and just as her family can’t forget her, Rachel can’t quite let go of them either. Caught in a place between worlds, Rachel watches helplessly as she begins to fade from their lives. And when Max is persuaded by family and friends to start dating again, Rachel starts to understand that dying was just the beginning of her problems.
As Rachel grieves for the life she’s lost and the life she’ll never lead, she learns that sometimes the thing that breaks your heart might be the very thing you hope for.
You can buy The Dead Wife’s Handbook by clicking on any of these links: