I’m so excited to be able to share with you my interview with the wonderful Hannah.
Hannah Beckerman is the author of
The Dead Wife’s Handbook, published
in the UK by Penguin on February 13th 2014.
1. Where did the story of Rachel come from?
I’d been talking to a friend about her ex-husband and the fact that he’d just started a new relationship. She confessed she was worried about whether her ex would tell his new partner all of her secrets – and revealed how vulnerable that made her feel. I started thinking about the most extreme version of that – being dead and unable to intervene but nonetheless privy to conversations about you. And thus the idea of the dead wife came into being. And when she did I was just desperate to tell her story.
2. As a wife and a mum I completely understood Rachel’s feelings, I’ve always said I wouldn’t want Lee to fall in love with another woman and I fear my kids would forget me and replace me. As I was reading I found myself thinking I was wrong, I should want Lee to be happy, I shouldn’t wish him a lonely sad life, it changed my views. Writing The Dead Wife’s Handbook, did you gain anything from it?
Firstly, that’s a lovely thing to hear: to know that a book has changed how a reader thinks or feels about something is really very special. So thank-you.
I’m very similar to you: I’ve always joked to my husband that I’d hate him to find someone else if I died. And in all honesty I probably still feel that way. I think, for me, writing Rachel was about writing someone much better and more generous than I am. Someone I’d like to resemble more. You are clearly a better person than I am! What writing the book did make me feel was an even more acute sense of wanting to treasure moments with my husband and our daughter: everyone always says that children grow up incredibly quickly and never to wish that time away, and I think writing the book and thinking through some of those ‘what ifs’ has helped me do that, especially with our little girl.
3. One of the things I think you captured perfectly was Rachel’s helplessness, her anguish at not being able to smell, hold or kiss her daughter. The pain she felt, I felt. It was so accurately described it had me in tears, I think that’s any parents worst nightmare. Did you find it hard to get that across or did it come easy?
I wrote the book when I was pregnant so all of those scenes were how I imagined I’d feel when I had a child. I have six nieces to whom I’m very close but of course it’s not the same as your own child. I then edited and worked on the revisions for the book when my daughter was six months old and it was a strange experience reading the book afresh: because now I actually felt everything I imagined I would. Writing those scenes was only hard in that they were incredibly emotional to write and I’d often find myself in tears at my laptop. It is, of course, every mother’s worse nightmare so I think those scenes were always going to be painful to write and (if I got them right) painful to read.
4. One of my favourite parts of the book is when Elle is in the garden with Rachel’s mum, just gardening and wearing the hat that Rachel used to wear. It was such a sweet moment. What was one of your favourite parts?
I’m glad you liked that scene because it was actually a late addition to the book. After I’d had my daughter, I started to think more and more about how truly dreadful it must have been for Celia (Rachel’s mum) to have lost a child, and so I increased her role in the book – and that scene was one of the additions.
I think my favourite scenes are between Max and Ellie: I love their relationship and for me, the scenes where Ellie’s upset and Max soothes her back to a state of calm are some of the most moving.
5. What did you edit out of the book?
Believe it or not, there was actually quite a lot more of Rachel’s musings in the first third of the novel in early drafts. In working through those drafts with my agent, he made me see that we didn’t need to know every single thought that Rachel ever had in her netherworld! I think the book’s much stronger as a result as I think she’d have been less sympathetic as a character otherwise: like an annoying friend who keeps whining on and you listen and listen, and then, when they’re not really taking anything on board, you want to tell them just to pull themselves together!
6. Did you have a writing process whilst writing? What are the best and worst parts of writing?
In terms of process, I’m a big planner so I map out a book in the most minute detail before I start writing and know exactly where it’s going: of course things crop up during the process and you suddenly realise connections you hadn’t known were there. But largely I know what’s going to happen.
The best part of writing for me is having a parallel world existing in my head at the same time as the real world. The worst part are the (frequent) moments of self-doubt when you think everything you’re writing is rubbish.
7. When you were having a bad day whilst writing, who did you turn to for advice?
I’m pretty self-reliant when it comes to bad writing days: I’m the kind of person (independent or just plain stubborn, depending on your point of view) who likes to solve problems by themselves. But often I’ll talk over an issue with my husband over dinner (which really involves me talking and him listening – patiently, always). And when I’m having a particularly tricky issue I’ll contact my agent and he’ll invariably come up with a solution. I hadn’t realised, before getting signed up by my agent, quite how involved he’d be editorially in the process, but he came up with the idea of one of my favourite scenes in The Dead Wife’s Handbook and has just come up with a rather neat sub-plot for book 2 so his input is completely invaluable.
8. Did you add any of your own traits to Rachel?
I think probably every female character has a little bit of me in them. I’m pretty introspective and analytical like Rachel is, but she’s far more patient than I am.
9. This is your debut book, what can we expect from you next?
Lots more books, I hope! Book 2 is written in draft – am just working on some edits at the moment (which can be a very long process). The subject is under wraps a the moment (I haven’t even told my mum!) but I promise you’ll be one of the first to know! And then the characters for book 3 are flitting around my head, just waiting for their moment in the sun.
10. Describe your book in 5 words?
Love, loss, grief, repair, hope.
Here is Hannah’s Website if you wish to find out more… http://www.hannahbeckerman.com/
It really is such a mesmerising read that you shouldn’t miss out on.
Thank you so much Hannah for taking the time to answer my questions, I really appreciate it.