Hampstead secretary wrote debut novel in Waterstones during lunch hour
- Credit: Archant
From writing in her lunch break at Hampstead Waterstones, to securing an international publishing deal, Lorraine Brown was finally able to see her debut novel on the shelves when lockdown eased.
She wrote Uncoupling while working as a secretary at Devonshire House School, but didn't get the chance to see it in bookshops when it was published in February.
“I felt quite flat afterwards," she said. "Until last week when I finally went to Waterstones Piccadilly and saw my book next to authors like Maggie O'Farrell and (Douglas Stuart's) Shuggie Bain. That was the moment I felt, 'I've done it'. It was the closest I've ever come to a Booker prize winner!”
Brown, who lives in Muswell Hill with her partner and son, originally pursued a career in acting, but started working at the Hampstead independent school while looking for roles. Although she enjoyed her job, she told Ham&High: “At the end of the day, I didn't really want to be a secretary, the only thing I wanted to do deep down was write.”
So she took a creative writing course at Central Saint Martins in 2011. “I thought I’d give it a go, because I'd really enjoyed writing at school and I loved it. It came a lot easier to me than acting, and it felt like something I could do on my own.”
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Brown started writing ‘Uncoupling’ - about a split second that changes her character's life - in her hour lunch breaks.
“I’d rush up to Waterstones, get my favourite seat by the balcony with a cup of tea, and just write for 50 minutes. I went through all the stages of the book there.”
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And in 2016 she took the plunge after a colleague suggested she enter the Bath Novel award.
“I hadn’t finished at that point, I just sent off my opening chapters but I knew that to be longlisted you had to have a full novel and that gave me a push to finish it. I only had a month so I wrote until 1am most nights. I didn't think in a million years I would be longlisted, it was the first time I'd got positive feedback and thought maybe I can write!”
Set in Paris and Amsterdam, the inspiration for ‘Uncoupling’ came from her brother's experience interrailing with his girlfriend.
"While on the train she changed carriages. The train then divided, and they arrived in two separate places. I always thought that would make an amazing beginning to a novel, it got me thinking about what could happen in the time they were apart.”
Brown compares the plot - how heading in the wrong direction can lead to the right place - to her own publishing journey: “I could easily have made a different, more sensible decision. Luckily for me it worked out.”
Training as a counsellor at Highgate Counselling Centre helped with the final draft. She said: “I put so much more depth into the characters and I asked myself 'why are they acting like this? Let's go back and think about their childhood, what happened when they were teenagers and why might they be attracted to these sorts of relationships?'”
Even when Brown won Penguin Random House’s WriteNow mentor scheme, the road to publication wasn't smooth: “I thought that was it, but that wasn’t the case. I still got rejections from agents. That was probably the hardest time."
But she persevered and got her break with dream agent Hannah Ferguson which led to a publishing deal with Orion, Penguin Random House in America and nine other territories. She has now started work on a second novel.
“It all happened really quickly. Within a couple of months, I had offers from all over the UK America, Germany, and Italy. It was amazing, and strange, I left my job at the school and now I'm a full-time writer - the dream!"