I am absolutely delighted to be part of the book review tour for The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook (which was released in paperback on 31st July, published by Penguin, if you haven’t already got your copy then click here…you don’t know what you’re missing!) Rhidian very kindly took the time to participate in an author interview for Bookaholic Confessions. My review for The Aftermath will be posted later on today, but for now it’s over to Rhidian…
Hi, Thanks for having me. I’m Rhidian Brook. Age 50 and ¼. I’m a novelist, scriptwriter and occasional broadcaster. I’ve been a writer since my mid 20’s. The journey so far has been full of colour and experience. The Aftermath is my third novel.
Your latest novel, The Aftermath, was released in paperback on July 31st, could you tell us a bit about it?
Sure. It’s set in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, in the British Zone. Colonel Lewis Morgan is Governor of a Hamburg district and responsible for its reconstruction. When he goes to requisition a house for himself (and his soon to arrive wife Rachael and son Edmund) he does something radical and unique: rather have the occupants – a Herr Lubert and his daughter Freda – ejected and put in billets, he lets them stay, declaring the house big enough to share. When Rachael arrives she is not happy to learn that she will have to share a house with ‘the enemy.’ Whilst Lewis’s action might seem like a decent thing to do it has dramatic consequences for everyone in the house.
You say that The Aftermath is based on your Grandfathers experiences in post-war Germany; can you tell us a bit about him and his story?
Yes. The decision that Lewis makes to let the German family stay in the house is based on family history. My grandfather – Colonel Walter Brook – was Governor of Pinneberg and when he went to requisition a house on the Elbe River in 46, he told the German family they could stay. I can’t emphasise enough what an unusual action this was. There was huge resentment towards Germans and fraternization was still not permitted. My grandmother’s initial unease was typical of the times. But the children – my father mainly – broke the ice and became friends. In time the two families learned to live together – something they did for 5 years.
This immediate post war period is poorly served by both history and fiction, so I had to rummage hard. In the end the key research was done though my father and uncle. I interviewed them at length and their memories were incredible helpful – and different too, as my dad was 9 and my uncle 17 when they arrived at the house. I also went to Hamburg to see the house and meet the German family that they had shared the house with – the now grown up brother and sister. I interviewed them, too to get the German perspective. And then, two years ago, I took my father back and he met them for the first time since 1951. This was a hugely emotional event.
Did you find The Aftermath a difficult novel to write emotionally?
At times, yes. I was, after all, taking a piece of family history and shaping it for my own ends. I had to tread that path between honouring that and yet owning the story for myself. I sometimes felt strange writing about a period I had not lived through – and yet you have to trust the imagination to make it stand. I don’t want to give anything away, but the more ‘dramatic’ things that happen in that house did not happen in real life! I was hugely relieved when my Father read and loved the book.
You’ve written screenplays in the past; how does writing a screenplay differ from a writing a novel and which do you prefer?
In essence a screenplay is a set of instructions for others – director, actors, composers, editors – to interpret. They also tend to deal with outward, visible action. As a novelist you are writer, director, editor, producer…so have far greater control. But also, a novel can go to places screenplays struggle to reach, namely the inner life of the character. In The Aftermath there is a mix between dramatic action and interior conflict. I adapted the novel for the screen. It’s a good discipline. All novelists should be made to write at least one screenplay as it helps you think about structure and being concise but, ultimately, it’s too reductive a form and the creative process too compromised by others to be as rewarding as writing novels.
What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t a writer?
Oh boy. I am utterly impractical so nothing with my hands! Maybe a salesman. I once sold advertising and discovered that I was fairly good at it. Apparently if you can cold call and succeed then you’re a good salesman. So, that or a priest.
The Aftermath is your fourth book; can you tell us a bit about the other books you’ve released?
My first novel (to be republished by Penguin this September – hooray!) is called The Testimony of Taliesin Jones. It’s about a boy who is coming to terms with his mother leaving home and a the feeling that he’s the only person he knows who thinks there’s a God. The book won a bunch of prizes and lovely notices but I always felt it deserved more readers so am thrilled that Penguin are re-booting it. My second novel, Jesus and the Adman, is an existential fable about a copywriter who uses an image of Jesus in a life assurance campaign. The campaign is a huge success but backfires for him in an unexpected way. More Than Eyes Can See is my first non-fiction work. In 2005 I went with my wife and two children to live in communities around the world affected by the HIV/Aids pandemic. This is the account of that journey.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am now writing my next novel. It’s based on an experience I had when I was 23, selling butterflies in glass cases in America. More than that I won’t say. Except that someone dies.
Thank you so much Rhidian, I’m thrilled to be part of the tour and to feature The Aftermath on Bookaholic Confessions.
To find out more about Rhidian Brook and his writing, please visit his website.