Writing Life After You: From Blog to Bestseller

3 minutes read

Lucie Brownlee, tutor on Faber Academy's Memoir and Life Writing course, describes how she turned to writing to cope with grief, which led to the publication of her bestselling memoir, Life After You.

 

I have always written. Epic stories pounded into my grandpa’s old Corona typewriter; teenage daydreams (and nightmares) captured in fat, sellotape-bound diaries in multi-coloured scrawl; even poetry, for which, aged nine, I won a prize. My award-winning composition was dramatically entitled ‘The Wild Night Lurker’, and it scored me a £1 gift voucher for WHSmiths.

Writing was the place I could both lose and find myself.

There was, however, a period of around thirteen months of my life where I was unable to commit a single word to the page. It occurred after the sudden death of my young husband, Mark, in 2012.

 

This was pain felt at a cellular level.

 

This was pain that could not be articulated in words.

 

This was pain that stymied my ability to think in any kind of coherent way, let alone form sentences on a page.

 

Thirteen months. I couldn’t navigate the grief.

 

A place of solitude in which to explore pleasure and pain, the triumphs and mundanities of life, to try on different voices and personalities, to traverse new worlds.

 

Then a spirited counsellor suggested I write a blog about how it felt to have lost Mark. Short blasts of fury and rage that I could fire out into the ether like word-bombs; it didn’t matter where they landed, only that I had written them. Short blasts, I could do. And Mark’s sudden death had left me raging and furious. It was worth a go.

 

I started chronicling my grief on a blog, which I titled Wife After Death. Sometimes I’d publish two posts a day. The keyboard was my life raft and, to my surprise, voices from the ether began to respond to the words that poured from it. Other young widows and widowers related to my raw honesty and shared their own experiences of spousal loss.

Slowly, words – mine and theirs – began to help me to heal.

Wife After Death went on to win Best Personal Blog in the Blog North Awards 2013, a bitter-sweet victory – and the first since my early literary success with ‘The Wild Night Lurker’.

 

It was my agent at the time who suggested that I might think about turning the blog into a memoir about my experience. But angry word-bombs did not make a book. This would require a whole new approach. I would need to examine my grief differently: more forensically, more thoughtfully, at a more considered pace. Was I ready?

Cover of Lucie Brownlee's memoir, Life After You

Turned out, I was. I wrote the first draft of my memoir, Life After You, in just three months. The writing process allowed me to spend time with Mark, to revisit our lives together, not in anger or rage, but in joy and in love.

 

It also enabled me to take my grief out and really look at it. To deconstruct it, and subsequently weaken its power.

 

The book was a Sunday Times Bestseller, and selected for Richard and Judy’s Autumn Book Club, 2015 – the only memoir on the list.

These days I write abundantly about things other than Mark and the aftermath of his death, but my work is always rooted in some aspect of my own lived experience. It is not flippant to suggest that words saved my life back then, and they continue to provide a conduit for exploration.

 

Knowing they are always there in my head – just waiting to be arranged on the page – is one of my greatest comforts.

Photo of Lucie Brownlee, tutor on Faber Academy's Memoir and Life Writing course.

Lucie Brownlee is a multi-award-winning writer based in County Durham.

 

Her memoir Life After You was published in 2014 by Penguin Random House. Based on her award-winning blog ‘Wife After Death’ (Blog North Awards 2013), it is a Sunday Times best seller and was a Richard and Judy Autumn Book Club pick 2015.

 

Lucie teaches on our Memoir and Life Writing course. Find out more about the next iteration here

 

 

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