Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Nancy Brown

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On Writing, with Nancy Brown

Nancy Brown talks to Open Book about her memoirs, Transcending the Legacy (Penumbra Press, 2009) and Facing Life (Penumbra Press, 2007).

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book, Transcending the Legacy.

Nancy Brown:

Transcending the Legacy is an honest, often graphic account of the effects that ritualistic sexual abuse had on my life. Ritualistic abuse is abuse that happens over a prolonged period of time (mine was fifteen years) and involves torture and mind control. The devastation that it leaves in its wake is the “legacy” to which my title refers.

The book consists of six chapters that are separate meditations, linked by descriptions of what I endured at the hands of one pedophile ring that extended its brutal hand over many towns and villages near my home, and how it affected the rest of my life. The damage I suffered for six decades and am still suffering is sharply described as is my recovery process. These stories clearly explain in a most passionate and compelling way the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Disassociative Identity Disorder. These conditions crippled my ability to function in a normal way and more than once nearly took my life. This book pulls no punches yet gently inspires the intended reader to seek out a recovery program and heal their own broken lives. Many women my age (65) are still suffering in secret. And most importantly, my story describes how childhood trauma and addiction are connected by the overwhelming need to numb the painful memories.

OBT:

It must have been emotionally difficult to write about the sexual abuse you suffered as a child. Why did you decide to write Transcending the Legacy and your first book, Facing Life?

NB:

Yes, it was difficult, but in recovery I acquired a desire, a passion actually, to share my story for my belief was that if I could become well, so could anyone.

Facing Life focuses on my recovery from the abuse of alcohol, prescription drugs and food. I was three years into recovery when I decided to write my first memoir. The reasons were twofold. The first was that in writing an account of my struggles with substances, I could no longer be in denial regarding the hard truths of my life. It helped me accept what had been for me and to move toward a life where I could be a person I respected. The second reason was to inspire other people to do the same, even those with different struggles than mine.

The more I learned about the effects of ritualistic abuse, the more I realized that much of my story remained untold. I needed to tell it to myself first, which is why I wrote Transcending the Legacy. I wanted the book to seek out those who were still being poisoned by their secrets and who needed encouragement to find professional help.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your books?

NB:

Yes I did. Facing Life was originally written to reach those who were still struggling with substance abuse. Transcending the Legacy was written for those who were still harboring secrets of their sexual abuse that were robbing them of the joy of life. Most of those people were also addicted in some way, and it was having a negative affect on their lives.

I was involved in a study at Queen's University twenty-five years ago where I learned then that 85 percent of women who have eating disorders had been sexually abused. That information stunned me, so I speak in my books about my joining a twelve step recovery group for compulsive overeaters.

OBT:

What is the most memorable response you've received from one of your readers?

NB:

The following response was the most memorable to me because it was the first. I had never written anything before, and Douglas Campbell, who was my editor-to-be, had given the book a read before we started the editing process.

“I must say that I am pleased to be working on such a powerful and inspiring book. I think that many people will find that the lessons you have learned at such terrible cost to yourself will be relevant to their own lives, even lives that have been relatively conventional and peaceful. The book has certainly made me look critically at some parts of my own experience and behavior. It has helped me both to appreciate what I have, and to treat the present moment, and the future with more attentive respect.”

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

NB:

I wrote both books in the same room, my cozy office, usually in the very early mornings and usually in my nightgown. Always at my feet was my muse, my dear Digger dog.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

NB:

The best advice I ever received was something I found in a writing magazine. It was “write about what you know about”

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

NB:

Cold calling publishers was good practice for pitching my project. I discovered that publishers were not big, bad, cold people who weren’t interested in first time authors. I found them generally to be warm and quite interested in hearing about my project.

OBT:

What is your next project?

NB:

I actually don’t know yet. I have a few ideas that I am considering.


Nancy Brown is an author from Kingston, Ontario. Facing Life is her first book with Penumbra Press. Her second book, Transcending the Legacy, also published by Penumbra Press, was released in September, 2009.

For more information about Nancy Brown and her books, please visit her website at http://www.nancybrown.ca/.

Transcending the Legacy and Facing Life are available for purchase at the Penumbra Press website.

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