Debut author publishes novel inspired by her Buxton childhood and heartbreaking death of brother
A writer who says her career choice was inspired by her Buxton schoolteachers has just published her debut novel, which is partly set in the town and loosely based on the traumatic death of her brother.
Anna Beecher 32, currently lives in Charlottesville, USA, where she is a writing teacher at the University of Virginia and running a transatlantic touring theatre company.
She owes her love of the stage to nine formative years as part of Buxton’s REC Youth Theatre Company, but has also carved out a career writing non-fiction and award-winning short stories – and now her novel, Here Comes the Miracle.
Anna said: “I cried when I first saw the book. You have something on your computer for years and years as a Word document and then it transforms into this beautiful object. It feels magical and surreal.
“Reader reactions have been really positive and I've been moved to have strangers reach out to me to say that they had been through similar experiences and Here Comes the Miracle made them feel understood. What more can a writer really ask for?”
Described as “incredibly moving” by the Irish Times, it is a story that combines coming-of-age with coming to terms with loss – a fictionalised version of Anna’s own experience with her brother John, another well known face on the Buxton Fringe theatre scene who died from cancer aged just 25.
Anna said: “I began writing the book when I was 23, about a month after John's death, but it took four years to write the first draft.
“I think one of the reasons it took so long was that at the beginning of the process, I just wasn't ready to look at the hardest parts of what happened, though I knew they needed to be in the book.”
The book depicts the year from one character’s diagnosis to death, but approaches it through the eyes of others to show how such events can shape those left behind, and the choices and random luck which separate lives lived or not
She added: “I didn't exactly plan to write about my experience with my brother, I just sat down and started writing and realised that some characters were emerging who were similar to us. The book is fiction rather than memoir, so it's inspired by what we went through but not exactly the same.
“It was important to me to write a fictional version because that gave me freedom to invent and pull in other story lines which broadened what I was able to explore. For example, I wanted to include two much older characters so that I could bring in ideas about different types of loss and about what it means to share your life with another person, whether that's a sibling or a spouse.”
She added: “My writing process is always somewhat chaotic. I write hundreds of pages of notes and draft everything many times. I write without knowing whether what I'm writing will make it into the final book. I spent the best part of a year writing about characters who later got cut from the novel.
“Writing the details of what it is like to be around a person you love who is dying was painful, and I sometimes thought, I just can't do this. But, the book, like life, is also full of joy even in the sad moments, and I think that carried me through. I knew that I wanted to put the wholeness of the experience of losing someone onto the page, not only the sadness but the beauty and humour and fierce sense of love that can be part of it too. I really wanted to explain that complexity to the readers and to myself.”
While Anna’s family moved away from Buxton when she was 16, she still has many close friends in the area and when it came to choosing the setting for her characters’ childhood she felt the town calling to her again.
Anna said: “There's a drama to the landscape, the way the moor wraps around the town, the way everything transforms overnight when it snows. I think growing up with that just stays with you. Being surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains now reminds of the Peak District too.”
The evocative scenery is not the only part of her own childhood here that has stayed with Anna. She fondly recalls Underground Venues and Funny Wonders among other enduring sources of inspiration.
She said: “Mrs Kidd at Buxton Junior school gave me faith in my writing. I loved writing stories in her class as an 11-year-old. I vividly remember her drawing a hook on the blackboard to teach us about hooking the reader with the beginning of a story.
“Miss Mulheran at Thomas Moor was a wonderful English teacher who encouraged us to really talk about books with some curiosity, not just to get through our exams.”
She added: “I was also very inspired by teachers outside of school. Catherine Luke, my dance teacher really taught me perseverance with creative work because I went to her for years even though I'm definitely not a natural dancer.
"And Martin Beard at REC Theatre taught me as a seven-year-old that working creatively is about concentration, imagination, discipline and control, which I still think of often. I think it was REC that first made me feel like the contents of my imagination were important and something I should explore.”
As well as teaching at the university, Anna is studying for a postgraduate degree after landing a full scholarship. She is currently working on two books, a memoir and a love story.
To learn more about her work, go to www.annabeecher.com.