Brenda Seabrooke (great name!) is the author of several novels for young adults. She grew up surrounded by storytellers in a rural part of Georgia and became a dedicated reader at a young age. She graduated from Tulane University with a major in history. She taught it briefly before turning to writing stories.
Brenda was kind enough to chat with me about her books and her writing process.
You and I have something in common in that we discovered Sherlock Holmes through our grandmothers. Tell us about your early experience in reading. Was your gran an inspiration?
The books in my grandmother’s hall bookcase belonged to her son who left them when he moved. I don’t know if she read them but she told me stories about a girl named Phoebe who got into trouble for disobedience. My grandmother was born in 1874 and her stories reflected her time. Girls were supposed to be ladylike and obedient when they probably wanted to run barefoot across the meadow, wade brooks, swim rivers and climb trees as I did.
What sort of books did you read then and what do you read today?
I loved mysteries and still do! I read every one I could find in the Carnegie Library, Enid Blyton and Helen Girvan were favorite authors. I also loved animal stories and wrote a knock-off of Freddy the Pig books, Zippy the Pig which I illustrated. I remember gluing sequins from the dressmaker’s floor onto the paper to make a shiny treasure when Zippy met the pirates. And of course, I read Nancy Drew and other series mystery books but we had to buy these because the library didn’t think they were worthwhile. My cousins and friends and I would buy different titles and trade.
Ooh, another Blyton / Nancy Drew fan! I was lucky that my library supplied both, though never in sufficient quantities to satisfy my voracious appetite. Tell us about your books, Brenda. They are aimed at young adults?
I don’t target any age group. I write stories that happen to fall into age categories. Scones and Bones on Baker Street falls into the grades 2-5 category but I think people of any age would enjoy it if they like mysteries, dogs, Sherlock Holmes, the late 19th century, London or humor.
What is the appeal of that sort of writing?
The appeal of writing for any age is the story. Some stories written for children are enjoyed by adults and some for adults become children’s classics. Samuel Clemens didn’t think his books were only for children when he wrote Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
True enough. There are certainly plenty of adults who read the Harry Potter books. What do you find are your greatest writing challenges?
Keeping up with technological changes when writing a story set in the present. I just updated and republished some of my backlist in paperback on Amazon and Kindle. They were written before everybody and his dog had an iPhone.
And when I’m writing in historical periods as in 1890’s London, I check to make sure words I’m using were in use then. I am constantly amazed to find some words that seem so modern were in use in 1300!
I’m intrigued by your new book, Scones and Bones on Baker Street. It sounds like a fun premise. What can you tell us about it?
Thank you! I’ve always had a lot of pets. One of my dogs carried messages wound around his collar. I would tell him who it was to and he would find that person. He also traced a cat we were looking for once so the idea of a dog detective isn’t farfetched to me.
In Scones and Bones on Baker Street, Digby, a London street dog, appears one day looking for food. He’s hungry, but when he bumbles into Sherlock.Holmes, he decides right away he wants to be the great detective’s dog. The scones and bones from Mrs. Hudson are a plus but first he has to convince Mr. Holmes that he needs a dog. This proves not to be easy. The main obstacle Digby has to overcome is himself. He scratches in the wrong places and performs other uncouth doggie acts that interfere with Mr. Holmes’ detecting. Digby doesn’t allow himself to be daunted. If he did, he would have starved long ago. He is a dog who perseveres. He mends his ways to show Mr. Holmes a dog is exactly what he needs to help him solve cases, especially a dog named Digby.
Sounds great! I hope Digby is careful about what he eats. That Mr Holmes keeps a lot of very questionable chemicals and poisons in his flat. Who / what inspires you?
I love the Sherlock Holmes books and the filmed versions of that period in history when London was a spooky place. The fog was sometimes so thick you could chew it and the only sound was the clipclop of a horse-drawn Hansom cab or sinister unseen footsteps. It was a time that lent itself to crime and intrigue, when people were in the Dickensian mode, motorcars were rare, lighting was still by gas and modern times were mostly confined to railroads.
What tips would you offer anyone interested in becoming a writer?
Read. And write. My dentist yesterday told me he couldn’t write, not even letters. I told him when I was 8, I read that you should write as if you are talking to someone and that’s what I do. He said he would try it. I will check on him at my next cleaning appointment!
Let us know how he gets on. Many writers – you, me and Agatha Christie, to name three – share a fondness for old houses. What appeals to you about them? Do they inspire your writing?
Oh yes, even new ones as in The Haunting of Holroyd Hill but especially old houses because they are full of stories of the people who once lived there. Sometimes houses are even legends, some true, some not. The house I grew up in was built in the 1920’s. It was old when my parents bought it and my mother lived in it for 44 years. Since I sold it, people have created a legend about the reason for the door in the ell my parents added to the house: it has an exit, they say, so my father, a country doctor could slip out of the house without waking the family to go on house calls in the middle of the night. I doubt he ever used that door at all, and never for house calls. He used the kitchen door which was close to his car. Old houses in the south often caught fire. People needed a second door to be able to get out in a hurry and that was the real reason for this door. Years later my grandparents’ house caught fire. If the bedroom hadn’t had an extra door, the occupants could not have got out. They only had seconds to escape, not even time to open a window.
I am thrilled my childhood home has its own legend!
My own grandmother’s house was haunted, so I can understand the thrill. What are your favorite historical sites? Are there any places you haven’t visited yet but would like to?
So many! I live in the part of Virginia where Europeans settled in 1607. We visit Williamsburg and Jamestown a lot and recently went to Yorktown but I also like to find hidden history. My house is off a road shown on a 1630 map of the area. Every time I plant a bush, I find bits of history, a clump of plaster, a hinge, evidence of a fire, and the giant oak tree in the backyard must be at least 400 years old!
I am fascinated by castles and thinking of setting my next book in one so, of course, I’ll need to visit some.
You’ll have to come to Ireland. Trim Castle is an extraordinary and very well-preserved Norman castle. Well worth a visit. We don’t have a castle standing in Kells any more (though we did once), but we still have the round tower and the Celtic crosses that are more than a thousand years old.
Let’s end with your favorite quote.
It is not enough to do your best: you must also do that which is necessary.
This has been attributed to Sir Winston Churchill. We are encouraged to do our best but sometimes our best is not enough and we have to make changes to make something work. The first version of Scones and Bones on Baker Street was twice as long as the final version. I realized it was two books and took it apart. The leftovers can be used another time. In a sequel perhaps……
Can’t wait! Thanks for taking the time, Brenda.
If you’d like to check out Brenda’s wonderful books, you can find them here
You can also read more about Brenda here