Here We Are Together - the literary debut of Southport’s Carys Bray
PUBLISHED: 00:00 31 October 2013
Carys Bray has set her first novel in her native Lancashire and it’s set to be a publishing sensation. She spoke to Roger Borrell
It’s a plot that stretches credibility but it might just inspire anyone who feels life is passing them by. Instead of going to university, a bright young Mormon woman marries when she’s 18, has four children and works for charities and with disabled people.
But there is something nagging in the back of her mind, an unfulfilled ambition. So in her 30s she becomes a student and, as part of her course, she spends every spare moment at home writing.
At last, her first novel is finished and the manuscript is dispatched to her agent. It goes out to potential publishers on the Wednesday and 48 hours later the phone rings. ‘I think you need to sit down,’ says the agent. Not only has one of the UK’s top publishing houses snapped it up but the agent has secured the author a six-figure deal.
These things just don’t happen in real life, do they? They do if you are Southport’s Carys Bray.
The worldwide rights for her debut novel, Here We Are Together, have been bought by the publishers, Hutchinson, and it comes out in hardback next year. It has also been sold to the USA and the quality of the work, which is set in Lancashire, is causing something of a stir in the publishing industry.
But probably not as much commotion as you’d find inside the Bray household. As soon as she took the agent’s call, Carys tried to text her chiropractor husband, Neil.
‘But I couldn’t form the words because my thumb was shaking so much,’ she laughs. ‘My children appeared and as soon as they realised what was happening they ran around the house cheering!’ You suspect there is still quite a lot of cheering going on in their Southport home.
The novel, about the Bradley family, is not her life story, but it draws heavily on her experience growing up in a Mormon household, first in Southport and later in Devon when her parents moved the family to Exeter.
‘The book is about something very sad that happens and how the family comes to terms with it – the grief, the doubt, the faith and the miracles,’ says Carys, who suddenly lightens up and adds: ‘It’s also quite funny in places! I don’t want to give the impression it’s gloomy.
‘But I’m really interested in families and the way they respond when things go wrong or go right and the pressures that can build up when everyone is living under the same roof.’
Carys, now 37, and her family moved back to Southport for Neil’s work. ‘It was lovely because my grandparents are here and it meant my children could go to the same school I attended.’ That school is Marshside Primary and the neighbouring marshland, now an RSPB reserve, is an important location in the novel.
‘Writing was something I’d always fancied having a go at but when you have four children there never seems time for anything else. When I reached my early 30s I suddenly felt that I had to make up for lost time. I had to tell myself that if I wanted this, I had to get on and do something to make it happen.
‘I’m not sure if my Mormon upbringing held me back. Things always seemed to be happening in our house because it’s a tight-knit community. People describe it as stifling but there were many nice times, too. But in the end it wasn’t for me.
‘Plenty of Mormon women do go university but it was also a Mormon thing to get married very young and have children. There was no-one there to say hang on a moment, do you think it might be a good idea to try university?’ Carys and Neil have severed their ties with the faith.
She took an Open University degree in English literature, followed that up with a Master’s in creative writing at Edge Hill University at Ormskirk, where she has gone on to complete a PhD.
Her tutors soon spotted her potential and urged her to send her stories to literary magazines. Before long, she was picking up awards, including the international Scott Prize for Short Stories, for her book Sweet Home, published by Salt.
Hutchinson publishing director Jocasta Hamilton is a great fan. She says: ‘I loved Carys’ writing from the first page but by the time I was weeping with the different members of the Bradley family, I knew this was an incredibly special novel that I would be so proud to publish. Emotionally true, morally interesting, structurally inventive, Here We Are Together takes you to the heart of what being part of a family means.’
For those inspired to follow her lead and dash off a quick bestseller, Here We Are Together took two years of hard graft so she earned her six-figure deal. ‘And it’s not going to change us,’ she says. ‘We can pay off some of the mortgage and, hopefully, have a nice holiday.’
She’s now turning her attention to her second novel. ‘It’s very much in the early planning phase,’ says Carys. You wouldn’t bet against it being another family affair.
Here We Are Together will be published in hardback by Hutchinson in June 2014.