A conversation with... Lorraine Brown
Lorraine Brown, previously trained as an actress and has just completed her final year of a postgraduate diploma in psychodynamic counselling. She lives in London with her partner and their 8-year-old son. The Paris Connection was her first novel.
Happy publication week! Sorry I Missed You is your second novel. Can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?
Thank you! Well, the story is told from two points of view—Jack’s and Rebecca’s—and Jack is an actor. Before I became a writer, I was an actor, too, and after leaving drama school I spent about seven years struggling to make it work, getting constant knock-backs along the way and hardly getting seen for any roles. I wanted to explore this theme in my novel—Jack has a big Hollywood agent and he’s doing pretty well, but not well enough to make a solid living out of it. And he’s superb and works hard and deserves to make it and I wanted to explore the impact that has on a person, the way repeated rejection can tap into the insecurities you already have about yourself, and how sometimes the big, shiny, agent isn’t the one who is going to make everything happen for you. Jack needs to find someone who believes in him, and over the course of the story, he finds more than one person…
Sorry I Missed You is a fresh and romantic summer read. What was the inspiration for the story?
Sorry I Missed You was inspired by a neighbour I have never spoken to! I live in a block of flats in North London, a little like Marlowe Court, where the novel is set, and during the first lockdown (and even before that) I became intrigued by a young woman whose lounge is diagonally opposite my kitchen. I’d wonder why she spent so much time at home on her own, why she never seemed to have visitors, whether she was lonely. She was often on her laptop working, and I wondered what her job was; what made her happy, what her hopes for the future might be. I turned these ideas and questions into a romantic story about how much we really know our neighbours: the assumptions we make about them, how we might empathise with them, or judge them, or want to connect with them or try to avoid them. And about how sometimes there’s this whole other side to them you’d never have imagined!
The story is set in Hampstead, London. Why did you choose that as the setting for your book?
I grew up in Potters Bar, a town just outside North London, and I remember coming to Hampstead occasionally and thinking that it was the most beautiful, aspirational place I’d ever seen. I loved the big houses that I could only dream of setting foot in and the staircases tucked away between buildings and the little cobbled streets and sunny walks on the heath and it always had this air of romance about it, as though anything could happen there and I might live out my version of a Richard Curtis movie! Years later, when my acting career had gone from bad to worse, I worked in Hampstead as a school secretary. It was while I was here that I began to write and I would spend every lunch time in Waterstones Hampstead working away on my debut novel. Because I wrote Sorry I Missed You during the pandemic, I found it very difficult to imagine being anywhere other than London, and as I couldn’t go on any research trips, of course, I wanted to set it somewhere I knew very well. Hampstead popped into my mind immediately.
What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
There won’t be a sequel, I don’t think. In my mind, at least, it’s very clear what will happen to Jack and Rebecca in the future. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I’m not a fan of totally ambiguous endings—as a reader I prefer a definite conclusion to the story, and that’s something I like to do as a writer, too. I miss spending time with my characters sometimes, though, and I think that Jack and Rebecca will always stay with me, in the same way that characters from books I’ve read and loved do the same.
What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
I hope they will take away that it is always possible to change your life, no matter what has happened in the past. When things aren’t going as you hoped, it’s easy to feel stuck; to convince yourself that this is just how life is and you’ve got to learn to live with it. But over the course of the book, both Jack and Rebecca find out that they are more resilient and capable than they thought they were—this is partly because of the interactions they have with each other, but it also comes from somewhere deep inside them. I’d also love readers to come away thinking about the power of connections, be that with neighbours, colleagues, friends or family—and how these relationships add texture and meaning to your life, often in ways you’d least expect.
Who is the author you most admire in your genre?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Marian Keyes and vividly remember reading her books when I was younger and feeling seen for the first time. I really like the way she tackles tough issues, weaving them into her stories with a light, accessible touch. And her characters are flawed, too, which I love—none of us are perfect, we all make mistakes and say silly things and hurt people when we don’t mean to, and I like to see this reflected in the novels I read (and hopefully in those I write, too)!
What was the last book you read? And what are you reading next?
I’ve just read the brilliant The Wedding Date by American writer Jasmine Guillory. It’s about a successful Black woman who meets a charming white doctor when they get stuck in a lift at a swanky hotel and then she agrees to be his fake date to a wedding. It’s sparky and romantic and totally relatable and touches on what it means to be a black woman moving in white, middle-class circles, which brought an additional dimension to the traditional love story. Next, I’m going to read Book Lovers by Emile Henry—she’s a hugely successful romantic comedy writer who sells thousands of books, so not only do I want to enjoy the story, I want to think a little about what makes so many readers resonate with her work. I want each book I write to be better and more accomplished than the last, so it’s really important for me to read around the genre and to take notice of what readers are enjoying. Plus, it’s set in the publishing world, which is particularly intriguing for me as I find the industry fascinating!
Sorry I missed You by Lorraine Brown
Available at bookshop.org