Anna Beecher has been shortlisted for the 2021 Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award, with her debut novel Here Comes the Miracle. In this interview, we find out more about what being a writer means to Anna.
What does being shortlisted for the 2021 Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award mean to you?
I’m thrilled to be shortlisted and quite surprised! The news came right at the end of a long power cut at my house and I found out just as my lights and heating came back on. I like the alignment of the two events because above all the shortlisting feels energising.
Writing can be this long, lonely act of faith in many ways; you can crack on with a project for years without knowing if it will resonate with anyone else and so being recognized by the judges of the Young Writer of the Year Award feels profoundly encouraging. It’s like the world is saying to me, yes, keep writing, you are meant to be doing this. I’m deeply grateful for that. It’s also just lovely to share this moment with the other people who worked on the book. It feels like so many people are excited for me and for, Here Comes the Miracle.
What made you want to be a writer, and when did you first start writing?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist and explored lots of different versions of that ever since childhood. In my teens I wanted to be an actor because inhabiting other characters – that electric leap of empathy – was the most exciting thing I’d ever experienced. But I soon discovered that writing could be just as much of an adventure, and in many ways it offered more freedom. You can write anywhere (you don’t need an audience to open up your laptop or notebook) and you aren’t expected to look a certain way or to fulfill anyone’s vision but your own. Those last two especially meant a lot to me as a young woman.
I think I’ve always written and used language to make sense of my life, but if I have to choose a moment when I ‘became a writer’, it’s probably the strange and spiky play I wrote at school when I was seventeen. It led me into writing lots more for theatre and performance, writing poems and stories and eventually to writing a novel.
How did you come to write Here Comes the Miracle?
I began writing Here Comes the Miracle in January 2013, just weeks after my brother, John, died of cancer at the age of twenty five. I was twenty three, shattered by his death and urgently trying to figure out how to build a life that could contain that loss. Strangely, I found grief to be a very imaginative space as well as a painful one; I felt very sensitive to all of the lives around me, how fragile they were, how quickly everything could change. I began writing a story about a young woman whose brother dies, interwoven with other stories of lives shaped by loss. It became clear to me over time that I was writing as much about love in all its various forms, and the peculiar flinty resilience of joy as about grief. I’m fascinated by how those things entwine in our lives.
Can you tell us a bit more about the writing process? How long did it take you, what did it involve?
It took me four years to write a first draft of Here Comes the Miracle, followed by several further drafts which I created in discussion with my agent Jenny Hewson and then my editor Lettice Franklin, who were both amazing and instrumental in the process of bringing the novel to life.
Writing this book involved bursts of activity and bogs of stuckness. I did a lot of writing at four in the morning at a tiny desk in my bedroom in Croydon, and lots of writing in the far flung homes of friends and relatives who were kind enough to lend me space when I needed a change of scenery.
When I moved to America in 2017 by myself, the book came with me. It was my companion for most of my twenties. The book held my hand as I grew into new adulthood and into a grief which felt far too big for me. It riddled me with doubt and kept me up at night. Writing it felt both urgent and slow. It involved quite a lot of coffee.
Which writers do you look up to and why?
So many. In fiction I look up to the radically empathetic and surprisingly hilarious George Elliot, the magnificent and too often out of print Mavis Gallant and the deliciously weird Clarice Lispector. I look up to Kazuo Ishiguro and Colm Toibin and I just read a short story by Lucy Caldwell which took my breath away.
I’m also deeply inspired by nonfiction and think often of Yiyun Li’s Dear Friend, From My Life, I Write to You in Your Life.
Finally, there are many poets and poems which inspire my writing. I love Adrienne Rich and Marie Howe and Anne Carson’s Nox (which is part poem, part essay, part strange object). I think one of the finest poets writing right now about illness and the fragility of life (both individual life and life on this planet), which are subjects I’m very drawn to, is my dear friend Emily Lawson. Her recent poem, Salt Flats, UT, is one of the best things I’ve read in ages.
Finally, what are you planning to do next?
I’m currently exploring nonfiction and writing a book of essays. I’m really interested in ‘moments of impossibility’ in our lives, how they change us and how we move through them.
Anna Beecher‘s work is about love. She is interested in dignity, rebellion and lives shaped by loss. She is a current MFA candidate at the University of Virginia and a winner of the $10,000 Henfield Prize for Fiction. She also has written widely for theatre and performance, including early years show Nest. HERE COMES THE MIRACLE is her first novel.