Just in case you missed it…

Originally posted on Sally Xerri-Brooks:


Following the publication of Four Movements, I thought you might want to gain an insight into my world, my writing and the inspiration behind it.

When did you start writing?

I suppose I’ve always written stories, ever since I was very young. I remember putting together my own little story books – grappling with giant staplers and sellotape, tongue inevitably stuck out to one side. In my early career I was a journalist, and I found it fascinating how much of life can be encapsulated in stories.

So would you call yourself a story teller?

Yes! I think so. If I am, I have to give credit to my late Grandmother, who used to fascinate me with family stories from the past. Her yarns would involve caravans on sand dunes, unexpected illness, long and eventful journeys – the stuff of true drama. Ultimately, in my mind, the best writers…

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words graph

2013 was a year of radical change for me, as many of you will know. I started a new job, Rachel and I moved house and had a baby. My daughter is now nearly four months old, and throughout our journey I kept a blog. You can see it at

Unexpectedly this blog has proved really popular with other parents, both gay and straight. So, my next project is non-fiction. When I wrote Four Movements I embarked on a project called ‘May You Write Your Novel,’ inspired by author Sally Quilford. The idea was to write 1,000 words a day for 80 days starting on 1st May. It worked for me – by mid July I had the first draft completed. So, although it is not May, and ‘January You Write Your Novel’ doesn’t really have a ring to it, I will employ the same technique. See above my progress graph!

And to get an idea of the book itself – here is the pitch I am sharing with literary agents:

This book is the story of how me and my female partner went about getting pregnant, and our journey from identifying a sperm donor to giving birth. Book shops currently contain whole sections dedicated to guides for mums and dads-to-be, and even tomes for those adopting children. Yet, there is virtually nothing in this market that tackles the issue of becoming a mum, as I have, to a baby my wife gave birth to. While she is biologically Rachel’s daughter and legally I am her ‘other mother’, I have no genetic connection to her. I had to make it up as I went along, dealing with issues such as knowing my child wouldn’t inherit any of my skills and abilities by virtue of my DNA. I wasn’t a mum or a dad as society identifies, and I was faced with questions from others that I simply couldn’t answer.
This is an honest and sometimes light-hearted account of my experience and feelings, and the creation of a very specific parental role and confidence through the nine month pregnancy, and the subsequent birth.

Or so they say anyway…


I watched the rather fantastic film, Argo, today. I was struck by how unrealistic it all seemed and yet it is based on a true story. Think of other such tales – the Sound of Music, We Bought a Zoo, the Great Escape. All are unbelievable but for the fact that we know them to be based in truth, which makes the stories that much more remarkable.

As a journalist many years ago I wrote a series of stories about a pair of scarecrows that were repeatedly kidnapped and found in various places in a local village, before finally being destroyed in a fire. If I were to place that story into a fictional account, it would sound far too twee and contrived. All of us are suckers for a true story though, aren’t we?

Early this year I started a blog, charting my experience as a parent to be, and subsequently as a parent to a new baby. I did it mostly for personal reasons, and yet it has proved really successful. I have a loyal and kind readership and have been contacted by a variety of journalists and researchers as a result. On the back of this, I have decided that my next book will be a non-fiction one, telling the story of how Rachel and I came to give birth to Gwyneth – it is slightly more complex than just stopping contraception, as I’m sure you can imagine!

Have a look at the blog if you fancy it!


It is the day of the dead in Mexico, where families come together to celebrate, mourn and remember the dead. Does that sounds ghoulish to you? It shouldn’t. We are constantly in a state of life amidst death amidst life. This has never been more clear to me since I began working at a hospice. In a strange juxtaposition, I found out that I was going to become a mother just as I accepted the new job eight months ago. My daughter is now eight weeks old, and for six months I have spent my days among those working with people coming to the end of their lives, and by night preparing for the birth of new life.

Many people assume that working at a hospice is depressing. But I can tell you that this is far from the case. We work to ensure that those coming to the end are comfortable enough to continue with their lives. We all die, no escaping it. The only difference is how we live our lives. And, for the record, there are only two states of being – alive and dead. There is no ‘third’ state, which people sometimes refer to as ‘dying’. Life is to be enjoyed as much as possible, about creating stories, having experiences, loving and hurting.

In the first six weeks of work at the hospice I found myself remembering people I had lost, ruminating over losses. It was a safe place to talk about death without having to question whether the other person was comfortable with it. And that’s what it’s about – comfort. How many times have people spoken of someone they’ve lost, to be greeted with an awkward silence and a swift subject change? This is where I think we need to be more like the Mexicans. Let’s get it all out there – celebrate the ones we’ve lost, cry for them, mourn them. The fact that they left a gap in our lives is a good thing. It means they mattered.

25 years ago this Christmas I lost my grandfather. I was just 10 years old, and he just 61. Yet once my daughter was born, he was someone I found myself remembering – and missing. He would have loved meeting her, helping us with our house move, making things for her. So the gap is still there, brought into sharp relief by the beginning of a new life. It is from this gap that on Tuesday night we will invite friends to our home to celebrate fireworks night, an occasion he loved. He would spend a fortune on fireworks and invite the whole family round. Since then I have had a love of them myself, and will be thinking of both him and my new little girl as I set them off in our garden.

So, it is him, along with others, that I will be remembering and celebrating on fireworks night. My day of the dead.


For the literary angels so loved Birmingham that they sent forth a library that loved the city in a way that bathed residents in a warm glow and attracted strangers from far and wide…

Yesterday I went to the new Library of Birmingham – a truly remarkable place. The handful of photos I took don’t do this magnificent creation justice, for it is more than just a building.


It inspired me in a way that the old concrete building containing books never managed. I am already finding excuses to go back and discover more. The meagre hour I had didn’t do justice to the secrets and delights that don’t shout out, but wait to be discovered – just like a good book.

The secret garden is a joy to behold, offering an unlikely urban oasis, while the Shakespeare Room offers a slice of civic Birmingham’s history, encased in the extraordinary viewing platform inside which there was a genuine buzz from those inside. In one part of the library, we were asked to take pictures of a group of teenage boys on their mobile phones, something that I would wager they wouldn’t have done the in the old place.

The Library of Birmingham is cool – there, I’ve said it. But more than that, like Danny Boyle put it so effectively in the Olympic opening ceremony, it is for everyone.


My daughter, Gwyneth, was born earlier this month and I am thrilled to be able to look ahead to a childhood that has such a marvellous resource in. And to those who fear that libraries are dead, and that ebooks are ruining the world, I say: come to Birmingham to visit a living, breathing community library.


As some readers may know, my baby is due in the next few days, which made me begin to think about babies in literature. Here are my top 5:

1. Harry Potter – this is en essential starting point. It is baby Harry that starts the whole tale, and challenges evil Voldemort’s powers.

2. Sally Hope’s sister in Mallory Towers – we don’t see much of 11 year old Sally’s sister, but towards the end of her first term at Mallory Towers (Enid Blyton’s boarding school series) it becomes apparent that her moodiness and general grumpy behaviour is down to being jealous of the new baby at home, and her subsequent arrival at boarding school. Once she’s had her pesky appendix out and bared her soul to the sainted Darryl Rivers, she’s happy go lucky once more and loves her sister buckets.

3. The baby in Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, (SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT) is all the more suitable for this list by being an imaginary creation even within the story. A fictional fictional baby, if you will.

4. Ok, this is actually quite hard.

5. Definitely open to suggestions from you…


We’ve all done it; read a marvellous book, only to hear that it is being made into a film and felt the familiar sinking of the heart.

1. The Graduate

Classic film, probably more well known than the original book. Darkly comic, The Graduate tells the story of Benjamin Braddock, academically successful but personally unfulfilled. The book gives us much more of his back story, and he’s definitely less likeable than Dustin Hoffman’s interpretation. Without question a big part of the film’s appeal is its soundtrack, lovingly crafted by Simin and Garfunkel. It has become synonymous with the images and cutting dialogue.

2. Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain is actually a short story, written by the fabulous Annie Proulx. The film expands a snapshot that is told in a handful of pages, into an epic story of love, loss and dramatic landscape. The film takes the guts of a sharp short story and fills in the shadows. Epic. For less good adaptations of a short story, see Benjamin Button…

3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

I may be courting controversy here, but I genuinely feel that the Potter adaptations have been brilliant. They came from a standpoint of wildly successful children’s books and committed fans. It was a tough act to follow. I think the key was Rowling’s involvement throughout. She was specific about what she did and did not want, and the result is a series of films that still contain their original potency.

4. The English Patient

The book by Michael Ondaatje is a gorgeous read. I found it as a student having already seen the film. I read it in one sitting and loved it. The film isn’t exactly the same, but the cinematography is mesmerising, and the score stands on its own. A beautiful story turned into a visual and aural treat.

5. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Ok, this one is definitely not faultless, as the central relationship is downgraded from a loving lifelong relationship between two women into a close friendship. There is a certain level of putting Fannie Flagg’s book back into the closet. However, putting that aside, it’s a really affecting film, that brings the book to life.


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