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Lovereading.com book of the month Aug 2014audio interview here

 

 

 

 The house near Loweswater is higgledy-piggledy but homely; comfy sofas with tartan cushions, paintings of flowers hanging askew and a grand piano covered with clutter. Wild west: Henry Brooks says of his novel ‘It’s set around Lorton and the rugged fells. It’s a bit of a boys’ own adventure and a murder mystery, there are smugglers, rock climbers and a mysterious beast’

 

From the window stunning views of Grasmoor, bathed in light the winter sun peeks through the clouds.

Kids come and go: eight-year-old Thomas sits and reads his book for a while and two-year-old Jonathan zooms through the house playing with his toy cars.

Dad Henry, sitting next to the crackling log fire, is used to the busy atmosphere.

 

His children are home educated – there’s also Abigail, 10, and five-year-old William – and his mind works overtime as he answers questions from me and from them almost simultaneously, the way parents do.

The landscape architect and property developer has turned author and his debut novel, The Shoulders of Giants, is published this month.

The book, aimed at teenagers, follows the adventures of a 15-year-old boy, Will Houston, as he approaches adulthood. Henry describes it as a cross between Arthur Ransom and Arthur Conan Doyle, and a tribute to “magical” west Cumbria.

“It’s set around Lorton and the rugged fells. It’s a bit of a boys’ own adventure and a murder mystery, there are smugglers, rock climbers and a mysterious beast,” says the laidback 38-year-old, dressed in a checked shirt, hooded jacket, jeans and heeled cowboy boots.

“The Loweswater show and Cumberland wrestling are in there, there’s a salmon poaching gang and an evil uncle dealing with the Mafia. It’s about five books rolled into one!”

The protagonist Will is guided by various adults and stories he is told about his ancestors, such as his great aunt from Whitehaven who was a screen lass at the Haig Pit.

“These are grown ups with something to offer. Heroes are often all around us but we spend all our time glorifying people like David Beckham. West Cumbria has some extraordinary stories that can be retold through fiction.”

Henry is dyslexic but has had a love of literature for years – evidenced by the piles of books stacked around the room. He describes writing his novel as a mammoth task, but credits his wife Ruth, an English graduate, and his agent for their help.

There was another hurdle, too: Henry started writing his book while undergoing treatment for cancer five years ago.

 

“Testicular,” he whispers, glancing over at Thomas who is reading. “I’m fine now but at the time we didn’t know how serious it was, you have to

 wait for results of the biopsies. I had surgery and radiotherapy, which is like being car sick all the time and you can’t eat.

“You never imagine it happening to you, but it was a crunch moment and I knew time had shaken me by the hand, and I buckled down to write.”

Henry spent two years writing the book but it took him another three years to get it into print.

It’s published by Carlisle publisher Piquant Fiction, and he has been signed up to write three more books for a series, The Will Houston Mysteries.

Henry was first inspired to write The Shoulders of Giants while working as a pastor in Maryport.

Before they had children Henry and Ruth had an informal open house, welcoming people from all sections of the community.

“We were living in Maryport, working with young disadvantaged people, and saw how difficult it was for children to resist peer culture that was unhelpful. We were there for 10 years and saw a generation grow up and wondered what to do about disaffected youngsters.

“I was sitting in the garden with Ruth and said, ‘we should do something about it, something longer lasting’. And I don’t think enough people are writing really good, wholesome children’s literature.”

Alongside the adventure subplots, The Shoulders of Giants is layered with themes from the bible. Henry, who is now assistant pastor at Cockermouth Christian Centre, didn’t want to write a preachy book, so chose a pacy narrative and used ‘giant’ characters who display various virtues.

“Virtues are the fruits of the spirit. You can’t have them unless there is a root, and the root is your relationship with Jesus,” he declares.

But will the book appeal to people who aren’t Christian?

“I have a Muslim friend who read it and loved it. People read Harry Potter who are not into witchcraft. A great story is a great story. I’ve just brought a Christian world view to it.”

Henry, who describes himself as “Pentecostal with a small p”, is totally committed to his faith but only started practising Christianity in his early 20s, when he was studying landscape architecture in Leeds.

“I was a bit wild at university. They were my rock and roll years, I was into heavy metal and a nightclub promoter. There were broken relationships, an excess of alcohol and drugs and I was quite a selfish person.

“You come to a time when you’re a young man and have to make a decision. I knew Christianity was right and just had to take that step. And when I did it was electric.”

He met Ruth in Cumbria who was teaching at Whitehaven’s Mayfield School, and she left her job to teach their children at home.

Henry still enjoys playing guitar and has released a CD to accompany the book.

It was recorded at Tom Tyson’s Music Farm in Egremont with session musicians including guitarist Albert Lee, who has played with the likes of Eric Clapton and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Though Henry’s faith is clearly of huge importance to him, he can be defensive about it.

Talking about how the family pray and read the bible every day, he points out that they also play music together and socialise with friends and neighbours; that they’re “not closeted in the cellar and given a strict religious education”.

And when they offer me lunch he jests that it’s gruel and dry bread (in fact it’s tasty-looking pasta bolognese and homemade bread baked by Ruth).

He agrees people can have a fixed and often negative view of Christianity.

“People think of vicars as being like Reverend Timms in Postman Pat,” he says, adding that he is keen to bust stereotypes.

“Though stereotypes are often there for a reason, unfortunately. Most people know there’s something right about Christianity but I realise people are put off by Christians or the church.

“It’s not just about going to church or Christianity where it’s in people’s heads but their hearts are as cold as ice.

“For us it’s an outflowing of love for Jesus. Our aim is to try to make a church Jesus would like and the people are wonderful. You feel part of a family.”

He shuffles through some books he’s been reading as he tries to remember a quote. He tails off and admits trying to summarise such a massive topic in a few sentences is difficult, and his mind is whirring.

Besides, there’s lunch to eat, a presentation to write for a school visit in the afternoon, a birthday party along the road, plus the ongoing promotion for his book.

Not that he would change his hectic life. “You’ve got to make hay while the sun shines,” he says, smiling, as we say our goodbyes.

The Shoulders of Giants by Henry Brooks is published by Piquant Fiction. Visit www.giant-shoulders.co.uk

 

 


CANCER BLOW LED HENRY TO WRITE HIS FIRST BOOK

A LOWESWATER man who was spurred into kick-starting his writing career after being diagnosed with cancer is looking forward to the launch of his first book in Cockermouth next week.

(c) CN Group
INSPIRED: Loweswater-based writer Henry Brooks

Henry Brooks, 39, will launch the first book in his Will Houston Mysteries series at The New Bookshop, Main Street, on Thursday.

Henry’s wish to write the book, based on the adventures of 15-year-old Will, in 2004 came after he worked with disadvantaged children in Maryport as part of his role as pastor of Maryport Christian Centre.

He said: “I realised children struggled against peer culture, which is unhelpful and destructive.

“The story is about a 15-year-old boy who is removed from all the bad peer pressure and meets some good role models and when he is surrounded by them and not his silly friends he begins to grow up.”

Henry was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2005 and started writing the prologue to the book while in the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven.

He said: “Everyone talks about doing things like this and I realised that I had to get on and do it now so that spurred me on and I started writing the early chapters while waiting for my operation.”

The book, titled The Shoulders of Giants, is set in West Cumbria and contains scenes set in Cockermouth and Whitehaven, rock climbing in the Lake District fells and Cumbrian history.

Will is sent to live with his grandparents in Cumbria during the separation of his parents.

After his initial horror at being sent to a place with no colour television, no mobile phone reception and no computer games, he uncovers well-kept family secrets and local mysteries, meeting interesting characters including old war heroes, farmers and housewives.

His adventures feature a mysterious beast, salmon poachers, a murder mystery and a wicked uncle in trouble with the French Mafia.

Henry said: “Teenage boys are who I would like to read it but I have had comments from 60-year-old men who have stayed up all night reading it, which is just amazing, and also from 11 and 12-year-olds who have really enjoyed it.

“Reading a book about an area when you are there is just magical so I hope this will be good for West Cumbria and for tourism.”

Henry spent two years writing the book but it took him another three years to get it into print.

After scouring the world for a publisher, a friend working for a literary agent in Carlisle agreed to read the book and became his agent and publisher.

Henry did horse riding and rock climbing while researching the book and said he can see a lot of himself in the character.

He added: “All my life is like beachcombing so everything I see and read is built into the books, nothing is wasted.”

He has already written the second book in the series following Will’s adventures at school and hopes to publish it later this year.