March 2014


Hannah Beckerman is the author of The Dead Wife’s Handbook. She has a MA in Literature and has worked at the BBC, Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel. She is married to a British diplomat and they live in London with their daughter. (Interview by Jade Craddock)

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  1. 1. The Dead Wife’s Handbook is an incredibly original story, how did you come up with the idea?

    Thanks so much! A friend had been describing her feelings about her ex-husband’s new relationship: her fears about her secrets being divulged and the sense of her wanting to know what was going on between her ex-husband and his new partner, even though she didn’t want to be with him any more. It got me thinking about the most extreme version of that - where you could witness that new relationship up close and personal, but without any power to intervene - and thus the idea of the dead wife came into being.

  2. 2. You had me on the cusp of tears from the very first page, when you were writing did you have to hold back the tears yourself or could you distance yourself somewhat?

    I confess I did do a fair amount of crying when I was writing the book. There were some scenes in particular - especially some of those between Max and Ellie - that would have me in tears even as I was working on the 23rd draft! I lived with those characters for two years in my head and I genuinely cared about them so even though I knew what was going to happen to them, their trials and tribulations still moved me.

  3. 3. At one point Rachel says, ‘My greatest fear has been to discover one day that I’ve been forgotten. To watch on painfully, powerless, as I view my own demise in the memories of the people I love’, do you think this is something that we all struggle with?

    I think we all - to some extent or another - fear life without us in it any more; psychoanalysts have been trying to figure out for over a century just how much those fears drive some of our actions and behaviours. I think most of us want to know that we made our mark in some way or another: it’s what drives some people to fame or fortune or notoriety. Where Rachel gets to by the end of the novel is pretty much the conclusion I’d come to by my mid-thirties too.

  4. 4. As your central character, you obviously must have grown close to Rachel, was it difficult for you to write about Max moving on?

    As soon as the idea came into my head for the book, Max was always going to move on to pastures new, so I always knew it was going to happen. So from that point on it was about trying to work out the most authentic emotional response I could to that for Rachel. Those early scenes with Eve went through countless drafts as I tried to get under the skin of how Rachel might actually feel in that situation.

  5. 5. Are there any similarities between you and Rachel?

    I think there’s probably a little bit of me in all the female characters in the book (except, probably, Joan). I probably share Rachel’s propensity to introspection and analysis of emotional situations. But she’s probably a bit calmer and more forgiving than I am!

  6. 6. The novel is structured around a sort of seven stages of grief, was there a particular stage that you found easiest/hardest to write?

    In some ways depression was the hardest, because I felt like Rachel had already been through quite a lot of difficult stuff by that point (as had - by extension - the reader) and by that point there are aspects of her absence that she’s already beginning to accept. So it was quite a tricky balance to remain with her in a state of depression while nonetheless allowing her - and the reader - a sense of hope.

  7. 7. As a debut author, what has been the best part of bringing your first book to life?

    Feedback from readers, without a shadow of a doubt. When the initial, early blogger reviews came in towards the end of last year (and were good), I assumed I’d just got lucky with the first few readers, or they were being kind because I was the newbie on the block. But as it got closer to publication and more reviews started filtering through, and they were also good, it was just the best feeling ever. When someone messages you to say that they’ve found your book moving or thought-provoking or that it’s made them cherish life more - well, I’m not sure there’s anything more that I could hope for as a writer.

  8. 8. What was your first thought when you held your book in your hands?

    When the box arrived with my author copies, I opened it and just looked at them. I don’t think I touched one for about two days! The box sat on the kitchen table with me just gazing at it every time I walked past. Now I have one permanently on my desk to remind me what it’s all about (as I’m writing the next book) and for the occasional stroke - it really is an addictively tactile cover!

  9. 9. Is it strange to think of yourself as an author?

    Completely! I still feel really sheepish when people ask me what I do and I tend to mumble ‘I’m a bit of a writer’ or some such! Penguin bought The Dead Wife’s Handbook a few weeks before my daughter was born so when it came to getting her birth certificate, I had to decide what to put down as my profession: I still love the fact, every time I look at it, that it says ‘Novelist’ next to my name.

  10. 10. Has writing this novel taught you anything about yourself?

    Golly, it’s taught me a bunch of things. The whole journey Rachel goes on - the journey about learning to appreciate what’s really important in life - is a journey I went on just prior to, and during the writing of, the book. It’s taught me about my own processes as a writer and what works (and doesn’t work) for me when I’m writing. And I’ve learnt that sometimes your childhood fantasies do come true!

  11. 11. Your book has received some great feedback, was it daunting letting go of your manuscript and letting others see it for the first time?

    I can honestly say it was truly terrifying! Until proof copies went out, it really had only been read by about a dozen people, and most of those at Penguin (beyond my husband, I hadn’t even let anyone in my family read it). And suddenly it was not only being read by family and friends, but by all the bloggers who by then I’d become friends with too. There was quite a lot of anticipation online before the book came out and I was petrified that everyone would hate it and I’d feel like I’d let all these people - all of whom had been so supportive - down. It really is a bit like setting your child off into the big wide world and just hoping people are kind to her. I’m incredibly grateful that, so far, everyone’s been very kind indeed.

  12. 12. I understand you are the person we have to thank for The Big Read, how important has reading been to you throughout your life?

    Reading - and books - have always been incredibly important to me. We didn’t have a huge amount of money when I was growing up so we didn’t have many books at home, but my mum used to take us to the library every week and I’d take out the maximum number of books - six at a time - that I was allowed and I’d always have read them all (sometimes twice) by the next visit. I’ve always loved books as objects too: I remember, from a really young age, going to other people’s houses who had tons of books everywhere and feeling really jealous, and wanting my house to be like that too. My husband and I recently bought our first home together and the first thing we did was to have beautiful bookshelves made in the sitting room. I want our daughter to grow up surrounded by the magic of books and stories.

  13. 13. Which book could you not live without?

    Whichever one I’m enjoying at any particular time. When I get really into a book (which probably only happens about a dozen times a year) I’m one of those people who wake up in the middle of the night wanting to read more. But if I had to take one book to a desert island it would probably be The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing.

  14. 14. How is the second novel going - any second-novel syndrome?

    The first draft of book 2 is written but I do sincerely wish I’d managed to get it finished in its entirety before The Dead Wife’s Handbook came out - I’m finding publication week/fortnight just a little distracting (in the best possible way!) What has been really useful, though, is some of the feedback I’ve had on DWH which I’m already starting to filter through into my revisions for book 2.

  15. 15. What message do you want readers to take from The Dead Wife’s Handbook?

    Honestly? I want people to take from it whatever they find it means to them. I’m a great believer in the reader having their own, unique relationship with a book and it won’t necessarily mean the same things to me writing it as it does to others reading it. If people take anything positive or meaningful from it at all that would be wonderful!

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