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Q&A with Mikki Brammer - The Collected Regrets of Clover

The Collected Regrets of Clover

By Cerys-Leigh Phipps

We are honoured to welcome Mikki Brammer to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release The Collected Regrets of Clover out on the 9th of May 2023.

Clover Brooks has forgotten how to live.

It might be because she spends her time caring for people in their final days, working as a death doula in New York City.

Or it might be because she has a regret of her own - one she can't bring herself to let go of.

But then she meets Claudia: a feisty old woman who has one last wish . . .

As Clover begins a new adventure, will she remember how to live her own big, beautiful life?

The Collected Regrets of Clover

Congratulations on the publication of your debut novel! How have you found the process of writing fiction compared to the other works you have produced throughout your career? What inspired you to dive into the world of fiction?

Thank you! It was quite an adjustment from journalism, where you have regular deadlines and are working on short pieces that you submit and then move on to the next one. I had to get used to the fact that I was working on the same thing for a long time, and that the word count was substantially larger. That said, I also found it quite freeing because with fiction, you get to imagine everything, whereas journalism is very much about working with the facts you have. It was nice to be able to live in my imagination for a while!

What was your main source of inspiration for writing The Collected Regrets of Clover? Have you taken experiences from your own life in creating Clover’s narrative, or is there an external source of motivation for the novel?

I started writing the book as an exercise to explore my own anxieties around death. As I learned more about it, I wondered if I could write a novel that dealt with the themes of mortality and grief in a way that was hopeful and uplifting, so that it could be palatable for someone like me who had anxiety around those topics.

A driving theme of the novel is the exploration of death as we follow Clover through New York City working as a death doula and attending death cafes. Why did you want to discuss issues of death and the end-of-life and grieving process so heavily throughout the novel and how do you think Clover’s character and outlook on death affects our perception of these themes?

I think one of the reasons death is so scary for some people is that, in Western society at least, we don’t talk about it much and it’s almost taboo. I wanted to use Clover’s journey as a way to guide the reader through those difficult topics and have them consider them in relation to their own lives and perhaps discuss them more openly with loved ones.

Clover is such an interesting and intelligently written protagonist and narrator that all readers can relate to in some shape and form. Although to begin with she is extremely introverted she is equally as kind. What was the process of creating her character like and what was your main objective when writing both her character and her journey?

At first, Clover might seem like a contradiction to some people because she’s so empathetic and at ease when working with her clients, but then so socially awkward in her own life. I can see why some people might think that, but I wanted to show how we often put on masks in our professional lives. Clover knows how to help these people she works with and that gives her a sense of self-worth and purpose, but the key is that the focus is on them, not her. In her own life, however, she’s terrified of showing her true self and being vulnerable because she’s afraid of being rejected. There’s a lot more at stake for her in that sense and so she freezes up in those scenarios.

Following on from the previous question, is there anything that you would like readers to learn from Clover and her story? What is the key message you would like readers to take-away from the novel?

The main lesson that Clover learns in the book is that in order to have a good death, you need to have lived a good life—and that includes putting your heart out there, letting it get broken, making mistakes and taking chances. I hope that it inspires readers to look at their own lives and consider how they can get closer to living their version of a beautiful life.

While reading the novel, the continuous references to its setting become increasingly apparent. What draws you to New York City and why did you chose the iconic city as the setting for the novel?

New York has always been one of my favorite cities, even before I lived here (which has been for ten years). But I used it as the setting because it’s so familiar to most people across the world through films and TV shows. I wanted it to feel like something comforting that readers could hold onto while dealing with all of the questions of death and grief in the book!

Alongside Clover, another character that captures the attention of the reader is the sassy and well-loved Claudia. How did her character come to be? Was she always going to be a part of Clover’s journey?

Absolutely. Having been partly raised by a flock of great aunts, uncles, and grandparents, I really enjoy the company of the elderly. They have so much wisdom to share and yet we often discount them or, worse, put them away in nursing homes. Four of the main characters in the book are elderly, and I wanted to show them as three-dimensional humans who have lived full lives and faced challenges that earned them the wisdom they share with Clover. Claudia is an amalgamation of all my great aunts!

Throughout the novel, Clover has various different relationship dynamics with other characters whether it is the parental relationship with her late Grandpa, her source of comfort in Bessie and Leo, or her new found friendship with her downstairs neighbour Sylvie. Which one of Clover’s relationships was your favourite to write and why?

Probably her relationship with Leo, because he’s known her since she was a child and is the person who understands her best and who she feels most comfortable with.

An important issue that is repeatedly mentioned throughout the novel is the role of women within society, particularly when Claudia recounts her struggle of becoming a mother and wife while also wishing she’d kept her career during the 1950s. Why was it important to you that this female struggle was represented in the novel, and do you think it is an issue women are still faced with in the 21st century?

Unfortunately, it is still an issue women face in the 21st century, whereas it’s much less of an issue for men. I was very interested in that dichotomy and the fact that it’s still relevant seventy years later.

Leading on from the previous question, here at The Reading Corner we focus our features on the works of female, LGBTQ+ and BIPOC authors. What has your experience been like in the writing industry, both in and out of fiction, as a female author?

I have faced certain challenges, as I’m sure most women have, but I think the challenges for those who identify as women and are also LGBTQ+ and BIPOC are significantly greater and what we should be focusing on. In both magazine and book publishing, it’s always been much harder for people from historically minoritized and marginalized backgrounds to get the opportunities and support they deserve, which is shameful. Though we are making certain strides, we still need substantial systemic change.

As you know, Clover keeps a record of every CONFESSION, ADVICE, and REGRET she is told by the people she helps cross over to the afterlife. If you had to contribute to these three categories, what would you write?

My confession would be that I have a terrible sense of direction but also am someone who tourists often seem to ask for directions. Long story short, I’m quite sure that I’ve sent many people in New York City the wrong way over the years without realizing it until later. I no longer give directions unless I am 100% sure! My advice, which is in the book, is to be “cautiously reckless,” which is some wisdom Jane Birkin shared with me once when I interviewed her for a magazine. My regret, which is also in the book, is that I didn’t eat mangoes until I was 30. And now I think about all the great mangoes I’ve missed out on in my life!

Now that The Collected Regrets of Clover is published and available to buy, do you have any future projects lined up? Can we expect a second novel any time soon?

Yes! I’m working on my second novel right now, but can’t say too much about it just yet—except that there will be much less death!

The Collected Regrets of Clover

Mikki Brammer is an Australian writer based in New York City. She spent her childhood in Tasmania before living in several different parts of Australia, as well as France and Spain.

In addition to fiction, Mikki writes about architecture, art, and design for publications including Architectural Digest, Dwell, ELLE Decor, Luxe Interiors + Design, Metropolis, and Surface.

Mikki's Instagram: @mikkibrammer


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