On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author, musician and artist Stanley J. Browne talks about his life and being inspired to write his new book, Little Big Man.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Stanley J. Browne about his life and career, the experiences that inspired him to write his memoir, Little Big Man, and the creative process that went into his writing.
Tell me a bit about who you are:
I am an actor, author, portrait painter and a singer songwriter, an artist in every sense of the word! I grew up in Hackney, East London, during the 70’s.
Due to my mother’s mental health, with her suffering from schizophrenia, myself and my two sisters were frequently in and out of the care system. We had to care for our baby brother who was 10 years younger and missed primary school on a regular basis. As a result, I rebelled going constantly back and forth from our own home and in and out of children’s homes and foster care, and ended up abusing drugs from a very young age, committing crime, getting arrested and sent to detention centres, young offenders prisons and eventually male adult prisons.
At 23, I hit my rock bottom and managed to turn my life around. I was extremely fortunate to find recovery and have stayed clean ever since making it 28 years in sobriety this year.
I go into schools from time to time and do talks about the dangers of addiction and drug abuse and have worked in prisons as an Addiction Counsellor as well as working with kids as a Family Support worker before I became a full time actor.
I graduated from Mountview Classical Acting Academy in 2009 and have been acting ever since. I have been privileged to have played Othello, been at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and have performed at the Globe theatre in Romeo and Juliet playing Friar Lawrence.
In my earlier days before acting, I was on the acoustic circuit as a Singer songwriter, and gigged at various festivals and have an album on iTunes and Spotify called ‘Simply Stanley’.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I first wanted to write a book 20 years ago! I always knew I had a story to tell and my friends and family used to encourage me to share my story to help others who went through the same journey or have been on a similar path.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I actually started writing my book in 2006. I remember the first draft I gave to my neighbours at the time who were journalists. They gave me some really good feedback and encouraged me to finish it. For one thing or another life took over and it was on the back burner, knowing one day I would get there when the time was right.
In between my procrastination, I fed myself on a diet of autobiographies, to not only build up the courage to finish mine, but also to understand the different styles of writing a memoir and the deliverance. I educated myself by reading these memoirs and the art of writing them and still regularly read autobiographies to this day.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
Once I got a ghostwriter to work with and agreed on a format, believe it or not it took literally 6 months! I was writing every single day, including the weekends non stop, waking up at 6am and not finishing until 6pm and sometimes later because I was in the zone and had waited so long to do this. I started January 7th 2021 during the second lockdown which also happened to be my deceased mother’s birthday, bless. I didn’t plan that date, it just happened organically! Once I was up and running, there was no stopping me.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Little Big Man?
I was ready to share my story. I was ready to share my innermost thoughts with the world knowing full well that it would help others to overcome their demons. I have always reached out to help those coming up behind me, or who have been on a similar path.
In my memoir, I don’t hold back. I want people to hear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! I believe we are living in an era where we all want to hear each other’s stories but above all hear the truth. I guess we are all tired of the Hollywood happy endings and fairytale stories.
This is a universal story of recovery and redemption, and I happened to be a Black man born in the UK. Don’t get me wrong, I address my experience as a Black man growing up in the system, trust me. But primarily it is a story that I hope all will be able to relate to.
My hope in writing this book is to empower others to help themselves, to show that our past does not have to determine who we are today. Through my memoir, I hope to move, touch and inspire.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Little Big Man?
Reliving old traumas. Revisiting the ghosts of my past. There were times I couldn’t see my computer screen through the tears. What myself and my siblings went through was traumatic on all levels. It was only through writing my experiences did I feel I truly got in touch on another level, regardless of all the therapy I have done over the years.
There is something quite cathartic, yet therapeutic when one actually writes in detail of their past trauma. Yes, it was difficult at times, but it also gave me the impetus to finish my memoir to share it with the world!
What was your research process for Little Big Man?
We have a family WhatsApp group chat so I involved my sisters and my brother to check on facts. As well as getting in touch with cousins, aunts and uncles who knew my mother before her breakdown and diagnosis. I made notes and kept a journal. I also had notes I had written and collected over the years from when I first started to write my book in 2006, so I had a lot of research that I had already completed before I started writing, hence why I finished it in such a short space of time, it was all there just waiting to be written up.
How did you plan the structure of Little Big Man?
Initially I worked with a ghostwriter to help me to plan a structure, especially with this being my first book. The very first thing I did was to write my memories from 0-5, then 5-10, going up every 5 years to the present day. Then it was about what part of my story was I going to tell? We quickly realised the early days were the most prominent and important for me to share. This helped to form the structure of my book which I weaved around the present day and my career as an actor.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Little Big Man need?
Yes, I got the support I needed around editing because I worked with a ghostwriter, however, towards the end there were a lot of calls I had to make myself as an author because it is my story. I had to decide what I think should or shouldn’t stay in the book. It has been a massive learning process and I have remained open-minded throughout to changes and editing that I may or may not have agreed with.
In retrospect, even though it is my memoir, it is still a collaborative process when having to engage my publisher and the copy editor. I have to remain open to their feedback and views. Thankfully, because of the work I put into the book I didn’t have a lot of editing to do on it, and dealt with minor edits like grammar and spelling.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
I would say definitely invest in a ghost writer! Just to help get you started or at the very least help you to put a proposal together. There is a format the industry recognises, so it makes sense to start on the right foot, see it as an investment in yourself. Once you understand the logistics of how to go about things, then the rest will flow.
Writing a memoir is a massive task and takes a lot of preparation before you even start. I would also say read as many memoirs as you can. This has been my lifeline to keep a foot in the door. Reading memoirs has schooled me in ways I could never imagine, so once I started writing I got into the zone pretty quickly because of the years of reading autobiographies.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I am planning to write book 2 of ‘Little Big Man’, hopefully readers will want to hear more about my journey and what has happened to the boy who became a productive member of society against the odds! I have a title already! Big Little Man! Hehe…Watch this space!
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Absolutely! Although it was tough at times, I have learnt so much and have arrived at a place of peace! I’ve carried this book with me for a long time, so at the age of 51, I have arrived at a milestone that I have finally finished it, but even more so, that I have managed to secure a publishing deal to share it with the world.
Getting a publishing deal is not easy and I am forever grateful to my wonderful publisher Valerie Brandes at Jacaranda Books for giving me such a golden opportunity and believing in me. Thank you Valerie! “If it’s easy, it won’t be worth it, if it’s worth it, it won’t be easy! Uncle Bob Marley. I love this saying, it’s so true!
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