Born Scared author Kevin Brooks talks mental health and character development


Kevin Brooks is the author of the suspense-laden coming of age story, Born Scared. We sat down with Kevin to discuss his character development, strong mental health themes that run through the book and his inspirations. Want to know more about Born Scared? Read our 4.5/5 review here.

Where did the idea for your story stem from?

Although it’s virtually impossible to write stories without drawing heavily on your own life to at least some extent, most of my novels aren’t based directly on myself and/or my own experiences. However, Born Scared was different. The initial idea for Born Scared was based on both very recent experiences I’ve been through and elements of my character that have been with me all my life. So, essentially, the idea for the story came from me.

Elliot is a lovable and endearing protagonist. Where did the idea for his character creation come from? Is he modelled on a real-life person, in any way?

Well, it’s very nice of you to say that he’s lovable and endearing because – following on from my answer to your first question – Elliot is to some degree a fictionalised version of one aspect of myself. He’s not exactly me, and I’m not exactly him, but he very much comes from me – and not just me when I was Elliot’s age, but me throughout my whole life. When I think about myself (which I do quite a lot!) I don’t think of my life as being split into different stages – childhood, young adulthood, adulthood, middle age, and so on – because, to me, I’ve always been essentially the same person. I’m just me, the same now – in my late 50s – as I was when I was 12, or 18 or 35.

Why did you choose to centre your book around a teenage protagonist?

For the same reason that I base most of my books around teenage characters – it’s the age that means the most in our lives, the age that forms us, the age at which everything means something, and our emotions are at their most powerful, and we feel everything with the greatest intensity … I could go on and on, but essentially it’s simply the best – and most fascinating – age to write about.

You write very poignantly of mental illness. Is this something that has affected your own life in any way?

Yes, and it still does. But as well as being something that can cause great pain and suffering, it’s also part of what makes me what I am, and I wouldn’t be a writer without it.

What, if any, research into mental health did you do before writing your book?

Not a massive amount, as I had my own experiences to draw on, but I did read quite a lot of biological and evolutionary studies of fear, just to help me understand it from a more objective point of view. Very little, if any, of this research made it into the book in a specific/direct way, but the understanding I gained from it did have an effect on how I approached some aspects of the story.

How do you think your story will affect readers with mental health? Is there a particular message you would like to portray with your writing?

I never have messages in my books, and I’m totally against the idea of fiction, especially fiction for young people, having some kind of educational/ moral/advisory element. I’d never dream of telling anyone how to think or how to live their lives, or what’s right or wrong, and the idea that I have the right or the wisdom to do so is ridiculous. So, no – NO message. And I also never think about how my stories will affect readers – it’s entirely up to them to get whatever they want from my books. If someone with a particular problem is helped in any way by reading something I’ve written, that’s wonderful – and its an incredibly moving experience when it does happen – but that’s not the intention of any of my books, including this one.

The book has a focus on the family dynamic. Is Elliot’s home/family life like yours, in any way, or completely fictional?

It’s nothing like my home/family life when I was Elliot’s age, but there are some similarities to my home life now, and the physical/geographical setting is very much based on where I live now.

The book takes a thrilling and unprecedented turn, why did you choose to veer away from Elliot’s internal struggle along the course of the plot?

Well, in a way, it’s a story – like most stories – with a good guy and bad guy, or a hero and a villain, only in this case the bad guy/villain isn’t another person, it’s the rest of the world – the world outside Elliot’s sanctuary – the world that scares him so much. And like any other story with a hero and a villain, there has to come a point where they meet, so I had to veer away from Elliot’s internal struggle – ie, I had to take him out into the world – in order to bring him face to face with his nemesis.

Are there any books or authors that inspired your own writing?

There are far too many to list all of them, but they include, at random: John Steinbeck, James Lee Burke, Raymond Chandler, Philip K Dick, Ray Bradbury, Charles M Schulz, Elmore Leonard, John D MacDonald, Cormac McCarthy, JD Salinger, JT Edson …

What are your plans for the future?

My aim has always been to write the best book that’s ever been written. I haven’t achieved it yet, so I plan to just keep on trying.

‘Born Scared’ is available to buy now in the UK and the US.

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