Author spotlights (like this one with Jaime Breitnauer, author of The Spanish Flu Epidemic and Its Influence on History from Pen and Sword) are a great way to learn how authors are finding success writing and publishing their books.
Jaime Breitnauer is a British born writer and editor who divides her time between the UK and New Zealand. A graduate in History and Sociology, and holder of an MA in Culture, Class and Power in Europe from 1850, both from the University of Warwick, Breitnauer has a particular interest in 20th century history and the effects of disease and war on society.
Breitnauer has worked as a journalist and editor since 2003, contributing to a wide variety of newspapers, magazines and journals globally. She has also had chapters published in two Lonely Planet guides, and parenting title Is It Bedtime Yet? She has worked for both The Anne Frank Trust UK and The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand.
In her writing, Breitnauer likes to focus on individual stories that add a personal dynamic to historical fact, to step into the shoes of those who were there and experience a moment of their lives.
In this post, she shares her experience writing and publishing The Spanish Flu Epidemic and Its Influence on History with Pen and Sword.
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Name: Jaime Breitnauer
Book title: The Spanish Flu Epidemic and Its Influence on History
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Release Date: November 2019
Elevator pitch for the book: Spanish flu claimed the lives of an estimated 100 million people between 1918 and 1920. Breitnauer looks at some of the real life stories from the time, and the science behind viruses like flu.
What prompted you to write this book?
I have a degree in history and sociology and I have worked as a journalist for 20 years, mostly looking at health and well-being. I have a deep interest in the history of disease and its effect on relationships, social policy and public healthcare. As the Centenary of the Spanish flu epidemic approached, I wanted to write about it in a way that married real life accounts with science.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication?
I worked on the title for about two years in total, from inception to release. There were of course times of very intense research and writing, and my own son was unwell and off school for a large period that overlapped with the main phase of work. I found myself in an odd situation where I was navigating the realities of public health and social welfare, while also writing about the effect of these things on people a century previously. This certainly made my writing more human.
I had always planned to include fictionalized accounts of real people's experiences, but these began to dominate my work as I found myself fascinated with how people coped, both collectively and individually.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
It really shouldn't have been a surprise, but there was so much help and support available to me as a first-time author to navigate the process. The publishing company was great at communicating time frames and the nature of the process, and my editor was very positive and dedicated.
After writing the initial manuscript I was exhausted, and found the process of editing and polishing quite daunting. Thankfully there were no huge re-writes required, but it was great to have an editor who understood the book and had its best interests at heart.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
Although I have been writing for a long time, this was my first book, so every day was a school day! I hadn't realized how hard it would be to find information about the experience in Asia. I don't speak any languages from that region, but even when I connected with people who do I discovered that there wasn't as much written there about the experience of individuals as there is in the West.
I also think I hadn't realized just how much those individual stories would affect me. Some of the people I wrote about continue to walk with me even now, and I tell their stories again and again. It really was an incredible time, in some very good, and some very awful, ways.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
It is a collection of moments in time, laced together with modern science and the power of hindsight. I hope readers find it a powerful recollection, that also inspires hope for the future.
If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?
Trust your idea, and just start writing. It can seem like a huge task, especially if you have had your work commissioned and there is a relatively fixed deadline, but once you start putting words on the page it will come together, and there is always someone you can ask for a little bit of support.
If you're an author who would like to be featured in a future post, send an email to Robert Lee Brewer with the subject line "Author Spotlight" at email@example.com.