‘Minding Ben’ author Victoria Brown drew from New York nanny experiences for new novel

Monday, April 18th 2011, 4:00 AM
'Ben' there, done that: Victoria Brown admits her life formed the basis of her novel, 'Minding Ben.'

Linda Rosier/News

‘Ben’ there, done that: Victoria Brown admits her life formed the basis of her novel, ‘Minding Ben.’

Victoria Brown, whose first novel, “Minding Ben,” hit bookstands last week, came to New York from Trinidad by herself at 16 and worked as a nanny before attending Vassar College. Her book is about a girl named Grace who comes to New York from Trinidad by herself at 16 and works as a nanny before attending Vassar College.
“It’s a work of fiction!” insists Brown, 40, whose close friends refer to her by her middle name, Gracie. “But it is mixed with a little biography, and autobiography.
“It’s a novel and not a memoir because I wanted to tell a larger story,” she explains further at Sit and Wonder, her local java joint in Prospect Heights. “The main character is Grace, but I’ve incorporated a lot of nannies’ stories into her own.”
The idea to write a novel similar to her experiences as a caretaker began when she had to write a dissertation at the University of Warwick in 2002.
That same year, Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus‘ best seller “The Nanny Diaries” was published.
“I remember reading the review and freaking out,” says Brown, who has never read the book. “I just kept yelling, ‘They wrote my book!’ It exploded, and I thought the nanny story is done, no one is going to want to read this. And then a year went by and I realized that my story is my story.”
Besides their shared depiction of an overbearing but underpresent female employer, the two books are very different.
Brown’s story chronicles her journey from Trinidad – “My mother knew there was nothing for me in our village, and I credit her for letting me go,” she explains – to New York City, where she overcame her first hurdle when a cousin never arrived to pick her up at JFK Airport.
“Looking back, I realize that that obstacle onward needed to go in my story,” she says. “But at the time, I just knew I needed to somehow make it to the city. And I did.”
She lived in Crown Heights while working steadily for three different families, who, she says, covered “both ends of the employer spectrum.”
The Bruckners, the fictional family for whom Grace works in the book, are mostly based on one family she worked for, whom she would not name. Although that work environment was far less than ideal (in the story, she takes daily nude photographs of the pregnant Mrs. Bruckner), Brown mentions that the last of her employers, Nancy Ney, was “the family every nanny would want to work for.” In fact, Ney took Brown’s portrait for the book’s jacket.
After leaving the Ney family, Brown enrolled in classes at LaGuardia Community College, through which she took a summer course at Vassar, from which she later graduated with a B.A. in English. She later attended the University of Warwick in England and is completing her MFA at Hunter College.
It is because she considers herself so fortunate that she says the tone of the book is hopeful, not spiteful.
“Because I’ve had so many different lives since I was a nanny, I can separate myself from this story a bit,” she says.
“So many incredible things have happened to me in between. I went to Vassar, I got married, I had children. I didn’t need to write the book as therapy, and it wasn’t for any kind of revenge. I wrote it because I knew there was a story to be told here.”

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/2011/04/18/2011-04-18_minding_ben_author_victoria_brown_drew_from_new_york_nanny_experiences_for_new_n.html#ixzz1K0Ui8zuT