Today on the blog, we get to know more about Amanda Jennings. I met Amanda briefly at Newcastle Noir earlier this year and I’m really pleased to have her on the blog.
Her book ‘In Her Wake‘ has been selected for WHSmith’s Fresh Talent Summer 2016 list. How cool is that?!
I hope you enjoy Amanda’s interview as much as I did.
Congratulations on being included in the WHSmith Fresh Talent Summer 2016 list. How do you feel?
I’m over the moon. It’s a little surreal – seeing my picture on a stand in WHSmiths! – but it’s a good surreal. ‘In Her Wake‘ has been selected alongside some truly brilliant books from around the world, and I’m chuffed to bits to have that kind of nod of approval. What’s been really lovely is the number of friends and readers, both in real life and on social media, who have been openly happy for me and have sent pictures of the book taken in airports and stations around the country, as well as gorgeous messages. It has been very moving to feel the love and support.
I enjoyed your panel at Newcastle Noir, did you enjoy taking part?
I did! It was a great panel, and lovely to be part of an all-woman line-up, with the lovely, and very knowledgeable, Barry Forshaw moderating. I love talking at events. It makes a great change from sitting alone at home, staring at my computer screen (or more often than not out of the window!). I adore the social side of festivals. Readers and writers are almost without exception a warm and welcoming crowd with a mutual love of reading and books. I find it a very affirming and positive experience.
What can readers expect from your books?
I am fascinated by the relationships that exist within a family unit. My books always tend to centre around a crime of some sort that has happened some time in the past which has been reignited in the present causing shock-waves. My books concentrate on the lasting effects of these past traumas, and tend to follow the protagonists as they work their way through to some sort of resolution. My writing focuses on the emotions of those involved, of cause and effect of the crime and their subsequent acting and reaction, of the concept that nothing we do can ever be separated from events that have occurred in our pasts. Every human being is a complex tapestry of their past experiences. I love analysing why people do ‘bad’ things and how those ‘bad’ things are justified, not only their minds, but also in the mind of the reader. I enjoy making the reader confront the grey areas surrounding what is right and wrong. If I can get a reader to feel sympathy or understanding for a person who has committed a crime – even if they (and I) still condemn that crime – I am very happy!
Most useful piece of writing advice and who was it from?
I am a big fan of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing‘ and in it he talks about writing for your Ideal Reader, the one person who you want to make laugh or cry. If you tried to write for a wide readership, or for an unknown editor or agent, I think you’d lose your way. If a writer wants to have a unique and memorable ‘voice’ then they need to be totally true to themselves, to show their inner self. The easiest way to be true to yourself is to talk to someone who knows you so well they would question something that didn’t ring true. King writes for his wife Tabitha. I write for my husband, who not only encourages me but also challenges me. He’s my biggest fan and my harshest critic and I will always listen to his advice.
Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Finish your first draft! It’s only when you have a complete first draft that you can step back and look at the whole. When you have your story down you can then focus on what themes you want to concentrate on, which characters need more page-time, which need knocking into the background. I will edit a book a good number of times, sometimes as much as eleven or twelve full rewrites. Your first draft is your lump of clay and, though it needs shaping and reworking, it has all the ingredients needed for you to complete a book you are proud of. So don’t edit too much as you go along. Write notes in the margin or in capitals within the text when you have ideas as you write, and plough on. And don’t be tempted to submit the book too early. Yes you have that completed draft, but more likely than not there’ll be work to do. Most seasoned writers will tell you their first drafts are always dreadful!
I really needed that advice – thank you! What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love those days when the words flow out of you almost beyond my control. I sometimes find myself in a special place where time seems to move without me being aware and I am totally immersed in the story and the words. But there are also those days – sadly more numerous than the good ones – where each word comes like blood from a stone. On these days I am plagued by self-doubt and The Fear, and genuinely believe I can’t do it and wonder why I am idiotic enough to even try. These days just need to be endured.
Are you writing anything at the moment?
I have just started book four. It’s not coming very easily (I am in the enduring phase!) but I’m getting there. The story has been hidden in the mist a little, but it’s emerging slowly. I need to listen to my own advice and get the first draft down!
What’s been your happiest writing moment?
I think the moment my agent told me we had an offer of a publishing contract for my first book. My writing career, like those of so many writers, had been full of rejection up until that point. I had almost given up hope of every finding an editor. The phone call I took from my agent that began: ‘Are you sitting down?’ was without doubt one of the high points of my writing.
Thank you so much for your lovely questions. I thoroughly enjoyed answering them!