So, author of In Her Wake Amanda Jennings was kind enough to do a Q&A on my Facebook page Crime, Ink a while back – and it’s taken me THIS long to get round to writing it up!
Amanda was very generous with her time and the Partners in Crime asked some VERY interesting Qs, so enjoy — and if you’re an author who wants to a Crime, Ink Q&A, contact me ASAP!!!
BTW – In Her Wake is currently 99p on Kindle! Don’t miss it, it’s got 126 five star reviews and is one of my favourite books of 2016. DOWNLOAD IT HERE or click on the pic below.
1) Did you set out to write a psychological thriller?
Not with In Her Wake. It was originally written as more of a contemporary fiction. The original idea was rooted firmly in the issue of Identity. I wanted this woman to be totally ripped from her home and everything she knew and then find herself having to re-identify herself. My original Bella was also plagued by alcoholism and there was a ghostly element to it, of which there are still echoes, but the ghost has been replaced by my protagonist’s inner issues and recollections and turmoil. But the story actually lent itself to a psychological thriller with the taking of a child and the wild and dramatic Cornish scenery, and once I began to rethink it as a psychological thriller it just grew and grew. The book is very much happier in this genre!
2) What inspired In Her Wake? Was it a particular case you read about, or someone’s story you heard — can you talk us through the project and how long you’ve been writing it for?
Actually it was the tragic case of Ben Needham who sparked the idea for this. I remember him disappearing so vividly, and years later, there was an article I read that said he would have been 25 that day. So I got thinking, if I was his mother I would want more than anything for him to be alive. I would also want him to be happy. And cared for. So I began thinking about a missing child who was brought up safe and sound and greatly loved by the people that took her. From this point so many other questions came into play, which is just what you want when you’re trying to plot a novel. You want lots of ‘What Ifs’.
3) What’s your process – do you plan everything meticulously first?
No, I’m not a planner by nature. I have lots and lots of notebooks, with all sorts of things in them about my characters – their motivations, what’s happened in their lives that might affect their decisions, what they love, what they hate – as well as some key scenes that I feel advance the narrative. Once I know my characters inside out, and I have a vague idea of where the story is going (held in place by these key scenes, which I see as sign posts) then I’ll start. I find once I have a first draft then I can see the story as a whole. I can see what needs to be highlighted, what needs to go, what my principal themes are, and then I can start to shape it. So much of my story comes in the numerous rewrites that follow that frenzied first draft.
4) Your writing is exceptionally vivid and beautiful. Have you always been a ‘writer’? Is your education in literature?
No! I always wanted to be an artist but I didn’t think I was good enough to go to art school, and academically I was pretty able, so I decided to combine my portfolio and love of art, with my maths, and applied to do architecture. It was only when I realised I was a useless architect (all my friends were designing awesome curving original buildings, whilst mine had four windows and door and curly smoke coming from the chimney) that I knew I wasn’t doing what I should be doing. I was at Cambridge and they have a tripos system which meant it was very easy to change course, so I just rang up one day in the Summer holidays and asked if I could swap to History of Art. It was then that I began writing essays. I also had to complete a 30,000 word dissertation for my finals, which I obviously left to the last minute, so – like any writer-to-be – I basically didn’t sleep for ten days, mainlined coffee and Mars Bars, and wrote it. I knew then I wanted to write.
5) How many words a day do you write?
Well, during a first draft I will set a minimum of 1000. But when it gets really good (and this happens rarely, I hasten to add) it can be anything up to 5 or 6000). Sometimes just getting to 250 seems more than I can hope for. But I think 1000 has a nice ring and I am aiming for 90000 first draft, so it means a neat three months!
6) How do you start writing?
Once I have a vague idea of my story I will leap in. I write my first draft, slightly in the dark, and quite quickly (about three months) and definitely leap in. However, I will also undertake many rewrites. In Her Wake had about eleven or twelve full rewrites and the opening itself is very different in the final book to how it was in the first draft. Some writers, those who plan meticulously, will no doubt have an opening very similar in first draft and final book, but for me it will certainly change. But I do worry that if I think too much about starting, I will never start! So there has to be a certain amount of ‘jumping in the deep end’ and just getting on with it!
7) Are all your reveals and red herrings planned in advance, or is it a more organic process for you?
Lots of the time it is definitely organic. Often I find that a good red herring or twist is the result of a plot hole that needs a ‘solution’. You have this bit in the story that just doesn’t work, and then – sometimes out of the blue (thanks Subconscious helper!) a solution will appear which sorts out the plot hole and provides another little angle. Often a book with a big twist or a final twist (as there is in In Her Wake) will be planned from the start. I won’t say which bit this is as I don’t want to include any spoilers in this Q&A, but I knew the twist from the off. So, in answer to your question, it’s a bit of both!
8) Where do you get the inspiration from for your stories?
Well, I find inspiration all over the place and often when I’m not expecting it. For my first book it was a conversation I had with my sister. She told me that when we are together in a social situation, she is much quieter than she is when she is out without me. I was worried by this and a little hurt. I asked her if she resented this and she laughed, and said ‘not at all’ it’s just part of who we are, part and parcel of our family dynamic, ‘you are the loud one and I am the reserved one’ but when I’m not there she steps out of this role. It got me thinking about sisters and a book about how the younger, quieter sister might change if her older, louder sister was removed during formative teen years. This got me thinking about losing a teenage daughter and how I would react if something happened to lay own daughter and then … A story appears!
The kernel of an idea can come from anywhere. Just something that gets you thinking, really. From a conversation, a newspaper article, something you overhear in a supermarket queue, and often these sparks are enough to get your mind thinking. I would have a vague idea of where my story is going to go and what arc I want the principal character to follow, but definitely the story will flesh out as I write and rewrite. Themes come to the fore. Some characters develop, some fade. Subplots emerge and those impact the narrative. It’s an organic process, really. But even though I would say I’m not a planner, at the very start I will always have a rough idea of beginning and end, and a few key scenes that act as stepping stones to progress me through the story.
9) What is your writing routine like?
When I’m writing a first draft I am disciplined. I will get up in the morning and send the girls – I have three daughters – to school, then I’ll walk my dog and think about whatever scene or chapter I am going to be writing that day. (I do need to leave my phone behind though, or I’ll be tempted by Twitter, which is awful at sapping my willpower to write!) Then I’ll get home and load the dishwasher, feed the chickens, and sit down. I will then write for about three or four hours – with a target of 1000 words a day – breaking for about seven hundred cups of tea. I will then do another hour when my husband gets home from work while he puts our youngest daughter to bed and reads her a story. Then it’s collapsing in front of the TV or reading in the bath. I will also write for large parts of the weekend. I am fortunate to have a very supportive husband who is happy to hold the fort – albeit without loading the dishwasher or cooking the kinds vegetables – so I can write.
10) If In Her Wake was to be made into a movie/tv series, who would you cast as Bella and Dawn?
Carey Mulligan would be a brilliant Bella and then Emily Watson as Dawn. In fact, I want to call them right now and demand they play the parts!! Such great actresses who would bring in incredible range of emotion and restraint to their roles. I can see Emily right now trying to battle with everything she is feeling.
11) What made you choose Cornwall as a backdrop for In Her Wake? Did you have to do a lot of research into the place?
My mum is Cornish and the whole of her family come from Cornwall. My grandmother was hugely proud of her Cornish ancestry and even when she became less mobile (she lived alone and without a carer until she finally died peacefully in her bed which overlooked St Michael’s Mount at the age of 99) she refused to leave her beloved county. My mum and dad have a house in Zennor and we have spent portions of every year since I can remember in the part of the world I describe in my book. Cornwall is very much a part of me and I adore everything about it! In fact I’m going in a few weeks to get a hit of sea air and Cornish mizzle on my face!
12) I love your descriptions of the sea in the book, they’re so beautifully written I can almost feel the sand between my toes. Where’s your favourite beach?
Oooooh! Love this. My favourite beach is described in the book! It’s the beach where they have the party, and where she sees the seal in the shallows in the early morning haze. It’s an incredible beach, called Portheras Cove, near Morvah, that you have to walk down to and there are always seals in the sea. My children love it down there and you can take the dogs. Just stunning!
13) Do you ever have trouble with losing interest in the story you are working on? How do you think of ideas to keep your story exciting?
I think you have to view writing as a job. Of course there are going to be days when the job comes easily, and the words flow, and time flies as you enjoy the type of creative haven we all yearn for, but there are also days when it is torturous. The words are like the proverbial blood from a stone and every sentence feels like a mountain. When this happens I just have to push on through. I reassure myself by saying that even if the words are dreadful they can (and will) be changed during the rewrite. There is also the other stage of writing a book when you’ve done countless rewrites and you are frankly bored stiff with the book! Again, this just means you have to have a firm talk with yourself. Remind yourself that every writer has to deal with this and that it’s perfectly normal. In terms of keeping your story interesting, my advice would be (and I heed this myself) to cut out anything that you think is dull. If it’s boring you as you write it, it will certainly bore your reader. So keep it fresh and don’t write anything that doesn’t advance the story, or character development, in some way.
14) The way you wrote about controlling parents/partners was harrowing at times. How do you get into the headspace to write such unpleasant characters who clearly don’t think they’re doing anything wrong?
think that’s the key to writing difficult characters, is remembering that to them they aren’t ‘bad’. They are acting in a way they believe to be correct. So, for example, with David, he genuinely feels that he is acting with his wife’s best interests at heart. Now, it’s obvious to us that he isn’t. That he’s damaging her further, but to him he has utter conviction that he is behaving appropriately. It is vital that I – as the writer – know what each of my characters is thinking and why they are doing what they are doing. I don’t necessarily need to articulate this, or spell it out, to the reader, but I need to know. Empathy is vital for a writer. If you can’t manage to put yourselves in your characters shoes, view the world through their eyes, have sympathy for them, and fully understand them, then realism and believability will be lacking. I don’t have any techniques for doing this, but ever since I can remember I’ve felt the pain and emotion of other people very keenly. I always cry in films, or when watching the news, or when listening to heartrending songs. And I am also always drawn to damaged souls, in the hope I can fix them! It’s easy to right people off as ‘bad’ people, but it’s never that simple, there are always explanations (not excuses) for how their behaviour has come about.
15) Do you meet people and weave them into your plot or do the characters develop as the plot unfolds in your mind?
I always have pretty decent sketch of the characters in my stories before I start. I know roughly what drives them and what they want out of life, and a vague idea of what might have gone on in their pasts. But then as the story develops, they will continue to grow. They will take on a life of their own and eventually – though it sounds terribly cliched – they will begin to make decisions for themselves and fight against me. By that I mean, I might write ‘Jon walked out on Kate and left her crying’ and Jon is sitting in the back of my mind saying ‘I would never do that, I would always stay near her, even if she shouted at me and told me to leave’. It’s at this stage in the process that the plot take s slight dive, because you have to have your characters acting try to themselves or else believability begins to lessen.
16) How did you feel when dozens of high-profile authors provided such incredible endorsements for In Her Wake?
AMAZING! What an incredible thing to have the support and recognition of one’s peers! And even more so when those writers are writers that you admire. It’s all a bit surreal and you have to stop yourself saying ‘are they really talking about *my* book’! A dream come true, really.
17) Once you’ve completed writing/editing one book, do you go straight on to thinking about the next one? Or do you give yourself a break and time to relax? If it’s the latter, what do you enjoy doing to escape the planning/writing/editing cycle?
I am currently trying to gear up to power through the first draft of Book 4. I have all the notes and I know where the story is set and what’s going on, but it’s proving a struggle to focus with so much going on to promote In Her Wake. I think I actually took too long a break between handing in the edits on IHW and starting again. Life just fills the gaps where I would usually be writing, and my family get much more attention. But I’m always planning. Even when I’m on a ‘break’ I am always thinking about the next project. In a way this ia important time, because it means when I come to write that first draft, I know where I’m going and can get it written quickly, which is how I need to work. I need that first draft, my lump of clay, so I can look at the story as a whole when it comes to editing.
18) Would you ever branch out into other forms of writing, such as film scripts?
Definitely. I would love to write a film script one day. I bought Lucy V Hay’s book a few weeks ago with the idea that I would take it away on holiday for inspiration! I got into the writing lark because a sitcom script I wrote was shortlisted for a BBC Writers Room award. I think there were over 2000 entries and I managed to get down to the last 8. I met Paul Mayhew-Archer, a script writer who works with Richard Curtis, as part of the shortlist, and he was very complimentary and made it all sound so glamorous and fun! And also I’d love to have to buy a dress for the Oscars or BAFTAS!
19) Social media seems to play an integral part in being a writer these days… how do you find such direct contact & interaction? Any advice on how you find a healthy balance that doesn’t encroach on your writing or ‘leisure’ time?
I ADORE social media! Twitter the most. When I my first book was being published, the publicity department instructed me that I needed to start doing twitter and to start a blog. I stared at Twitter for three weeks without taking part, just trying to work it out, and frankly being mostly baffled, and then one day I just sort of took a chance and went for it and I haven’t looked back. I love the immediacy of it. I love the interaction with bloggers and writers and readers. I have to say it seems very different to how it was three years ago – more combative and argumentative and less about sharing cool content that you’ve discovered – but I still love it and have to be strict with myself. When I start a first draft I go into social media shut-down and turn it all off. It’s hard but it helps my focus and productivity. The lure of playing on Twitter is just too great!
20) What’s your favourite thing about being an author?
Ooooh, so many things! I will never forget seeing my book, with my name on it, in my local bookshop. I LOVE being contacted by readers who have enjoyed my stories. I can’t believe how many writers I now get to call my friends. Writing is a funny old business but writers are simply awesome. But if I had to choose one thing? I’ll go with the moment I saw by book in WHSmiths travel bestseller chart. That was a really good and very surreal feeling!
21) If you could be someone else for one day, who would you choose?
I’d like to say someone worthy or important, but if I had a day? I’d probably go for someone who had a really cool, mad lifestyle, and got to hang out with Bradley Cooper and Daryl from The Walking Dead. Let’s say Jennifer Lawrence or Julianne Moore. Both kickass women who get to flounce around Hollywood being hot property.
Don’t forget – In Her Wake is currently 99p on Kindle! Don’t miss it, it’s got 126 five star reviews and is one of my favourite books of 2016. DOWNLOAD IT HERE.