01.04.11: Fresh from interviews with the Sunday Express and Sunday Telegraph – and fresher still from a visit to Argentina from where she had returned (minus luggage) only the day before – Amanda Brookfield and I met for coffee and talked about her life as a writer.
Her most recent novel “Before I Knew You” (published by Penguin), is about two couples who swap houses. Based in London and Connecticut; it is the story of how a short break from the everyday results in lives falling apart.
Amanda has been called the “Queen of the Relationship novel” and it is her attention to even the smallest detail which goes a long way to supporting that title. For me, it isn’t the big events in her books which hold the attention, it is the smaller, day to day things – Beth’s note to her guests, outlining arrangements for the care of her cat (Dido) really struck a chord and I found myself looking for other similarities with my own life.
“Before I Knew You” is darker than I anticipated from the cover and I asked Amanda what input she had into how the finished product would look.
“I do have some input and it’s interesting that you should say that because obviously the cover has to indicate a lot of things – it has to attract regular readers, and say something about the story, but it also has to stand out from hundreds of other books. What is also interesting is that covers in other countries are often very different, to reflect different tastes and expectations”.
She has written fourteen novels, published in Germany, Latvia and North America as well as the UK, and – you read it here first (or maybe second) – she is currently working on a book about a chef, a recovering alcoholic and what happens as his marriage fails. He is charismatic and good looking, traits which are by turns positive and a drawback in his attempts to rebuild his life.
Amanda writes at home, despite the distractions of her cat and life in general. She said, “My brain is constantly active. I’m always working out how to get from A to B, then C in a story and trying to make sure it flows and nothing gets forgotten.”
I asked if she ever thought about shutting herself away somewhere isolated to write her books.
“I like the idea, but not too early in the process. After the first draft is complete, that might be the right time, although [having talked about the Roseland] I might be too easily distracted by the view outside the window.
“It takes about two years to write a book, but much of that time is spent thinking, researching and checking details. It certainly doesn’t get any easier and with each book I feel I have to prove myself. The words don’t fly off my fingertips… it takes a lot of self discipline.”
Ideas come from a number of sources and her motto is “write it down”, particularly when she plays a game of “What if…?” to brainstorm a chain of events which eventually become the skeleton of a story.
She is fascinated by other people’s lives and intrigued by what houses say about their owners and what owners want their houses to say about them. She commented on the differences between how British and American home-owners view their properties and possessions, an observation which forms a key element in her latest book.
“Getting it right” which is so important to her as a writer and to her readers is nowhere more apparent than when she talks about the difficulty of including children or animals in her books.
“For example, when you refer to a child, you need to remember them at every point. They need to be fed, taken to school, have babysitters or whatever, and you need to tie up any loose ends.”
I admitted I had ruined the dénouement of “Before I Knew You” by turning to the end to find out what happened to Dido!
Talking about how and when she first thought of becoming a writer, Amanda told me that her very first story, written when she was 11, was a ghost story, set in Cornwall.
“The main character was a 12 year old girl and I wasn’t sure how to end the story. Finally I decided the ghostly horses would stampede and she would be crushed. I had doubts about whether ghosts could do that but I realised it was my story and therefore I could make anything happen. The teacher was so impressed she asked me to read it to the class; it was then that I began to think I could write.”
So what’s next? Being a writer isn’t just about having an idea, writing it down and getting it published. Amanda does regular readings at literary festivals and elsewhere. She also writes short stories, one of which, “The House Sitter”, will appear in My Weekly on 7th May. I urge you to read it, not just find out whether you like her writing but also because Amanda has very generously agreed to help our fundraising efforts in support of the Precious Lives Appeal.
Here’s how it works, the person making the highest bid will get to name a character in one of her forthcoming books. The money from the winning bid will go to directly the Appeal, so, whether you want to see your own name in print or want to buy it as a gift, why not make a bid? More details to follow, but if you’d like to be kept informed, email Friends On the Roseland, Children’s Hospice South West at email@example.com.