Friday, 29 April 2016

Author Interview: Amanda Jennings

It's the final day for the in Her Wake blog tour and it's my pleasure to welcome Amanda Jennings to the blog to talk about her amazing book.  

A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella's comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where hidden truths, past betrayals and a 25-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but her life.

Chilling, complex and profoundly moving, In Her Wake is a gripping psychological thriller that questions the nature of family - and reminds us that sometimes the most shocking crimes are committed closest to home.

If you had to describe In Her Wake in one sentence, what would it be?
A woman's search for answers and her true identity against the backdrop of the Cornish coast. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your new book In Her Wake?
When a young woman returns home for her mother's funeral she is lost, confused and, naturally, devastated. But when further tragedy hits she discovers that everything she thought she knew about her childhood is a lie. Tracing her real roots back to the rugged West Cornwall coast, she is forced to confront crimes committed in the past, and to search through the wreckage to find out who she really is. It's a story of identity, sacrifice, betrayal, loss, love in many forms and ultimately, hope.

A family secret is at the heart of this book, where did the inspiration come from for this theme?
I was thinking about one of the children who had gone missing when I was young. It was a high-profile case, covered extensively in the press. No body was ever found and I got to thinking, 'What if he was still alive?' not hurt or abused, but cared for by another set of parents? I suppose I put myself in the shoes of the mother who had lost her child, thinking if that tragedy had befallen us, then I would want my child safe and cared for, stolen not by the monsters we all fear, but by people who wanted to love her. I knew I wanted to set it in Cornwall and its thick tradition of legends and myth from the outset, so with these two starting points, everything else began to grow.

Why did you choose to set this book in Cornwall as opposed to other counties? 
I am proudly half-Cornish and know the area well, and, more importantly perhaps, am inspired by the surroundings, the raging sea, the bleak moors, the picturesque villages, the wind, call of the gulls, the hot sand on an August day. I think Cornwall, with its changeable weather and crashing ocean, was the only place that I could set the story. The turmoil in Bella's head is reflected in the weather and landscape, and her confusion is mirrored by her reliance on fantasy and fiction. Also, I think you have to write about somewhere you know well, and Oxfordshire (where I live) – though it features – doesn't have the same associated emotion as Cornwall. Cornwall has its own identity and this is important in the story. 

Bella is a flawed protagonist, and at the outset is almost dislikeable, as she demurs to everyone and allows herself to be overpowered. It’s a skill to bring a character back into a reader’s affection. How do you think you achieved that?
I felt very sympathetic to Bella from the off. I think it's easy to say 'Oh, but surely she'd leave her controlling husband?' or 'She would have rebelled against her mother, wouldn't she?' but people stay in difficult situations all the time. Like a puppy who is kicked by its owner but still follows the owner around, Bella knew no different, and that becomes explained as her story unfolds. She felt safe in those situations. And, to a certain extent, she was safe. In her mind there was nothing to run from. I think our sympathy grows with her as she grows into herself, and begins to make her own decisions. One reader said they were cheering her on and I think that's what I was doing as the writer. I wanted Bella to be happy and I wanted her to face her traumatic circumstances and carve out a life for herself when everybody she'd encountered previously had been controlling her life for her. Maybe because I genuinely wanted this for her, the reader does too. 

You have some incredibly touching scenes with Bella’s father, Henry, and later on with her mother. Where did you draw inspiration for this?
All writers rely on empathy when telling their stories. You have to draw on the feelings and memories you have stored away in your Emotion Bank. It doesn't matter whether your grief comes from the loss of a pet when you were a child, or watching the news and seeing a desperate refugee father desperately battling to keep his children safe, but you can take the emotion invoked and plough it back into your writing. Likewise, if you're writing about first love, you need to recall your own first love. Writing about a first kiss? Draw on the memories of your own first kiss. The mother/daughter and father/daughter scenes are no doubt helped by the fact that I am a mother of three daughters myself. And therefore all I need to do is imagine I'm facing the same situation as my characters and try and get down on paper the things I'm feeling. Empathy is vital. Without it I don't believe a writer can write convincingly about emotions. 

There is a haunting, surreal and almost ghostly quality to the book. Is this a genre you enjoy reading?
I haven't read a lot of this type of book, but I do have a growing attraction to stories that merge reality with either myth or dreams or even fantasy. I was inspired to develop the more surreal side of the story by a book called The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes. I like the idea of stretching boundaries a little, and writing something unusual and original. I wouldn't ever want to write pure fantasy but a touch of it here and there, especially when it reflects a character's state of mind is fun!

There is a beautiful set of relationships between sisters, both past and present. What is your relationship with your sister/s? Did the relationships between your daughters guide your ideas at all?
Absolutely. My sister and I are very close. She lives fifteen minutes away and we speak on the phone every day, if not more. We go on holiday with her family and our children are more like siblings than cousins. But at the same time we are independent. I think there's a security with a sibling that perhaps isn't there with other relationships. I know that if we argued we would make up, that if I say the wrong thing she's not going to think into it, that if I moan about my husband she isn't going to wonder if things are all right between us. My three daughters are also close. I know they have the relationship between my sister and I as a blueprint. They already talk about how they want to live near each other and, though the younger two have their moments, they are all happy in each other's company. I think my relationship with my sister, and those of my daughters, really drove the sisters' relationship in the book. I wanted these women to form a close bond eventually, but I knew it was going to be hard. They were going to have to squeeze two decades of growing up together into a few short weeks.  

Your book is now out in audio. How did it feel to listen to it for the first time?
That was a bit of a dream come true, actually. I love audiobooks and enjoy listening to them in the car. To hear my own words spoken like that, to hear the book introduced and a real actor reading words that had previously been only in my head, was amazing but, if I'm honest, quite peculiar. I didn't listen to all of it, but something I particularly liked was hearing Kate (the narrator) put humour into some of the dialogue. It was exhilarating hearing her take on what the characters were saying. It made me want to write a screenplay!

If In Her Wake was to be filmed as a TV show, have you a dream cast you would like to be cast in the roles?
Oooooh, good question! Right, well, I think we need Carey Mulligan as Bella and Anne-Marie Duff as Dawn. While writing the character of Alice I envisaged Barbara Fitts from American Beauty, so I'd love Alison Janey to play her. Greg needs to be very handsome but with an edge to him, Christian Bale or James Franco? (Though Greg is blonde, so they'll need some hair dye.) Greg Wise for David and James McAvoy for Craig. How can we make this happen...?!

What can we expect from you next?
I'm writing another domestic noir set in West Cornwall. It's a story about a house that holds dark secrets and obsession in a variety of forms. 

Out of all of your books which character did you have the most fun creating?
I really enjoyed writing Phil from In Her Wake. He brings lightness to the story and punctuates Bella's confusion with stability and warmth. He is learning Cornish and I enjoyed researching that too! Though I also loved writing Luke from The Judas Scar, a man so damaged, dark and sexy, that I missed him terribly when he was gone!

Describe a typical writing day, designated writing hours or snatched time when you can?
I have to be quite disciplined. So I'll walk the dog and tidy the kitchen first thing and then settle down around ten o'clock and write for a few hours. I will then do another hour when my husband gets home, while he spends time with the girls, and then I'll snatch as many hours on the weekend as my family will allow!

What essentials do you need to have close to hand when writing?
I need tea. Lots and lots of tea. I'm not sure if this is because I like tea or because I need regular tea-making breaks! I also need access to Twitter for when staring out of the window isn't distracting enough...

What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
Don't worry about the state of your first draft. All first drafts are terrible. The magic happens in the edit. (Hopefully.)

Did you treat yourself to something special to celebrate publication of In Her Wake?
My husband took me out for a meal and a glass of Champagne on the day I delivered it to Karen, and then we had a fantastic launch party at Goldsboro Books, complete with cupcakes made by Karen with tiny books covers on them, and Cornish crab canap├ęs and bowls of clotted cream fudge about the place. So many people came and there was such a feeling of warmth and support. It was amazing and the perfect way to send the book off into the Big Bad World! 

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