1. I live in a city - Vancouver - but I often set stories in small towns for the sense of community which echoes what I find in my downtown neighborhood. What about you? Where do you live and where do you set your stories? And why?
I spent most of the first thirty two years of my life living abroad, in far flung places like Shanghai, Stockholm, Buenos Aires, Bad Godesberg and Washington DC. I was living in Argentina when I wrote my first novel, but found that all my instincts drew me towards setting its story back ‘home’, in London. I think this was largely because being at such a great geographical distance afforded me a perspective that felt both fresh and insightful. In subsequent books I have grown more adventurous, playing rural and urban settings off against each other and gradually incorporating some of the varied experiences of life in foreign countries into my plots. For my most recent novel, ‘Before I Knew You’, which is about two families who swap homes, I set half the story in Darien, Connecticut and the other half in West London. It was great to have such a big ‘canvas’ to work on and I had a lot of fun exploring our transatlantic differences and meeting points. For me, perhaps because of my peripatetic upbringing, it is often the lack of cohesion in a community that interests me the most, that sense of us all being outsiders looking in.
2. What's your favorite book ever and why? I have 2 or 3 books that I read over and over again - including Jane Austen's Persuasion. I love it because the characters are older and their relationship isn't easy, but you know, when they do finally get together, they're grown-ups and they know exactly who they are.
My favourite book ever has to be ‘Middlemarch’ by the nineteenth century female writer, George Eliot. It is a seamless, gripping exposition of life in provincial England at a time in history when social, scientific and political change is galloping into a new era. Character and context are in perfect fusion, woven in a blend of narratives that charts the emotional and material hopes and losses of an entire community. No detail is too small to escape observation; and yet the vastness of the world is there too – the backcloth against which all human drama, no matter how petty or how huge, is played out. I have read it many times. Most recently about three years ago. It never disappoints. More than that, I stumble on new treasures every time.
3. What's the story you've always wanted to write but somehow can't? For me, it's a story about World War I. I'm fascinated by the stories I've read about it but I'm pretty sure I'm never going to write a real war story. I've just finished a book that is set partly during World War I but a very long way away from the battles. I think that's as close as I'm going to get.
At the risk of sounding smug, my tenth novel ‘Relative Love’, and its sequel ‘the Simple Rules of Love’, was the story I had always wanted to write. It is a multigenerational tale covering two separate years – five years apart – in the life of the Harrison family. An unexpected and terrible tragedy occurs in the early part of the first book and the rest of the story shows how this impacts on all of them, from the grandparents to the grandchildren, shaping their lives and their personalities. Coming from a big, close-knit family myself, which gathers regularly through the course of each year, I had always wanted to try and do justice to the complicated pressures and pleasures that arise from being part of such a sprawling connected set of relationships. Each family member forges his/her own path through life, but the core from which they have grown never leaves them.
4. Finally, do you have a routine? If so, what is it and how easy/hard is it to stick to it? I try to have one, but because I work as a freelance paralegal and teach paralegals occasionally, my schedule tends to change from week to week, if not actually day to day. I'm always buying lottery tickets, hoping to win just enough money not to have to work and write to a regular schedule though I'm pretty sure that even if I did have the money to write nine to five, I wouldn't, as I've been scrambling like this forever :)
I do have a routine. It is to work every day! That said, when my children were little I think I was much more efficient – rushing to my desk for the few precious hours they were at nursery school and belting out as many paragraphs I could before the time came – always so quickly – to leap back in the car and pick them up. Nowadays, the act of self-discipline has to be more consciously imposed. My own private rule is to do the most basic domestic necessities, like loading the washing machine and the dishwasher, before picking my way back upstairs to my study with my first cup of coffee. Then there are emails. And admin. I answer only the most pressing and try to save all the paperwork to do in one go at a later time. On starting work, I always begin by re-reading, and invariably re-writing, what I did the day before. In the mornings my head is noticeably fresher – more rapid-thinking, more capable of problem-solving - than in the afternoons. Though, when a deadline is looming, I can often hit my stride again round four o clock and work on into the evening. Novels need thinking-time too. I always remind myself of that. Often my best ideas come when I am not trying to summon them. I find this both maddening and mysterious. It is as if my brain has a compartment that I don’t know about, where the work never stops.
Amanda can be found at:
She is the author of many novels including her most recent “Before I Knew You” and her latest “The Love Child” is due out in early 2013.