Today, I am welcoming Amanda Brooke and the blog tour for her latest novel, The Affair which was released by Harper on 10th November in electronic form with the paperback release due for 12th January.
A shocking story about a fifteen-year-old girl and the man who took advantage of her
“You might as well know from the start, I’m not going to tell on him and I don’t care how much trouble I get in. It’s not like it could get any worse than it already is.
I can’t. Don’t ask me why, I just can’t.”
When Nina finds out that her fifteen-year-old daughter, Scarlett, is pregnant, her world falls apart. Because Scarlet won’t tell anyone who the father is. And Nina is scared that the answer will destroy everything.
As the suspects mount – from Scarlett’s teacher to Nina’s new husband of less than a year – Nina searches for the truth: no matter what the cost.
Hello Amanda. Thank you so much for joining me on Novel Kicks today. Your new book is called The Affair. Can you tell me a little about it and how the idea originated?
Thank you for inviting me on to Novel Kicks, it’s lovely to be here again! The Affair begins with the news that fifteen year old Scarlett is pregnant to a married man. She won’t say who it is, but the two likely candidates are her stepfather and her teacher. The story is told from the point of view of the men’s wives; Scarlett’s mum, Nina and teacher’s wife, Vikki. I also introduce Scarlett’s voice as a narrator, and she describes the early days of her relationship and how she feels when the accusations start to fly. I’m not sure how much I can say about how the idea originated without giving too much away. I had a scene in my head of a schoolgirl watching from the periphery while other people’s lives fell apart. She wasn’t meant to be the focal point of the book, other than perhaps a final reveal, but after long chats with my editor, the premise of the story morphed into something quite different, and it was both a pleasure and a challenge to write.
Can you describe what your typical writing day is like? Any rituals like needing tea or writing in silence?
You’ve asked that question at a very exciting time, because I gave up work this month to write full-time. I’ve spent thirty-one years in local government and for the last five I’ve been juggling two careers, fitting in my writing around the day job. I can tell you what I plan to do, which is to concentrate on my writing in the morning, which allows me to spend the rest of the day thinking about what I’ve written and where I need to take the story next. I’m conscious that working from home will be quite sedentary, so I’ve had my treadmill adapted, with a small desk that fits on top of the handlebars. My first hour of writing will be spent walking and typing so I can wake up my body and brain at the same time. As I’ve said, that’s only the plan so you might need to ask me again in a year’s time to see if I’ve kept to it.
How do you approach writing your novels? Are you much of a planner and need to know your characters well and plot inside out? Do you edit as you go?
When I have an idea for a story, I like to mull it over in my head for a while before I commit to paper. The starting point is a two page synopsis, which doesn’t necessarily cover sub-plots or minor characters but should be enough to capture the essence of the story. My next task is to cut up the synopsis into about twelve sections, which in theory will be the chapters and, if nothing else, it gives me some reassurance that I have enough of a story for a full length manuscript. When I’m ready to start writing, I tend to have a very clear idea of the opening and final scenes, but the rest of the book remains relatively fluid. I enjoy getting to know my characters and they’re the ones who fuel my imagination as I go along, creating situations and conflict I never could have imagined from the start. In terms of editing, I see that first draft almost as a test run, it’s only during the subsequent rewrites that I really get to know the story.
What do you feel are the common traps for aspiring writers? Is there one thing you know now that you wished you’d known when embarking on your debut novel?
One trap I fell into was the assumption that writers were born to write. I might have had musings over the years about writing a book, but I thought that if I had really wanted to write, it would have already happened. I was forty before that urge to write took over and that was because I had something I absolutely wanted to write, and I think that’s the key. Don’t write because you want a book published but because you know you have a story you’re going to enjoy bringing to life.
What’s the most challenging part of the writing process for you? What’s the most rewarding?
The most challenging part comes with the first rewrite. After sending off the first draft to my editor, I’ll be full of doubts about what has worked and what hasn’t. It’s an anxious wait for her notes to come back and when I see that first email to let me know she’s read it, I’ll have this sick feeling of dread that there’s a big hole in the plot that I can’t fix. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet, but I still have momentary panics when I’m looking for flashes of inspiration that solve those aspects of the story that my editor thinks aren’t working. That leads me neatly on to the most rewarding aspect of writing – it’s that moment when I do get the spark of a new idea and suddenly everything fits into place. It’s a real buzz and such a relief!
What’s your favourite word and why?
There’s one thing copyeditors will always pick up on and that’s repetition, and it’s surprising how often I’ll use the same word over and over without realising it. Mostly they’re very common words so I don’t suppose they count as my favourite words, and I’m certainly not going to tell you what they are because you might start noticing them if you read my novels. If I were to pick a favourite at the moment (and one I make sure I don’t repeat) it would be inference. I think it’s because I like the sound of it as much as the meaning. It’s a word I’ve used in a book I’m writing at the moment called The Obsession. It’s only the first draft so there’s no telling if it will make it to the final cut.
You’re only allowed to own three novels for the rest of your life. Which three do you pick and why?
What a difficult question! Only three? I love all kinds of genres so I’d have to choose a cross-section. I’d start with a classic and that would be Persuasion, which isn’t the most popular Jane Austen novel but it’s my favourite. I would also pick Lord of the Rings because I was a real fan of Tolkien in my teens, and of course it’s in three volumes so that gives me plenty of reading material. Finally, I’d choose Watchers by Dean Koontz because I absolutely love one of the main characters, which is a dog called Einstein.
Do you believe in Writer’s block? What’s your advice for someone trying to combat it?
I’ve had moments where I’ve not wanted to switch on my computer and start writing, but if I have a deadline to meet then I can’t settle until the job’s done. If I’m not sure where a scene is meant to go next then I tend to push on through until I reach a point in the story where I do have a clear vision of what should happen. That problem usually only occurs in the very early drafts of my novels and I try not to get too hung up over a scene that might not be working because I know there’ll be an opportunity during the rewrite to change or cut it completely. And sometimes it’s those ideas you don’t believe in at first that generate the flashes of inspiration that add new layers to your story.
Which fictional character would you like to hang out with for the day and why? What would you get up to?
I think I’d like to hang out with Robert Langdon who is the Harvard professor in the Dan Brown books, and is played by Tom Hanks on the big screen. My first reason for picking him is obvious – who wouldn’t want to hang out with Tom Hanks? Secondly, I would love the chance to pick Robert Langdon’s brain. Better still, I’d like him to give me a guided tour of some historic city – I’m not picky, it could be Paris, Rome, Florence, Washington… I love visiting old churches and cathedrals but there must be so many hidden secrets that most of us would miss.
Five pieces of advice for aspiring writers?
1. You’ve probably heard it many times before, but top of my list is read, read, read. It’s a great way to pick up new techniques and I know my writing style has been influenced by other authors.
2. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Don’t tell yourself it’s too late to start writing, or that you’re too old and your opportunity has passed you by. Just do it.
3. If a full length novel is too daunting, or maybe not for you, there are plenty of other options. Start small to hone your skills and search out writing competitions that will give you a theme and a deadline to work to, and who knows, you might win the odd prize or two?
4. Writing is a skill that needs to be practised and the more you practice the better you become. Write every day and if you have nothing to write then at the very least read (see above).
5. Don’t be too precious about that first draft. Look at it as a way to get to know your characters and their stories. The aim isn’t to fill the pages but to fill the readers mind, even if it’s only with questions about the things you’re not telling them.
The tour tomorrow is with Handwirttengirl.com.
Amanda Brooke lives in Liverpool with her daughter Jessica. She didn’t begin to explore writing until she was almost 40, at which point her son Nathan was fighting cancer. Keeping a journal and writing poems helped her cope with his illness. Nathan passed away in 2006. Amanda continued to write and her first novel, Yesterday’s Sun was published in 2012 and was selected for the Richard and Judy spring book club list.
Her latest novel, The Affair was published electronically by Harper on 10th November 2016. The paperback is due for release in January.
Amanda’s website – https://amanda-brooke.com