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Old 22nd March 2007, 12:42 AM   #1 (permalink)
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An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

The Amanda Hemingway … er, Jan Siegal … erm, Gemma Harvey Interview - in two parts.


Having met Amanda at for the first time at Eastercon last year, I quickly recognised a kindred spirit. We are both quite loud and probably talk too much. We both enjoy a glass of red wine, (or two!) both write fantasy for the YA market and we are both hungry to make names for ourselves. Amanda, I feel, has cheated to get ahead by marrying into a literary surname that stands her out from the crowd – perhaps I should apply to change mine by deed-poll to Mark Shakespeare or Mark Asimov. Either has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?

A note of explanation as to how I structured the interview: questions have been grouped together in themes to try to avoid duplication of response. If on reading this interview you think of more questions raised by the content, Amanda has kindly said she will appear on Chronicles to answer them on an individual basis. Just post your further questions here on this thread.

Here’s the interview:

Amanda, have you always been an author, either in life, or at heart? How would you describe your route to becoming a published author? Was it always a burning ambition to write, or were you pushed into it?

Don’t like the term ‘author’, I prefer to think of myself as a writer, not sure why. Anyway, yes, I’ve always been a writer – whether I wanted to or not! I made up stories and wrote them down almost before I could write and certainly before I could spell. My mother kept them for years – creative spelling included ‘bloon’ for balloon and ‘pingk’ for pink. Very phonetic. I first sent stuff to a publisher when I was 8 – I suppose I just thought if I was writing things they might as well be turned into books – and was nearly published by Edward Blishen at OUP when I was 10. Happily for my future embarrassment, he decided it would be bad for me, though remained a helper and adviser for years. Good thing – it would have been Daisy Ashford meets Tolkien, a horrifying combination!

You wrote in several genres before settling into fantasy. How do you feel about those early books now? How did you manage to convince agents and, more impressively, publishers to put such a variety of stories into print? What have been the publishers’ reactions to your writing in more than one genre?

How do I feel about my early work? Check my website – some of it is fairly terrible, though I still like PZYCHE, ( Amazon.co.uk: Pzyche: Books: Amanda Hemingway ) my first novel, a sort of Science Fantasy, and THE ALCHEMIST, (Amanda Hemingway ) a novella which featured in Faber’s Introduction series alongside the first published work of Kazuo Ishiguro. (He was the grownup of the collection, I was the baby.) TANTALUS, (Amazon.co.uk: Tantalus: Books: Amanda Hemingway ) a psychological thriller, is also okay. But good or bad, I learned a lot from trying different genres, and I still don’t want to get too typed. It’s too easy to get a winning formula and stick to it, when I prefer to stretch myself in different directions, despite the risk of messing up. At the moment the fantasy is going great and there is a lot more I want to do with it, but I’ll change genres rather than repeat myself.

It does confuse publishers – and booksellers – when you switch, which is why I’ve used various pseudonyms: that way they approach your work without pre-conceived ideas, then you can tell them who you are once they’ve decided they like it. I suppose I’ve been lucky with getting everything published; I’ve only had one manuscript rejected since I was 22, another Science Fantasy idea which one day I intend to re-work. (I’ve been picked up by publishers three times under three different names.) Also, I think I’m fairly versatile, which means that when I was younger I had different editors wanted to nudge me in different directions.

Your first major work of fantasy began with Prospero’s Children (Amazon.co.uk: Prospero's Children: Books: Jan Siegel ) – what was the inspiration behind this story? Did you see this series as a turning point in your writing career? If so – in what way?

Definitely a turning point. I started writing the way I REALLY wanted to write, and it felt wonderful, though I was terrified when I finished it. I’d done the book on spec, I had no money, and the new vogue for fantasy hadn’t yet kicked in, so I was doing something WAY out of step with the sword-and-sorcery that was around then. I remember reading through the jobs section in the Guardian while I was waiting to hear from publishers, and realising I was completely unemployable. Very scary. The trouble with me, is I tend to run out along the tightrope first, and then notice the drop when I’m stuck in the middle. The vertigo hits when it’s too late to do anything about it…

Your Sangreal Trilogy, starting with The Greenstone Grail, (Amazon.co.uk: The Greenstone Grail (Sangreal Trilogy): Books: Amanda Hemingway ) is clearly linked to the first series, yet it stands alone. What was it about the legend of the Holy Grail that drew you to the idea of writing a fantasy trilogy loosely based around it? Was it simply a useful jumping off point, or were there deeper reasons?

We’re all intrigued by the Grail legend, which has its roots in pagan myth and the cauldron of rebirth – also seen as the cauldron of hell in the Mabinogion. In its modern form, the legend is usually about ‘the quest for enlightenment’, as Sean Connery put it in THE LAST CRUSADE. But I wanted to do something different with it – go back to its origins where the cauldron is potentially evil, and kind of twist the story to give it a far darker meaning. I like taking classic tales and turning them inside out to see what you get. I also wanted to try alternative universes instead of simply magical dimensions of this world. I’m fascinated by particle physics – I don’t completely understand it, but I’m fascinated! Once you start bouncing quantums around (or is it quanta?), reality goes right off the chart. Then you can go anywhere!
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Last edited by Mark Robson; 22nd March 2007 at 01:05 AM.
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Old 22nd March 2007, 12:48 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

Part 2


At present, you write women’s fiction alongside your fantasy works. Do you find any particular problems with writing in more than one genre? Do you find that when you are working on a particular genre, that other genres try to leak through? Which genre do you find it easiest to write, and which have you found the most difficult?

First of all, I HATE the term ‘women’s fiction’. Bloody patronising. Actually, I think of it more as social comedy. I’ve wanted to write comedy for a long time, and this gave me the chance, but it takes nerve – the dark stuff is much easier. Trying to make people laugh is one hell of a gamble – you really feel you’re sticking your neck out. At the same time, I find myself thinking more and more in comedy these days, perhaps because the world is so full of gloom and doom, it’s vital to laugh at it in order to survive. And yes, the genres do leak into each other, but in an unexpectedly productive way. My last ‘chick fic’, KISSING TOADS, (Amazon.co.uk: Kissing Toads: Books: Jemma Harvey ) was set in a haunted castle in Scotland, with a genuine ghost or two putting in a brief appearance. Equally, I find there is more comedy now in my fantasy, especially the new book I’m working on. It must be a spin-off effect, but I like it. My style may vary dramatically between the genres – the comedy is usually done in the first person, with a very colloquial format – but to the perceptive reader, it’s still visibly me.

I find both genres comfortable to write in. I tend to like best whatever I’m doing at the time.

What is your writing process like? How much time do you spend writing on an average day? Do you set yourself goals for time spent writing/words written per day, or anything similar? Does it differ when you are working in different genres? When you are working in a particular genre, how does it affect your reading during that period? Do you avoid reading in the genre in which you are writing, or do you read

My writing process is hopelessly disorganised. I tend to work at night – less interruptions, also I’m one of nature’s vampires – and I don’t really have a target number of words, I just zoom ahead and see what happens. Maximum productivity can be very high: I’ll blitz on a book and do ten or twelve thousand words a week. Then I’ll slow to stop because I need to think things out for a week or two. To an extent, I let pace evolve naturally, but, in complete contrast, if I have a deadline I go flat out. The genres don’t vary much in terms of speed, but I have to think more for fantasy so it can be a little slower on plot development. My comedy stories don’t have a plot so much as a scenario: you dump the characters in the middle of things and just let them get on with it by themselves. Works so far.

I read anything whatever I’m writing. The only thing is you have to watch out for is Mervyn Peake. I re-read the Gormenghast books while doing my first trilogy, and it shows. Especially in THE DRAGON-CHARMER. (Amazon.co.uk: The Dragon Charmer: Books: Jan Siegel ) Verbal diarrhoea works for him, but not for anyone else.

Why have you written under different names? Was this a personal choice, or at the direction of agent/publisher?

Discussed with agent and publisher, but really my choice. See above.

Who would you state as major influences in the way that you write? If given a choice of a handful of books to save from a burning library, (excluding yours, of course) whose work would you rescue?

All sorts of influences, from Tolkien to Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Alan Garner, John Masefield, the tight prose of Orwell, the lavishness of Peake… As for whose books I’d save – that would be an awful decision. I imagine we’re thinking these are the only copies extant? I think I’d go for poetry first – Fitzgerald’s Khayyam, Yeats, Kipling (also his short stories), then any of the above novelists, and of course Shakespeare, Dumas, Agatha Christie… it really would be bloody difficult. My all-time favourite books include Lord of the Rings, Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, Allende’s Eva Luna, any classic Georgette Heyer, the pick of Christie, Allingham, and some of the modern who-dun-it writers like Donna Leon, Janet Evanovitch, Ian Rankin… I just like so much stuff it’s impossible to choose! Back to the fire – I’d probably grab whatever’s nearest. It would be simpler to decide who I’d leave behind, but I’d rather not go into that. It’s mean.

Which book do you feel has been your best work to date and why? Do you have any nuggets of wisdom to give to those who are aspiring writers? What are you working on at the moment? When can we all come to dinner?

The book I like best is always the one I’m working on. Currently, a new fantasy, hopefully the first in a series, very dark but with a strong comedy element. Some time travel as well as magical dimensions. As for nuggets of wisdom, I don’t think I’d presume. Not sure I do wisdom. Just work hard, tell a good story, don’t try to be too clever or too pretentious – but then I might be wrong about the last two points. Some people do very well being clever and pretentious. As for dinner, I hope to get a new flat later this year, when I will be back to entertaining. Love having people round. Also need to recover from broken collar-bone after riding accident. Then I’ll be able to cook again!

My thanks go to Amanda for being so frank with her answers. (She’s rarely one to mince her words!) I hope those who read this enjoy the insights she has provided and take time to check out her work. With glowing plaudits from Clive Barker and Terry Brooks, to name but two well known fellow authors, her work has generated a lot of respect.

If you would like to learn more of Amanda’s work, you can visit her website: Amanda Hemingway . If you would like to see a review of the first in her latest series, you can see one right here at Chronicles, written by Patrick Mahon: http://www.chronicles-network.com/fo...hemingway.html . Alternatively, you can ask Amanda further questions on this thread. She will be visiting Chronicles shortly to pick up on any questions you might have that arise from this interview, or that you feel might have been missed.

Last edited by Mark Robson; 22nd March 2007 at 01:03 AM.
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Old 22nd March 2007, 10:10 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

Nice interview, and would be great to get Amanda answering any points people raise on chronicles - she's a very open and straight-talking woman which is very refreshing.
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Old 25th March 2007, 11:21 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

Mark,
Thanks to you and Amanda for a really interesting interview. It was great to meet her at the joint signing you did in Banbury when Imperial Assassin and The Poisoned Crown came out, and this interview really fills in some gaps. There are two further things I'd be really interested to know, next time Amanda is passing:
(1) which tends to come first - the core of the plot, or the idea for the characters? Or does this vary from book to book?
(2) does Amanda still write short fiction, or does she focus exclusively on novel-length stories?
Thanks,
Patrick.
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Old 30th March 2007, 01:31 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

You know, I think 'pink' should have a 'g'.

Amanda, I'd be interested in hearing more about your experiences submitting your work to the slushpiles and being successful no fewer than three times. And I'm always intrigued by pen names. You say you submitted under different names? I thought the usual tactic would be to submit under your own name, and then discuss anonymity after the publisher picked it up... Also - unless it's a privacy issue - is there any story behind the names you picked?
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Old 30th March 2007, 08:54 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

First of all, thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

I also have a few questions of my own: Was there any time while writing YA fiction that you were unsure if the work was going to suit your audience? And if so, how did you relieve those concerns - handed the manuscript to a few people within the targeted age group, referenced other material in the genre, kept a certain frame of mind while writing - using synonyms for more complicated words that came naturally to the page?
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Old 30th March 2007, 09:33 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

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Originally Posted by Mark Robson View Post
First of all, I HATE the term ‘women’s fiction’. Bloody patronising.
Now that is awesome. Very good interview, and what a great lady!
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Old 3rd July 2007, 05:56 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

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Originally Posted by I, Brian View Post
Nice interview, and would be great to get Amanda answering any points people raise on chronicles - she's a very open and straight-talking woman which is very refreshing.
This is me, ready to answer questions at last - it's taken me ages to get my Chronicles link sorted out, what with my accident earlier this year and everythng. I've had a tough year so far, as have a lot of other people I know, and am now hoping for improvement.
Summer would be nice for a start... I'm beginning to fantasise about holiday planets with endless stunning scenery and a perfect climate.
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Old 3rd July 2007, 05:57 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

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Originally Posted by I, Brian View Post
Nice interview, and would be great to get Amanda answering any points people raise on chronicles - she's a very open and straight-talking woman which is very refreshing.
Carefully wrote an answer just now which didn't get posted. Time to try again!
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Old 3rd July 2007, 06:10 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

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Mark,
Thanks to you and Amanda for a really interesting interview. It was great to meet her at the joint signing you did in Banbury when Imperial Assassin and The Poisoned Crown came out, and this interview really fills in some gaps. There are two further things I'd be really interested to know, next time Amanda is passing:
(1) which tends to come first - the core of the plot, or the idea for the characters? Or does this vary from book to book?
(2) does Amanda still write short fiction, or does she focus exclusively on novel-length stories?
Thanks,
Patrick.
1) I would say theme comes first, rather than plot or character, both of which tend to just grow - or you hope they do! - as you go along. I have an overview of the book before I start but I like to leave lots of room for it to develop. Then I dive in and see what happens.

I'll make plot and chapter notes as I go, maybe 3 or 4 chapters ahead, then as my ideas firm I'll do a sketch plan that goes all the way to the end. But that doesn't usually happen until I'm about half way through. However, this modus operandi varies according to the type of fiction you're writing. A whodunit, for instance, has to be plotted from scratch (I haven't written any, but that's how I'd do it if I did. Christie is still the model for us all). With my romantic comedies, I lay out a scenario rather than a plot-line, and then just let the characters get on with it. Fantasy, as I said, is theme-based. You get to know the characters as you go. If you're doing it right, you'll know because they have their own identity and they take over by themselves.

2) I don't do much short fiction, if you mean short stories and so on - it doesn't pay! Also, I tend to think long. But I'd like an excuse to do a few more shorts. Comedy, horror, ghost stories and erotica all lend themselves to a concise format. I'd really like to try doing some of those. Might pass on the erotica, though you never know. As long asI don't end up a candidate for the Bad Sex Award...
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Old 3rd July 2007, 06:53 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

Once a book is accepted, then how much does the writer take on as part of the editing process?
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Old 8th August 2007, 10:48 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

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You know, I think 'pink' should have a 'g'.

Amanda, I'd be interested in hearing more about your experiences submitting your work to the slushpiles and being successful no fewer than three times. And I'm always intrigued by pen names. You say you submitted under different names? I thought the usual tactic would be to submit under your own name, and then discuss anonymity after the publisher picked it up... Also - unless it's a privacy issue - is there any story behind the names you picked?
To answer the last question first - because it's the easy one - I picked names with a local connection, Siegel being a mispelling of Seagull (the Brighton football team), and Harvey being our Lewes brewery. I always have first names starting with J on the principle that most bestsellers start with that letter - think everyone from Jane Austen to J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling.

As for starting with anonimity when submitting, well, I want the publisher to have no preconceptions - and it vindicates your talent, or so I hope. I like to think that whatever happens I can always begin over again in a different genre under a different name!
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Old 8th August 2007, 10:51 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

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Originally Posted by Commonmind View Post
First of all, thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

I also have a few questions of my own: Was there any time while writing YA fiction that you were unsure if the work was going to suit your audience? And if so, how did you relieve those concerns - handed the manuscript to a few people within the targeted age group, referenced other material in the genre, kept a certain frame of mind while writing - using synonyms for more complicated words that came naturally to the page?
No - I just carried on regardless! Once you're in a story, you don't want to stop to fiddle around. You just have to have faith in what you're doing. The editor picked up on one or two words she thought too difficult for the market, but in the end we usually left them in, on the grounds that readers can damn well extend their vocabulary and look them up, or guess meaning from the context. I don't believe in writing down.
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Old 8th August 2007, 10:56 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Re: An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

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Once a book is accepted, then how much does the writer take on as part of the editing process?
It totally depends on the individual. Nowadays, I don't do too much editing, simply because - I hope!!!! - I'm experienced enough to be getting it right first time, for the most part. There are just a few little tweaks. But it's really important to have a good editor (these are gold dust, there are so few good ones) and to listen to them, even if in the end you disagree with their criticisms. They have that detachment from the book that is vital for a dispassionate view. Ideally, they'll pick up on points that have nagged at you subconsciously, so that you know immediately they're right.
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Old 28th August 2007, 01:33 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Re: An Interview with Amanda Hemingway

Amanda,

Many thanks for some really interesting answers. And I'm glad to hear you've recovered from your accident - that's very good news.

On 1), have you always recognised this need to plan differently according to genre, or is this something you worked out as you went along, when the previous way of planning a book didn't work when you tried to apply it somewhere new?

On (2), I'd love to know - do you have specific story ideas in mind for any of these genres of short fiction, if the opportunity arose?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Amanda Hemingway View Post
1) ... I'll make plot and chapter notes as I go, maybe 3 or 4 chapters ahead, then as my ideas firm I'll do a sketch plan that goes all the way to the end. But that doesn't usually happen until I'm about half way through. However, this modus operandi varies according to the type of fiction you're writing. A whodunit, for instance, has to be plotted from scratch (I haven't written any, but that's how I'd do it if I did. Christie is still the model for us all). With my romantic comedies, I lay out a scenario rather than a plot-line, and then just let the characters get on with it. Fantasy, as I said, is theme-based. You get to know the characters as you go. If you're doing it right, you'll know because they have their own identity and they take over by themselves.

2) I don't do much short fiction, if you mean short stories and so on - it doesn't pay! Also, I tend to think long. But I'd like an excuse to do a few more shorts. Comedy, horror, ghost stories and erotica all lend themselves to a concise format. I'd really like to try doing some of those. Might pass on the erotica, though you never know. As long asI don't end up a candidate for the Bad Sex Award...
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