About author, Amanda Brookfield: I have two elder sisters and a twin brother who is a lot quieter than me and with much longer legs. Our Dad was in the Foreign Office so we spent our childhood living in far-flung places like Shanghai and Stockholm. In fact, until the age of 32 I had never spent more than 3 years under the same roof. It’s left me with the opposite of ‘itchy feet’ – I like roots!
I fell in love with writing aged 11 when our English homework was to write a ghost story and I had my first taste of the thrill of being able to make it all up! My story was read out to the class for being so original so I knew I was onto something. Studying English at Oxford was, quite literally, a dream come true, but then real life got in the way (ie the need to pay bills) and I embarked on a career in advertising, climbing the greasy pole for four years, helping sell things like washing-powder, cold remedies and computers.
At 25, I got the chance to go and live in Argentina. I left advertising, set myself up as a freelance journalist and wrote my first novel, ‘Alice Alone’ which was published to critical acclaim in the UK and the USA in 1989. I haven’t stopped, or looked back, since.
I am now published by Penguin. At the last count I had produced fifteen novels and two sons. There will be no more offspring, but lots of books I hope.
Describe yourself in five words: Romantic. Energetic. Fun. Talkative. Sensitive.
What is your writing/editing/publishing process like? Long! I write a little bit every day, but beginning always by re-writing what I wrote the day before, so ‘progress’ can be extremely slow. Gradually a first draft builds. Then I read through and re-write the draft. That takes about 3 months. Then I do a final re-write – which has been known to take anything from one week to five months.
Coffee or tea? BOTH: Tea to wake-up. Coffee to stay awake. Tea to wind down.
What gave you the inspiration for “Relative Love”? My own family, which is huge and messy, but wired through with love.
Hard/paperbacks or eBooks? For me personally, I prefer to hold a ‘real’ book in my hands. It is a tactile relationship. I like the solidity of a book, the way it smells, the way it ‘ages’ both during the course of reading and then on my shelves. I also love the way an old book is a trigger for memories of where I was and what was going on in my life when I read it. In this way all the books on my shelves are like old friends, each containing a potted history of me and my journey through the world.
Describe your typical day: My alarm goes at 7.30am. I hate waking up. I go back to bed with tea and the newspapers, until….until a sense of personal disgrace persuades me (usually around 8.45) that it is time to get serious. I need a measure of ‘order’ around me in order to work well, but if I am not careful I get sucked into writing emails instead of fiction.
I always stop for lunch – something sensible but with chocolate to follow– and do the Times Crossword while I eat. It refreshes my brain to think cryptically. The afternoon is harder. I am less sharp. But on a good day I will manage another two hours writing. I switch off with gentle jogs round the park opposite my house, singing (I am in several choirs) and eating out with friends. I love a night in front of the TV too. I always have a glass of wine, but never more than two if I am working the next day.
Do you have a favorite book you’ve written? If so, what is it? I am not just saying this but…Relative Love is my favourite book! I grew so attached to the characters and their ordeals. That is why I wrote a sequel. In fact, one day I would love to turn it into a trilogy.
If you could meet any author, who would it be? If we are talking ANY author (as in, including the deceased!) I would have to say George Eliot, just so I could ask her about her wonderful and complex novel ‘Middlemarch’ – whether she planned it all from the start, or whether it just flowed…
If we are talking a ‘living’ author then I would love to meet Elizabeth Strout. All four of her books have blown me away – such warmth, such intelligence, such story-telling, I adore her work.
When writing, do you prefer noise or silence in the background? Absolute silence.
What’s your favorite word? What an impossible question! I love so many many words….So here are a few: Cherish. Forlorn. Kerfuffle.
Do you have any 2014 writing goals? My writing goal for 2014 is to finish the book I have been working on for the last two years. I have told my agent there will be a manuscript for her to read by July…
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects? The book I hope soon to finish is about two sisters, their strange and difficult childhood and how that impacts on them as adults. It is a book about identity and the difficulties of holding onto love through suffering.
After that I plan to take a 6 month sabbatical – a writer has to ‘live’ life in order to be able to write about it! – and then turn my hand to writing a third story about the Harrison family.
**Additional comments by Amanda: “Reading makes us feel less alone. I love the idea of my characters entering and filling other people’s lives.”
It’s corny to say a book can change your life, but it can. It happened to me when I read E M Forster’s Howards End at the age of sixteen. I had always enjoyed English. Reading stories, grappling with ideas rather than facts – choosing Literature as a subject for my sixth form had been a no-brainer. My main love however, was drama. I had even been toying with the idea of becoming an actress. Reading Shakespeare and Edward Albee in the classroom, my hand was always first up in the hope of being selected for a part. I had got through a good number of novels by then too – classics by Dickens and Hardy (on the school syllabus) and anything off my parents’ shelves that looked promisingly racy (Nabokov, Murdoch, Amis) – but Howards End was the first book which utterly, totally, from the first word to the very last, STOLE MY HEART.
You could say (at the risk of even greater corn) that I fell in love….not with the Schlegel sisters themselves of course, or poor Leonard Bast, or the Wilcoxes (ballsy and noisy apart from the first, elusive, mystical Mrs Wilcox,) or even the beautiful, spiritually-infused bricks and mortar of Howards End itself. And I certainly entertained no private passion for E M Forster, who was famously gay and somewhat forlorn and even a little seedy when it came to his own quests for fulfilment beyond the business of writing. No, what engaged me from that memorable opening line – ‘One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister’ – was Forster’s story and the truths that rang out from it. I had read great narratives and I had read worthy sentiments, but it wasn’t until Howards End that I experienced the power emanating from a perfect fusion of the two.
My sixth form copy of the book is trampled with biro, most of it simply marvelling at the sanity, the wisdom, the humour, the breath-taking perceptions, rather than offering any helpful pointers towards constructing a well-argued essay. But as I came to see, the real ingenuity lay in how Forster had woven all those component parts together, binding them with his trademark, effortless imagery and a page-turner of a story that still makes me laugh out loud just as often as I reach for the Kleenex. Wow. Such simple ingredients, such a magnificent concoction; small wonder that by the second page my sixteen-year-old attitude had shifted from a lazy interest to something more akin to awe.
Thirty years on and every time I return to the book it gives me goose-bumps, for being so powerfully true and for resonating with the clunk of my sixteen year old intellect, making its first lurching move into a new world. First Love gets you like that, changing your life, grabbing you in the gut, never letting go.