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Amanda Martin: The Book Wrote Me

I write romance novels. Contemporary women’s fiction is the category I’ve decided they fit into, or maybe Chick Lit. I’ve started (and almost finished) four.  I like female protagonists in their late-twenties/early thirties (like I keep thinking I still am). My protagonists are women who are searching for their place in the world, coming to terms with realistic relationships and (lately) having children. The novels are written in the third person, often from both male and female perspectives.

So why is my first self-published novel written in the first person? By a sixteen-year-old girl? And why is it about dragons?

I didn’t set out to write the book. The book found me: Last Easter to be precise. I woke one morning, after a broken night full of strange dreams, and the entire story was in my head. Unfortunately by the time I’d wrestled past two small children to find pen and paper (or, more accurately, my mobile phone) the story had evaporated, as they so often do. I believe if I could only capture my dreams, writing would come much easier to me than it does now.

All that remained was the idea of dragons and the first line of the story.  “My name is Leah, and I know the time and place of my death.”

In the twelve months since I wrote that first line it hasn’t changed much. It now reads “My name is Leah. For a quarter of my life I have known the time and place of my death. I have spent the last four years running, from the truth, from the place. I can’t run from the time. It’s tomorrow.”

And that’s how Dragon Wraiths was born. By the beginning of May 2012 (less than a month after the dream) I had written 35,000 words and I still didn’t really understand what the novel was about. I hadn’t got to the part with the dragons. I was lost and decided Young Adult literature was not for me.

I abandoned the novel and concentrated on releasing my novel, Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes (or Pictures of Love as it was called then) as a self-published e-book.  My writing journey is interspersed with self-doubt, not just about my abilities as a writer but about combining writing with the raising two small children. I often feel that, if I’m going to send them to nursery two days a week, I should be earning money on those two days. I wanted a finished book out there earning pennies and I felt the Chick Lit novel was a better bet.

Then in July I found out about the Mslexia Children’s Novel competition and remembered my languishing YA novel. Baby Blues was with beta readers and I decided, Why not? Suddenly I had a deadline of September for completion of the first chapter and November for the finished/edited manuscript. I discovered I work best to deadlines. Generally I’m terrible at knuckling down and getting on with editing but I really wanted to enter the competition.

To cut a rambling story short I entered the Mslexia competition and was long-listed (meaning they requested the full manuscript). I didn’t make the shortlist but I was encouraged enough to pass the novel to friends and family. Their reaction was amazing. My stepdad, who is a slow reader, finished the book in a day and said “Next one, please.”

I started querying the novel, although it is over-length for a YA book at 112k words (the average is 60-70k). When that didn’t work I decided to self-publish and see what happened.

And so here I am. It’s early days, I haven’t sold many copies, but over 1200 have been downloaded during free promotion days. I’ve received several positive reviews, including one that compared Dragon Wraiths to Anne MaCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern series. Praise indeed.

I’m still not sure self-publishing is for me. Or Young Adult for that matter. But I’m glad Dragon Wraiths found me, in my sleep-deprived state. I enjoyed writing and editing it more than anything I’ve done before or since. Thinking about the Happy Ever After ending still makes me smile and leaves a warm feeling in my heart. And who knows, one day it might be as famous as Dragons of Pern. Now wouldn’t that be nice?

About Dragon Wraiths

DragonWraiths2It’s the day before Leah’s sixteenth birthday. Instead of planning the perfect party she’s stuck in a shabby B&B in the middle of nowhere. She’s not worrying about pimples and presents: she has bigger things to freak her out. Like her Mother’s dying words telling her she will die on her sixteenth birthday. Spending her teenage years escaping from falling trees, burning buildings, killer bees—and the unseen enemies trying to murder her. Or falling in love with a boy who won’t admit she exists, even though they’ve been on the run together for months.

As her birthday approaches, Leah tries to piece together the events that led her there and wonders if she’ll live past lunchtime. What she doesn’t know is her future will include conspiracies, dragons, new powers: Her first kiss.

And the responsibility to save two worlds.

Available

Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble  • Smashwords

Excerpt

My name is Leah. For a quarter of my life I’ve known the time and place of my death. I’ve spent the last four years running – from the truth, from the place. I can’t run from the time. It’s tomorrow.

I look down at the words and, with a sigh, think about scrubbing them out. I sound like I’m writing a gothic novel instead of an explanation of my life. Out the window I can see a bunch of bedraggled birds lined up on the power cables like sheet music. It reminds me of tortuous piano lessons with Miss Hay. I’d probably rather be there than here right now. At least rapping my knuckles with a ruler didn’t actually kill me.

Past the power-lines, low hills fill the horizon. Not the dancing green hills I grew up with. No, these are craggy like a huddle of grumpy old men waiting for the bus. The sky is grey, the hills pewter and ochre, mixing to form a muddy palette of colours. It doesn’t feel like summer. The nearest thing to sunshine is the gold swirling pattern on the curtains. I know if I turn around to face the room I will see the matching bedspread and frilly lampshade. It’s a wretched place to spend what could be my last day on Earth.

Uncle Theo says he chose this place, “for the location, Leah, not the décor.” Just as well.

They’re downstairs, Luke and Theo. I wonder what they’re talking about. What is there left to say? Either we’ve done enough, and I’m far enough away to escape my fate, or this time tomorrow they’ll be heading back south without me. It doesn’t seem the basis for a jolly conversation.

About the Author

AmandaMartinHeadshotAmanda Martin was born in Hertfordshire in 1976. After graduating with first class honours from Leeds University she wandered around the world trying to find her place in it. She tried various roles, in England and New Zealand, including Bar Manager, Marketing Manager, Consultant and Artist before deciding that WriterMummy summed her up best. She lives in Northamptonshire with her husband, two children and labradoodle Kara. She can mostly be found at http://writermummy.wordpress.com

Contacts

Blog: http://writermummy.wordpress.com

Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/WriterMummy

Twitter: https://twitter.com/WriterMummy

Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.com/e/B00BSPIVC0

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6917684.Amanda_T_Martin

Website: www.amanda-martin.co.uk

Check out Amanda’s previous post on Susana’s Morning Room

Interview With Amanda Martin and “Two-Hundred Steps Home”

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Interview With Author Amanda Martin and “Two-Hundred Steps Home” + Giveaway

Thank you, Susana, for letting me visit your Morning Room to talk about my writing and my novels. I would love to hear more from your readers, so I am offering a free copy of the Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes e-book to one lucky commenter (chosen at random) across this and my previous post.

What inspired you to start writing?

AmandaMartinHeadshotI’ve always loved stories. I never had the confidence to write them down, though. At school I was motivated by good grades and focused more on English literature than creative writing. Then I became pregnant with my first child and started a creative writing course to give me something to keep my brain active. I found that writing stories was even more fun than writing essays.

I had attempted to write a novel before, but never got past the first page because I didn’t think I had a good enough imagination. The Creative Writing course, together with discovering NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month—writing 50,000 words in 30 days), enabled me to discover an ability to write that I was previously unaware of. Thank goodness!

How long have you been writing?

I have been writing novels for five years. My first novel, Finding Lucy, remains unfinished (due to the early arrival of my second child!) but I hope to return to it soon.

What advice would you give to writers just starting out?

Don’t give up! Reach out to the writing community: their support is invaluable. Whether it’s through a writer’s group, or blogging, or other online communities, the support network (and advice available) for writers is immense.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?

Before NaNoWriMo I found it impossible to get words on a page. Learning to switch off the inner editor is essential (for me) to ensure the words flow. I tend to only suffer from writer’s block now when I’m stuck in a plot hole. I tend to walk the dog and let the ideas drift round my head. Then I’ll tap a few leading sentences into my phone and that frees the words.

I’ve also learned the truth in the advice ‘Write every day’. I found all sorts of excuses not to in the past, before I started a daily blog challenge for 2013. Now there are no excuses, as a post—and an instalment in my daily novel Two-Hundred Steps Home (named for the 200 YHA hostels in the UK) —has to be produced every day. Knowing I have to publish 500-1000 words of fiction, regardless of other commitments, has taught me how to get the words down. Some days produce better writing than others, but I haven’t yet had a day where I didn’t write anything. Deadlines are useful.

What comes first: the plot or the characters?

I usually start with an idea. It isn’t really plot or character, more like a problem or a theme. In Two-Hundred Steps Home it was the desire to write a novel in instalments, which led to a travel theme. Then the character of Claire developed to fit the idea. Knowing who Claire was then helped produce the plot, as I could see what her conflicts would be.

With my latest novel, Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, the theme of unexpected pregnancy was the beginning. Then came Helen, and her personality drove the plot.

With my YA novel, Dragon Wraiths, I started with a voice. The words that open the novel came in a dream, and everything came from that, even the dragons!

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a pantser to the core. My creativity is all buried deep in my sub-conscious, beneath years of academic writing, years of being told I didn’t have an imagination and that my writing was dull. The only way to tap into that creativity is to just write and not think.

However, I discovered with Dragon Wraiths the pitfalls of making it up as you go. Sometimes you get in plot cul-de-sacs that are hard to get out of. Also my natural verbosity (sorry!) means my novels are all over-length. In future I plan to limit the words I write upfront, as I find it difficult to cut them out afterwards.

With Two-Hundred Steps Home I have the journey around the UK hostels as a rough guide, but the actual story evolves daily. Some days I know what needs to happen next—for example I knew a week or two in advance that Claire would be travelling with her niece or I have an idea what the month-end cliff-hanger might be—but I don’t know what I’m going to write on any given day until I open my laptop.

Tell us something about your newest release that is NOT in the blurb.

The main character in Dragon Wraiths, Leah, develops powers after her sixteenth birthday. I won’t give the plot away, but they include the ability to read people’s emotions, seeing them as colours. It’s something I think would be a useful, if understated, power. I’m terrible at reading people: I’m too quick to think they’re judging me when, really, they’re probably contemplating their dinner or their weekend plans.

Are you working on something at present that you would like to tell us about?

As well as continuing to write Two-Hundred Steps Home as part of my 2013 daily blogging challenge, I am also doing the final edits on a chick lit novel called Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes. It’s actually on my Smashwords page as I accidentally published it when I was trying to send a copy to a beta reader. I’ve left it live because it picked up a lovely 5-star review, even though it still needs some tidying with grammar and a few lapses in POV. After that, I hope to get back to some of the other half-finished manuscripts I’ve generated through doing NaNoWriMo every year.

What are you reading now?

I’ve just finished Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett. I’ve re-read the entire Tiffany Aching series by Pratchett recently, as they’re so much fun. I try to avoid reading in the genre I’m writing, which gives me a great excuse to read all the MG and YA books I couldn’t read while writing Dragon Wraiths.

What author or authors have most influenced your writing?

I love the lyrical prose of Barbara Kingsolver, and the way she weaves the natural world into her writing. There are definitely elements of that in Dragon Wraiths. The voice of Leah was influenced by Katniss, from Hunger Games, in terms of being written in the first-person present.

For my main genre, chick lit, I love Freya North. Her characters are exquisitely individual and she isn’t afraid to try different styles of writing, changing perspectives and having the narrator talk directly to the characters in the novel.

What is your work schedule like when writing?

On the two days my children go to nursery, my routine is: drop them off, go to the coffee shop, start writing. If I don’t start writing immediately (before I get back home) I get sucked into domestic chores, walking the dog, making beds, housework, laundry and all the other things that go with having two preschoolers in the house.

When I am writing first drafts, my day is structured into chunks of writing interspersed with downtime (chores or, occasionally, reading) to let my brain refresh. At the moment I’m promoting Dragon Wraiths, as well as working on the daily blog. Therefore my day is more about social media, reading and commenting on blogs, following Twitter, than about writing.

For the daily blog, I usually start when the children are in bed, although I often get the blog section written in my phone while I walk the dog after tea, when my husband has the children. Then I sit and write the novel installment while trying to ignore whatever my husband is watching on TV.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a travelling vet, living in a gypsy caravan! Then I discovered I didn’t enjoy science and feel queasy at the sight of blood.

Is there a writer you idolize? If so, who?

My favourite author is definitely Terry Pratchett. The intricacy and cleverness of his world building, his social commentary, his amazing three-dimensional characters, all combine to create books I read again and again. However, for romance and pure enjoyment, I read my Georgette Heyer books. I have her entire set of Regency novels, and will often read one in between other novels, to refresh the palette as it were!

What would we find under your bed?

Suitcases, half-read paperbacks, children’s books, an occasional chocolate bar wrapper and dust.

Do you have a favorite quote or saying?

“Big mistake, big, huge. I have to go shopping now.” From Pretty Woman. Sorry, I realize that isn’t very profound, but I love what it represents about Vivienne’s personal growth and increase in confidence. Besides, who wouldn’t want to do that?

Do you write in multiple genres or just one? If just one, would you consider straying outside your genre?

So far I have written Young Adult and Chick Lit/Women’s Fiction. I’m itching to try writing Middle Grade fiction and my secret desire is to write and illustrate a children’s picture book. One day.

What is something you’d like to accomplish in your writing career next year?

Next year I would like to complete and publish Class Act, another of my unfinished manuscripts. I continue to send my books to agents, so it would be marvellous to finally get a manuscript accepted by an agent. I enjoy self-publishing but I would still like to have a novel published through the traditional route.

When was the moment that you knew you had to be a writer

The first time I did NaNoWriMo (writing 50,000 words in a month) and realised I could write, whatever people had said to me in the past.

What has been your biggest adventure to date?

I don’t think I can choose: Having children. Travelling solo around New Zealand. Self-publishing my first novel. They were all pretty scary, and have all resulted in me discovering new elements of myself.

What is the one modern convenience you can’t do without?

A kettle. No, wait, my laptop. Um. Electricity?

About Two-Hundred Steps Home

Claire’s lie revolves around Starbucks, stilettos and her career as an Advertising Account Director for AJC. That is until her boss Carl decides to send her on a mission to visit every one of the 200 YHA hostel in England and Wales as part of a marketing campaign. More used to five-star spa resorts than ‘flea-infested hostels’ Claire only takes the assignment to save face. It becomes clear to her the ‘mission’ is a ruse to make her resign.

Available

Barnes & Noble

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

200StepsHomeVol1200StepsHomeVol2

200StepsHomeVol4200StepsHomeVol3200StepsHomeVol5

Excerpt

 http://writermummy.wordpress.com/2013/01/01/2013-365-challenge-1/

“Claire, could you come into my office for a quick chat?”

Claire looked up from the stack of artwork on her desk and resisted the urge to frown, knowing it would leave creases in her foundation.

“Sure Carl, now?”

“Yes please,” he said over his shoulder as he headed back to his own, larger, glass cube on the other side of the office.

Intrigued that he hadn’t sent Julia or phoned through his summons, Claire slipped on her heels, pulled on her jacket and headed after her boss.

“Come in, sit down, would you like a drink?”

Carl was already seated when Claire scratched on his door and opened it.

“Earl Grey please, black, no sugar,” Claire said as she lowered herself onto the black leather chair, glad she was wearing tights.

Carl pressed a button on his desk. “Earl Grey and an espresso please Jules.”

Carl shuffled the paper on his desk and didn’t look up. “How’s the Birds Eye piece coming together?”

Claire looked at the bald patch starting to appear on Carl’s crown and answered in a monotone. “Fine. No dramas.”

“And the Vodafone ad?”

“Shooting next week.”

“Right.” Carl took an audible breath.

Just spit it out, Claire thought as she watched the words fighting to be released from his mouth.

“The Board would like you to hand over your existing clients to Steve.”

Claire sat forward. She hadn’t been expecting that. Aware of her movement she immediately sat back and looked sardonically at Carl.

“Am I being fired?”

“No,” he said quickly, “of course not. You’re one of our best Account Directors. No, think of it more as a change of direction. We’ve secured a new deal with Coca Cola.”

Claire raised her eyebrows before dropping them quickly. Coke? That was a big deal.

“They’re sponsoring the YHA.”

“The what?”

“Youth Hostel Association.”

Claire looked blankly for a minute, not making the connection. Then her brain kicked in. “That doesn’t seem a likely combination – isn’t youth hostelling all about being healthy and the great outdoors. Not something you associate with Coca Cola.”

“That’s the point. After the Olympics they want to improve their healthy image. They’ve decided a year’s sponsorship of the YHA will improve the perception of their brand in the UK.”

“So I’m getting that account? It doesn’t mean I have to hand over all my other deals, surely? Even someone as big as Coke must understand they’re not our only client.”

“Of course not. Actually you won’t be managing the account, I will.”

Claire felt her heartbeat begin to speed up. Something wasn’t right. Carl was looking shifty and he never looked shifty. It was as if he was bracing himself.

“So, come on then, what am I going to be doing?”

“Um. You’re going to be staying in the hostels.”

“What?” Claire nearly stood up but remembered at the last minute to relax back into her chair. Stay in control, Claire, don’t let him get to you.

“The bigwigs want someone on the ground, living the hostelling dream. They want someone to visit all the hostels during the year of promotion, to feedback stories on Twitter and Facebook, you know how it goes.”

“Why can’t you send one of the interns?” Claire could hear her voice sounded higher than usual. She swallowed and took some deep breaths.

“Polly and Molly have finals this year and Sally has a cat.”

Claire looked incredulously at Carl, then over his head through the glass wall of the office.

“What about Julia, she looks like she could use a holiday.”

“This is not a holiday and my PA is indispensable.”

“And I’m not?”

Their eyes clashed and fought before Carl smiled and leaned forward across his desk. “Come on Claire, be reasonable. Think of it as an adventure.”

“You want me to go and sleep in bug-infested bunk-beds in the same room as a bunch of smelly, over-sexed, students for a whole year? You must be mad.” She looked around the office as if seeking something to help her escape. The office was bare except for some piece of modern art and a photograph of Carl’s inexplicably beautiful wife.

“No Claire,” Carl said in a quiet voice. Claire turned to face him, her pulse beating loudly in her ears. Like any predator, Carl was at his most dangerous when he was silent. Forcing herself to meet his eyes she saw the glint in them and swallowed. Carl didn’t frighten her; she’d been around too long and knew she was good at her job. Even so she felt her palms getting clammy as Carl stared at her, one eyebrow slightly raised.

“Who did I offend?” Claire could hear the resignation in her voice. Resignation, was that her only option?

“No one my dear. Think of it more as an initiation challenge.”

It was Claire’s turn to raise an eyebrow. This was unexpected.

“The Board feel you have potential but they’re not convinced of your loyalty, to them or to our clients. Think of this as a sabbatical to consider your next career move.”

“Up or out?” Claire suggested, her lips twisting sarcastically.

“Well I wouldn’t put it quite so crudely but yes, as usual, you have encapsulated the essence in a pithy one-liner. That’s why you’re such a valuable member of the team.”

Right, thought Claire as she stalked back to her office. What a load of crap.

About the Author

Amanda Martin was born in Hertfordshire in 1976. After graduating with first class honours from Leeds University she wandered around the world trying to find her place in it. She tried various roles, in England and New Zealand, including Bar Manager, Marketing Manager, Consultant and Artist before deciding that WriterMummy summed her up best. She lives in Northamptonshire with her husband, two children and labradoodle Kara. She can mostly be found at http://writermummy.wordpress.com

Contacts

Blog: http://writermummy.wordpress.com

Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/WriterMummy

Twitter: https://twitter.com/WriterMummy

Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.com/e/B00BSPIVC0

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6917684.Amanda_T_Martin

Website: www.amanda-martin.co.uk