In The Spotlight this week welcome the talented author Amanda James
I first met Mandy (I can’t think of her as Amanda!) when she wrote a wonderful story for our Gentle Footprints collection and she came to the Hay Festival for its launch, met Virginia McKenna and she was one of the ones who was selected to give a reading at the launch, an event in the largest venue with over 1000 people. I was told that ‘unknown’ writers don’t get to give readings at Hay. I pushed Paul Blezzard on that — why not? And he finally conceded, so she was one of the three lucky writers who did. And anyway, she isn’t unknown now, and has just released her second novel …
So over to you Mandy, welcome …
Hello my name is Mandy James (often found as Amanda James) and I am a writer. I left teaching about eight months ago to write full-time.
Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first novel published. Have you had other things published first?
Yes I think I did, but I never really expected to be one. I always wrote short stories and poems and when I was eight, I pestered my parents to buy me a Petite typewriter for Christmas. I loved it and felt very grown up as I typed away writing the new bestsellers! I was very good at English and History at school, but apart from that I frittered my time away in other classes. As a consequence I kind of drifted and left school at sixteen. I went into hairdressing, married at eighteen and had my daughter at nineteen.
A long and very winding road took me back to college and then university. After that I eventually went into teaching for seventeen years. But all through my life I never stopped writing. As a teenager I took comfort from my poems during the ‘angst’ years that all youngsters go through, and I wrote short stories and a children’s story too. In 2002 I wrote my first novel and the next soon after. It was hard fitting it all in around lesson prep, marking etc, but I felt I just needed to write.
I had my first short story published in 2010, thanks to the very lovely Debz Hobbs-Wyatt who selected me from many submissions to the Bridge House Publishing Gentle Footprints Anthology. For that I will be eternally grateful because I am convinced that having my story – All Things Under The Sky published, stood me in good stead for further publications. So thanks for believing in me, Debz! I then went on to have eight short stories published in various other anthologies.
I had my novel Righteous Exposure published (e-book only) by Crooked Cat Publishing in February last year. And I am soon to have my first paperback A Stitch in Time published by Choc Lit in April this year!
Do you have an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?
I don’t have an agent but did try many times to secure one over the years. I once had the same novel requested by four separate agents but in the end all decided to pass. That was very frustrating, not to say soul destroying! I think it isn’t always necessary to have an agent to do well nowadays. A good publisher can be just as effective and I am very lucky to have signed with Choc Lit.
Do you belong to a writing group? Crit group? Have you had someone professionally critique your novel before submitting or publishing?
I don’t belong to a writing group but I did have a marvellous editor, Maureen Vincent-Northam to do the critique on both my published novels. She is brilliant and never imposes her ideas – just makes suggestions. I have heard horror stories from others about editors who actually put their own words in the ms without asking and worse! Maureen in my opinion is perfect.
Tell us about the new novel
A Stitch in Time is essentially about Sarah Yates, a time-travelling history teacher. (Yes, really!) It has more than a touch of romantic comedy, but serious issues are touched on also. Sarah is disillusioned with her job and recently divorced. Her husband left her for her best friend and as a consequence she is very wary of committing to anyone else as she was broken apart by their betrayal. However, when mysterious and very lovely John Needler arrives on the scene and asks her to travel through time to save the lives of others, she is more than a little attracted to him. Sarah finds new purpose in trying to help people in the past find their happy endings. The big question is – will she ever be able to find hers?
What next? Tell us about work in progress …
I have one or two on the go! The one I worked most recently on is called Exactly Like You. It’s about twins separated at birth and what happens when they meet up again twenty-five years later. The two girls, Cally and Leona have had very different lives. Cally works in a supermarket while Leona works as a supermodel. Leona is very forthright, self-assured and has more than an eye on Cally’s boyfriend, the gorgeous Marco, while Cally is shy and under confident. Hmm. Let’s just say it’s not all plain sailing when the girls embark upon on their new relationship.
Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?
Never give up and never forget your dreams. If you do, you’re sunk. It can be soul destroying to keep getting rejected, but you need to roll with the punches, lick your wounds, listen to advice and come back stronger. There have been times in the past when I have thought I’d never make it as a writer, but something wouldn’t let me give up. You must have that determination, particularly today I think. And crucially, make sure you have wine and chocolate!
Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it
I love curry, I can ride a horse, my favourite places are California, Monument Valley and Cornwall. Random enough for you? (Oh yes says Debz, who hates curry but can also ride a horse and loves California! … sorry not my interview!)
And thank you so much for having me, Debz! You are most welcome
Finally: can we post an extract of your novel to tempt our readers …
Here is an excerpt from chapter two …
A Stitch in Time
The sound of the door clunking shut behind her, the cool touch of the hall tiles underfoot, and the lingering aroma of last night’s curry, signalled she was home at last; another school day from hell was over.
Sarah wriggled her toes a little more on the smooth surface, and then dropped her sweaty shoes into the basket at the bottom of the stairs. Holding her aching back, she bent over, picked up the mail from the mat and flicked through the pile. Crap, crap and more crap. Never mind about the decimation of the rainforests, the two-for-one garden gnome offer at Paradise Garden Centre is much more important…
Bing-bong! She jumped as the doorbell chimed. Sarah rolled her eyes. Who the hell is this, now?
She sneaked into the living room and peeped through the blinds. It was damn near wine o’clock, and after the day she’d had, if it wasn’t Johnny Depp out there, she wasn’t interested.
Sarah could see that the caller was male, dark-haired, tall and suited. He had his back turned to her, and was tapping a clipboard on the side of his leg. Nope, not Johnny Depp, probably a time-waster, so he could bugger off.
Just as she was closing the gap in the blind, the man turned and spotted her. He smiled, raised his clipboard and waved hello with his pen.
Bugger … I’ll have to open the dammed door now!
‘Hello,’ she said, opening the front door slightly, ‘I’m sorry, but I’ve just got in. I’ve lots to do, so I haven’t got time to buy anything.’
‘Well, that’s alright then, because time is my business,’ he said.
Sarah noted that even though he wasn’t Johnny Depp, he wasn’t half-bad. He looked to be about thirty-five, had gorgeous sea-green eyes, a long aquiline nose and a full sensuous mouth. The mouth was curling at the edges in a slow smile.
She sighed. Never mind his smile, Sarah, he’s a time waster, get rid of him. ‘As I said, I am really busy, and as you have just said, time is your business. Timeshares I expect, so I really must … ’
‘I’m really not selling anything.’ He placed the pen between a set of perfect teeth, lowered his eyes and traced his finger down the pages on his clipboard.
‘Well, I don’t mean to be rude, but I must go,’ Sarah said, already starting to close the door. What she needed was a big glass of red and her feet up.
He looked up from his board and smiled again. ‘I think you do mean to be rude, actually. Don’t worry, I just need to go over a few instructions with you. You have a huge task to complete, and we need to make sure you know exactly what’s going to happen.’ He took a step towards her.
Sarah immediately slammed the door in his face. Who the bloody hell did he think he was, completely ignoring her? He was obviously a complete fruit-loop, handsome, but a fruit-loop nonetheless. A task to complete; now that was a new one.
Marching into the kitchen, she grabbed a wineglass from the cupboard and poured a big glug of red. Now, a comfy sofa and mind-numbing rubbish on the TV beckoned. Taking a mouthful of wine she walked into the living room, and nearly spat it out again. The fruit-loop was sitting casually on her sofa, grinning from ear to ear.
‘Ooh, have you got a glass for me, Sarah? I could murder one.’
Managing to swallow the wine, she backed towards the door, gasping, ‘How the hell did you get in here, and how do you know my name?’ Frantically, she tried to remember where she’d put her mobile; was it still in her school bag?
Fruit-loop held up his hands. ‘Hey, sorry, don’t be afraid, asking for wine was crass of me. You must be freaked out. Look, I promise I’m not here to hurt you.’
Sarah inched out into the hall. Even if she could put her hand on the damned phone, she probably wouldn’t have time to dial 999. No, the best solution was to make a run for it. She set down her wineglass on the hall table and turned for the front door … only to see fruit-loop standing in front of it.
She felt the floor come up to meet her, and leaned heavily against the wall. This was impossible; he was sitting on her sofa in the living room, wasn’t he? ‘How the …?’ He held up his hands again, silencing her. ‘I told you, time is my business.’ He shrugged. ‘I can make it stop, go forward and back, but only for a short while, otherwise the dimensions get mucked up. I would certainly get into big trouble with the powers that be too, but we’ll talk about that another time; there’s enough for you to take in at the moment, as it is.
‘Anyway, suffice to say that I stopped time, walked round you, here in the hall, and then started it again. Same way I got in here, too. Now, we really must get down to business. I am not here to hurt you, I repeat not here to hurt you, Sarah. My name’s John, by the way.’
John walked towards her, gesturing that she should return to the living-room. Sarah led the way on shaky legs and then sank down into her armchair. She figured that the fallout from the Neil and Karen trauma and her stressful job had, at last, pushed her over the edge. Lots of her teacher friends had breakdowns … this must be her turn. Actually, now that it had happened, she felt relieved really …
‘So,’ John’s voice broke into her thoughts. ‘Sarah Yates, thirty-four, divorced.’ He looked at his clipboard. ‘No children, history teacher at Grangeworthy High, stressed, disillusioned with the way teaching is going, though not with the subject of history, and not with most children, just the minority who eat you alive. The latest bane of your life is Danny Jakes of 9CM, who told you recently to “stick your detention up your fat arse!”’
John, now seated on her sofa, pulled a face of sympathy across the room, flicked over the page of notes and continued. ‘Err … husband ran off with best friend, they now have a child, you despise them both, especially him, because you gave him the best years of your life, and now think that your chance for kids has passed. You desperately wanted a child but your ex always put you off, always found some kind of excuse.’ An even more sympathetic look found a home on John’s face. ‘Dear, oh dear.’ He placed the clipboard down and looked across at her again. ‘Now, I have got the right, Sarah Yates, haven’t I?’
Sarah wished that he hadn’t, but sadly he had described her life in a nutshell. Neil had indeed left with Karen about eighteen months ago now. It had been a drunken one-night stand apparently; the pregnancy had come as a terrible shock. They hadn’t planned to keep the child, but then time went by and Karen found it impossible to have a termination. They started getting used to the idea, and Neil insisted on providing financial support, hence the trip to Mothercare.
Then, when Sarah had found out and everything was in the open, Neil and Karen had decided to make a go of it. So, it was Sarah’s fault really – how nice for them to have it all magically and neatly resolved like that.
It was old news, but the pain was still as fresh as a daisy on a spring morning. Hearing the facts read out like a shopping list, even though John seemed sorry for her, did not help. The pity of strangers … wasn’t that a poem, perhaps a film? She should audition for the lead role. Sarah sighed and rubbed her eyes.
‘Yes … yes that’s me, unfortunately. Now, you need to disappear because I’m suddenly feeling very weary. I’ll make an appointment with my GP in the morning, but for now, I just want to sleep.’
‘To get some antidepressants or something for this breakdown I’m having.’ She shrugged. ‘I’m obviously talking to a hallucination.’
John threw back his head and laughed. ‘No, Sarah, I’m as real as you. It’s normal to feel shell-shocked, but you’ll get over it quite quickly, people usually do.’
‘So, I’m not having a breakdown?’
‘Not as far as I know … look, I am what’s known as a Time-Needle. It’s something you’re born into and can’t do anything about. My dad was a Time-Needle until his retirement a few years ago and so was his father. Our job is to sew together holes that have opened up in time with a stitch. If they remain open, people will die. I find stitches in time and you’re a stitch.’
Sarah looked at him opened-mouthed for a few moments, and then, springing up, she wagged a finger at him. ‘OK, that’s it, and that’s all! I need a drink!’
She shot out. John followed her to the kitchen. He watched, frowning, as she pulled a wineglass from the cupboard and picked up the bottle, all the while muttering under her breath.
‘Err … you have a glass out here in the hall already,’ he said, going to the hall and returning with the glass.
‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I forgot. How silly of me, I mean I am behaving perfectly normally, aren’t I? Talking to a Time-Lord, Needle, or whatever the hell you are, listening to stories of sewing holes together in time, and what was the last thing?’ she said, knocking back the wine in one gulp. ‘Oh, yes, I’m a stitch … yup, perfectly normal!’ She poured more wine and glared at him.
‘Oh dear, you really need to calm down a bit, Sarah. Do you mind if I have this one?’ John asked, holding up the wineglass.
Sarah shrugged and stared out of the window. This was worse than she had initially feared. Not only was she having a full-blown breakdown, she couldn’t make the damned hallucination stop. Her mind was totally out of control!
She closed her eyes and breathed in through her nose and out through her mouth, counted to three, and snapped her eyes open. No, he was still there, sipping her wine as if he was real! Her addled mind had conjured up a gorgeous guy and called him John. Johnny was apparently too obvious. God, how sad was she? Sipping her wine, she decided that the best thing to do was go with the flow. If I play along, show myself … my mind, that I’m not scared; perhaps the stress will go away … and with it, the hallucination. And anyway, what choice do I have?
Copyright Amanda James 2013, Choc Lit and reproduced with kind permission of the publisher
The books is available currently as a new release eBook and the paperback is on pre-order released soon … I plan to order a paperback.
Here are the links: AMAZON
Mandy’s other novel : eBook
Gentle Footprints AMAZON (as we mentioned it!) BTW there isn’t an audio book, that’s an error on the page!
Thanks so much for being In The spotlight Mandy and we wish you all the best, I saw the book get pretty high in the charts this weekend!
Follow Mandy on her Facebook Author Page
Next week In The Spotlight the talented paranormal novelist Catherine Green