Amanda Jennings’ sunny, cheerful demeanour is totally at odds with the dark subject matter that pervades her books. And her latest novel The Storm is no different.
Having read it from cover to cover in one night without sleeping, I can confirm that The Storm is as addictive and gripping as her fans have come to expect.
“Empathy is vital. You have to learn how to walk in another person’s shoes. It’s like acting.”
Published next week, Amanda’s Cornish thriller will add to her reputation as an up-and-coming crime writer whose ranking, success and prolific output are ascending as fast as her publishing star.
And one lucky winner can win signed copies of her last three novels: The Storm, The Cliff House and In Her Wake, by entering our one-off competition (full details below) to celebrate launch date on Thursday July 23 in a week’s time.
Currently at home in lockdown with her husband and three daughters near Henley, Amanda is slightly bemused to be introducing her latest novel The Storm without the usual schedule of extensive book signings, literary festivals or launch parties to attend.
Due to be launched at the annual Harrogate Crime Festival this month, Amanda is remaining upbeat. “Reviews of The Storm are already really complimentary and the publishing industry is in a good place right now, so all things considered everything is pretty positive really,” she says.
Set in Cornish port near Penzance, The Storm captures the heightened conditions experienced by Cornwall’s fishermen. “It’s such an extreme job, so dramatic and dangerous, full of highs and lows and so atmospheric and I really wanted to capture that,” Amanda says.
The Storm is also about coercive control within a marriage, a form of domestic abuse only recently legally acknowledged as a crime.
From the outside Nathan and Hannah appear happy and satisfied. Hannah has everything she could possibly want, but inside the four walls the relationships is horribly warped and unequal.
“Hannah has made a pact with the devil,” Amanda explains. “Without wanting to give away any spoilers she believes it’s what she deserves. It’s a self cast prison.”
Is it hard for Amanda to put herself in someone else’s shoes like that? “I don’t think so. Writers write about all sorts of subject matter and I did lots of research into coercive control,” she says.
“I also had a friendship in my mid-teens with a girl who controlled me hugely, in very insidious ways, so I have experience of what it feels like to lose your agency or have somebody making decisions and blowing hot or cold without warning,” she says.
“I think, as a fiction writer, you cannot solely write within your bounds of personal experience. In previous books I’ve written about bullying at school and it’s long-reaching effects, and also an affair that a headteacher has with a sixteen year old student, another thing I haven’t direct personal experience of.
“Empathy is vital. You have to learn how to walk in another person’s shoes. It’s like acting. If an actor plays the part of a victim in a film they don’t have to have experienced it directly to be able to relate the emotions.
“If my books provoke a reaction, I’ve achieved what I’VE set out to accomplish”
“My character, Hannah, is relatable to me because of her fierce maternal love and her desire to protect the man she loves. I can relate to those emotions and therefore use empathy to imagine how she might act if put into a certain situation.”
Having signed a four book deal with Harper Collins Amanda is still acclimatising to her new career in domestic noir, her last book The Cliff House being translated into ten languages and becoming one of last summer’s bestsellers.
Her next book, although yet to be named is already on its way, and centres on a hermit living on Bodmin Moor who lives in isolation, which was easier for Amanda to imagine, all things considered.
So has it been hard writing in lockdown? “I just felt terribly guilty and helpless all the time, so distant from what was going on. It’s hard to imagine a fictional reality when real life is so far removed from anything that’s come before,” she says.
“So, it’s hard to write about the world and what it looks like when we have no idea what that will be like,” she shrugs.
“I’ve now joined a writers group and we make sure we each write a bit everyday and that’s really helped,” she says, “and been volunteering for Mutual Aid to do something positive”.
But with the first draft of her next novel expected by the end of July/beginning of August you can understand the pressure of producing a book a year.
“Well having signed with Harper Collins it would be churlish to complain that I’m doing what I love for a massive publishing company,” she laughs, “and if I needed to change the pace I could.”
Which means Amanda must finally be accepting that is a bona fide writer, something she’s struggled with until now? “This is book five so I’m beginning to acknowledge that I can now call myself an author. And yes writing is a very different experience to when I first started out, writing in the car in lay-bys and scribbling away while my babies slept,” she remembers.
And what is her aim as a writer? “If my books provoke a reaction, I’ve achieved what I’ve set out to accomplish. So yes I am proud of them. If you can’t put my book down then I’m doing my job,” she smiles.
As for the competition itself Amanda is giving away one set of signed books (The Storm, The Cliff House and In Her Wake) to one lucky winner. Just like, share follow and nominate someone in our social media posts. Full T&Cs can be found here: https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/ox-in-a-box-competition-terms-and-conditions/
A winner will be chosen in a week’s time on publishing date Thursday July 23 and contacted immediately. Entrants must live in the UK.
The Storm by Amanda Jennings is published on July 23 and can be bought from all good bookshop and online.