If you’re going away this summer, the likelihood is you’ll be reading The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings.
Just out in paperback as part of a two book deal with Harper Collins, with another due next spring and a third in the planning stages, she is the name on everyone’s lips.
But while at the top of her game, the Oxfordshire author is still surprised by her recent success.
it’s taken me a long time to realise that writing is my therapy. That I need it, as much as the other way around.
Perhaps because fame has not arrived overnight. Fans will have already enjoyed her previous three novels Sworn Secret, The Judas Scar and In Her Wake, which fit the new ‘domestic noir’ genre, but The Cliff House heralds a change in pace.
“The reception has been amazing,” she concedes. “As an author you are plagued by insecurities and paranoia, so for your peers and critics to like it has been very reassuring.”
But then Amanda has been writing for a long time. When her three daughters were growing up, she scribbled away in car parks and in lay-bys whilst they slept.
Beginning to fly the nest now, her time is more structured, but the compulsion to write hasn’t changed.
“Sometimes I feel that my writing is an indulgence, that I’m cheating, because writing is such a passion,” she admits.
The 46 year-old concentrates on human stories: families riven by rifts, secrets, jealousies, humanity and everyday life, with dark nuances guaranteed.
The Cliff House is no different – perhaps glossier than her previous backlog – depicting a young teenager dealing with grief, poverty and boredom who comes across an exotic family living in a dazzling house in Cornwall, their connection changing life irrevocably for them all.
But it’s about more than that; The Cliff House also targets our obsession with celebrity, status, materialism and looks.
“Instagram was a huge influence on the book and its concept,” Amanda says. “About how you can control the way your life is presented and about how other people can buy into it, and believe if could make them happy, given the chance.
“It’s about how we fabricate our lives and what people aspire to, even if the subjects are damaged, and neglected.
“And the whole #metoo movement has played a part.”
So why Cornwall?
“My mum is Cornish so we spent a lot of time there as children and it’s where my heart lies.
“So the other theme is escape – everyone in the book is trying to escape from something – grief, an unhappy marriage or childhood, money worries, responsibilities.”
It’s a far cry from her own life, and yet Amanda admits being drawn to the bleaker viewpoints. She cites James Herbert’s Magic Cottage as inspiration for Cliff House and remembers reading Where The Wild Things Are, over and over again as a child.
“I’m a fairly jolly person, but I do like my dark themes. And reading should be an escape. It needs to be page-turning but it also needs to transport people into a different world, to allow them to dip their toe into the water of other situations, to imagine it could be them, to go through it alongside the characters, to care about them. And then to find some sort of resolution. “
The bittersweet. I like a surprise ending. Because some people are just damaged.”
So is Amanda an organised writer, planning out the story-line, or does she just tap away on her computer until she’s got something?
“I’m not a planner,” she chuckles. “But I do a lot of dog-walking and thinking about an idea and padding it out. I’ll fill notebooks with ideas, capital letters and asterixes, and have snippets and scenes whirling about in my head.”
Where Cliff House is concerned, it was all based around this Great Gatsby style house. But who lived there and why, and who is watching the house. “The planning stages are heaven. It’s like a stream of consciousness.
“And then I sit down and write it all down, 90,000 words in two months. It needs lots of editing, and I pick out the themes, sometimes whole chunks disappear, but the basic story and plot is there. It takes 8-12 drafts to get it right. It’s a long old process.
“I do miss the days when I just wrote for fun, writing for writings sake. It’s much more about process now. But still a compulsion yes.
So how do her family feel about her life as an author?
“My husband and children are used to me being a bit distant or mentally absent when I’m in the middle of a novel, and they don’t mind. They get to eat more pizza,,’ she laughs.
And then she pauses. “It’s taken me a long time to realise actually that writing is my therapy. That I need it, as much as the other way around. Because when I’m not writing I’m tense and anxious. So yes, I’m good to go. I’m enjoying life.”
Has she got used to it yet? “What being a published author? No, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not a one off or a fluke, that I’m not an imposter.
” I love it. It’s everything I’d hoped for.”
The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings is out in paperback and in all good bookshops.