SJIH: Hi Amanda, welcome to Shots! Your second novel ‘The Judas Scar’ is out now. How does that feel?
AJ: Strange, surreal, affirming, terrifying, thrilling...a great big jumble of emotions. I can’t quite believe publication day is here, to be honest.
SJIH: Without giving too much away, can you tell us a bit about it?
AJ: Well, Will and Harmony have been married for a long time but are struggling a bit after a miscarriage. Then Luke, an old friend of Will’s he hasn’t seen in twenty-five years, walks into their lives and brings with him a host of hidden memories and emotions from Will’s difficult childhood – a school rife with bullying and a dreadful relationship with his overbearing father – that start to impact the present. It’s a story about betrayal in many forms, with a fair amount of guilt, love, desire, and revenge thrown in for good measure.
SJIH: Sounds good to me! So, the obvious question that I must ask… where did the idea come from?
AJ: I’ve written a longer ‘Author’s Note’ on this that’s included in the back of the book, but basically my husband got a phone call out of the blue from a police officer who was investigating a couple of teachers from the school he was at. Though he wasn’t directly affected by what went on, I was struck by the buried emotions the call unearthed in him –a type of survivor’s guilt – and began to think a lot about childhood trauma, coping mechanisms, and how difficult experiences might impact the rest of a person’s life and the lives of those who love them.
SJIH: That’s fascinating (looking forward to reading the longer version!) How easy was this to write, compared to your first book (Sworn Secret) – did you use a different approach? Was it easier/harder to write?
AJ: This book was unaffectionately known as Pesky Book 2 for about a year. Everything was so different when I came to write it. Writing Sworn Secret was a lovely experience. It gave me something else to think about alongside looking after my children, it occupied my mind, provided an escape in a way. But Pesky Book 2 was different because I was now a published author. People asked about it, told me they couldn’t wait to read it, there was expectation. Also, now my children were all at school so rather than squeezing my writing into grabbed moments between caring for them, I found myself with long stretches of quiet during which I knew I was supposed to write. As odd as it sounds, it was harder to motivate myself! Also, rightly or wrongly, I felt I didn’t want to disappoint anyone who had enjoyed Sworn Secret and this put quite a bit of pressure on me. Add into the mix a mild obsession with reviews and sales figures, then the distractions of twitter, of blogging, making tea, more twitter, more tea, twitter... You get the picture. Thankfully, as the process went on, I began to relax a bit, and as the characters fleshed out I even began to enjoy it!
SJIH: Well, you seem to have nailed it. Maybe the next one will be a breeze! You cover bullying and boarding schools – interestingly, from the point of view of boys… did someone tell you about their horrible experiences and you felt the need to write about them, or was this a completely fictional imagining of what kinds of things go on in all-boys schools?
AJ: I actually went to a boys’ boarding school which took girls in the sixth form to do my A levels. I was never aware of any nastiness particularly, though I did witness a couple of incidents – nothing like the ones in the book, I hasten to add – that always stayed with me and a few times I stepped in to stop younger boys being mean to each other. My husband was also at a boarding school for a while. He describes the atmosphere as intimidating and threatening and, as I mentioned already, it was later discovered there was some severe abuse going on. As I began to research the subject it amazed me how many people who went to boarding school had stories that would shock those who never stepped near one. It’s not just boarding school; the news is full of stories of children being harmed in places where they should be cared for. These were the points of inspiration, the rest – the detail, mood and emotions – is imagined and grew as the characters developed.
SJIH: Remind me to ask you about going to a boys’ boarding school in more detail some day! I’d like to ask you about Harmony now… So, I know she had a horrible time and it threw her thoughts into turmoil, but didn’t she leap towards Luke (who I personally found a bit smarmy) rather quickly? What was she thinking?!
AJ: Her attraction to Luke is quite complex. It’s not just his outward appearance she finds alluring – in fact, in my mind she’s the type of person who wouldn’t usually be attracted to someone this overtly good-looking. What really draws her to him is his connection to her husband’s hidden past. Luke also reminds her of her father who left when she was too small to remember him, but for whom she always carried a flame. And, of course, as you alluded to, she was pretty angry with Will...
SJIH: True… Ok, so what’s next for you? Are you working on something at the moment? Or are you still deciding on ideas for book 3?
AJ: Now Pesky Book 2 is out there, I can concentrate on Troublesome Book 3 (Oh, how I yearn for the halcyon days of Enjoyable Book 1...). It’s set predominantly in Cornwall, around St Ives and Penzance where my mother’s family is from, and looks at family bonds, hidden crimes and examines the meaning of identity.
SJIH: Can’t wait to read that! And finally (I ask everyone this…) what question does no one ever ask you that you would really like to be asked? (and what’s the answer?!)
AJ: Question: I have Michael Fassbender and Christian Slater circa 1993 here and both are desperate to take you out for dinner but you can only choose one. Who would you like to go with? Ooo, Susi, that is a tricky one. But if I have to choose, Michael Fassbender, please. Sorry Christian!
SJIH: Haha… if only! Thanks so much for talking to me, Amanda. I hope The Judas Scar does brilliantly for you.
AJ: It’s been a great pleasure, Susi, and thank you for having me. Now...where did you say Michael’s waiting?
Photograph Copyright One Life Studio 2014
Read Susi's review of THE JUDAS SCAR here
Cutting Edge Books, £8.99
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