The Questioning – Amanda Reynolds and Mary Torjussen
Amanda Reynolds and Mary Torjussen take part in our new Q & A piece, The Questioning - they talk about their debut novels, finding an agent and a publisher and what comes next!
Posted on March 28, 2017 in Guest Author, The Questioning
Tags: Amanda Reynolds, Author Content, Close to Me, Gone Without a Trace, Mary Torjussen, Q&A, debut, domestic noir, grip lit, psychological thriller
Mary: Hi Amanda. It was great to meet you at the blogger event at Headline recently and good to know we’ll meet again at CrimeFest in May, too. So, your first novel, Close to Me, is released as an eBook on 31 March and in paperback on 27 July. I’d love to know how you got published. Had you written anything before?
Amanda: Hi Mary, the blogger night was great fun, and it was good to meet so many lovely authors there too, yourself included. The bloggers do a tremendous job, I’m really enjoying following your blog tour for the paperback release of Gone Without a Trace.
I’ve always written, but I started seriously a few years ago when I joined a writing group. In a way, it happened quite slowly for me, and then very fast. I found an agent, and she worked with me editorially to get Close To Me in the best possible shape, then it all happened at once when it was optioned for TV and found a publisher! It was wonderful, and very surreal.
I loved Gone Without a Trace, such a fantastic read. How did you find the process of finding an agent and a publisher?
Mary: I’d written a couple of novels that I couldn’t place with agents and then I had the chance to take voluntary redundancy from my teaching job. Because I’d taught for so long, the redundancy package meant I could take a year off work and I decided I would try to get accepted by an agent by the end of that year. Once an agent took me on, things happened very quickly and soon I had deals in the UK and US, with foreign language deals in several languages. Gone Without a Trace has also been optioned by a TV production company, so hopefully something will come of that!
One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most is having such experienced people helping me to edit the book. It made me really up my game, knowing that I was writing for them, rather than for a faceless audience.
What was it about Close to Me that you think appealed to your agent and then your editor? Did you have to make any changes to the plot?
Amanda: It’s lovely isn’t it, when someone really gets your book, and that begins with the right agent for you, and then your editor at the publisher. There have been some changes, of course, but it’s been totally collaborative and my editor’s input has really enhanced the finished book. I’ve honestly always felt I’d already known I needed to make a change, but for some reason had resisted, or wish I’d spotted it myself first. How about you, Mary? How did you find the process of revising your manuscript, both for the UK and US and other markets?
Mary: I had a two-book deal with Headline, and then Penguin in the US wanted to make an offer, with the condition that the editor there co-edited with the editor at Headline. This has been absolutely fantastic as it means I’ve had two experienced editors on board to help me. Before then, my agent, Kate Burke, had helped me edit, too; she was an editor for ten years before becoming an agent and that was incredibly useful as she helped me get to a stage where it would interest editors. She was pretty ruthless, making me cut anything that slowed down the action. The editors mainly focused on why things were happening or why people behaved in the way they did and focusing on that really helped me to develop the characters in more depth. As you say, though, all the editing was collaborative and there was nothing that they wanted me to do that I resisted, or vice versa. It was a fantastic experience and I learned such a lot.
I found it interesting that the foreign markets bought it prior to it being edited; I’d assumed they would only be interested in the final piece of work. The last year was a huge learning curve for me; I’ve learned so much about the publishing process.
You had a two-book deal too, didn’t you? Did you already have the idea for your second book before you completed Close to Me?
Amanda: Yes, working with foreign publishers is different again, and equally exciting. I had the seed of an idea for my next book, something I’d wanted to write for a while, so it was the natural choice for the follow-up to Close To Me. The main difference I’ve found this time is I’m writing knowing I will be published, which is great, but can also be daunting, so it’s best to try and forget that.
When you were writing Gone Without a Trace did you realise you had something special? Without giving anything away, it touches on some dark themes, was that difficult for you to write? I loved Hannah’s character, so complex!
Mary: I’d got nice replies to the other novels I wrote before Gone Without a Trace, but nobody was prepared to take it on. With this novel, there was immediate interest. As you know, writers have to send off three chapters and a synopsis at first. I found that virtually all agents responded very quickly and asked to read the whole book. That was a completely different experience for me and I think it was the hook that sold it to them. I really enjoyed writing the dark parts and will be doing more of that in my new book, The Girl I Used to Be.
Why do you enjoy writing psychological suspense? I think what I like is writing about things that are not what they seem. That’s what I loved about Close to Me; I love books about secrets and memories and enjoy wondering who I can trust in a novel. I’m not so interested in likeable characters; I think for a character to be believable they have to have lots of layers. I want readers to understand the characters rather than just like them.
Amanda: I totally agree. I personally have a lot of sympathy with Hannah, your main character, and my protagonist, Jo, but they’re not always nice people, not many people are ALL the time. I run an exercise in my writing classes where the writers have to complete a sentence about their protagonist along the lines of, ‘She/he is usually… but sometimes…. when….’ I think we are all capable of good and bad, it depends on the provocation. I like writing about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, that’s why I think psychological suspense is so popular, because we can imagine how we might react given the same situation. It’s about fearing those you choose to share your life with.
Mary: Yes, it’s domestic peril, the thought that you can’t trust someone you live with. It’s a great genre to be part of!
What piece of advice do you wish you’d been given at the start of your writing career? For myself, I felt so despondent when I got rejections that I would stop for a while and it took a lot of courage to start again. I wish I’d just got on with the next book immediately and accepted that the rejection wasn’t personal. How about you?
Amanda: Rejection is always difficult, and for me too there were times when it got me down and I wondered if it was worth it, but now, looking back, I can see it was part of a learning process. It does take a lot of tenacity, but it was so worth it in the end. So, I suppose that’s what I’d have advised, to keep writing, keep reading, don’t give up! Take the critique, decide what you can learn from it, improve your manuscript and try again.
Mary: I agree with everything you’ve said there! And I think we should just try to enjoy it as much as we can – this has been something we’ve both longed for.
Amanda : Absolutely, and thanks so much for your time, it’s been great to chat with you and best of luck with Gone Without a Trace. It’s such a fantastic read, I adored it!
Mary: It was lovely to chat to you, too! Best of luck with the brilliant Close to Me. I can’t wait to buy it in a bookshop!
Amanda Reynolds’s CLOSE TO ME is out in ebook now