29 October 2008
HER FIRST novel started out as a short story and was never meant to see the light of day. Now longstanding Dulwich Village resident, author Amanda Brookfield, has written her thirteenth novel. Amazingly, the author says she didn’t read for two years after she finished university as her course ‘put her off books’, writes Madeleine Lindh...
"I like the idea of people feeling like I know their world. If someone reads one of my stories I want them almost to think that I'm looking in through the windows of their house. I want to tap all the buttons," she explains.
After finishing her university degree in English, Amanda didn't read a single book for two years. "University put me off novels. I couldn't read for pleasure - it had become a chore."
The author eventually rekindled her love of literature, and took it one step further: "My husband decided to join the Foreign Office and we got posted to South America. I think I felt that I could try anything out there. I did a lot of journalism and quietly - on my own and without telling anybody - started to write."
What had started out as a short story soon became a whole novel, and once back in the UK, she mentioned to a friend that she had written it. That friend set her up with her first agent. "It was one of those annoying stories," she comments. A second book came out, soon followed by a third, then a fourth - now Amanda has produced her thirteenth novel.
The book, Life Begins, is about a 39-year-old woman who has just come out of an unhappy marriage, and has to start forming a new life with her twelve-year-old son. As the story progresses, she realises that some unresolved issues in her past have to be dealt with in order for her to be able to move on.
Despite not knowing many single mums herself, Amanda was determined to make it as true a portrait as she could. "You would have thought if someone was in an unhappy marriage it should be easy when they finish that marriage, but I just thought 'no, it wouldn't be like that. Life's not like that," she says.
When asked what inspired her to write the book, Amanda's answer comes out of her mouth almost before I've finished the question - this is obviously one she has been asked many times before. "That is always so difficult to say. You can't pinpoint events or people that you know and say 'I'm going to put them in a book.' But I soak up everything. Real life and fiction...for me, they're really different things."
So what does the author herself read when she has a minute or two to spare? "I have just finished War and Peace," she says. "I've been reading it for three months, but I felt that as someone who loves literature I had to read it."
She never, however, reads anything that looks like her own books.
"Even a jacket that looks like mine, I'll walk away." The reason is, she says, that she needs to keep her self-belief. "I don't know many authors and need to pretend that I'm the only person doing it. I need to feel like I'm the only person who could have written a story. It's self-protection."
When asked what makes a good book, her answer is sure and quick: "There's a page-turning aspect to a good book. A good book should also somehow illuminate life. It should make you feel a little bit wiser or enriched. The third component is that it touches you."
"We all go through stuff in our lives, most of it in our heads. I like a book that says things that ring true with what's going on in my head. A book is like a friend. It echoes feelings that you have."
Amanda has lived in Southwark ever since she moved back to the UK with her family, but has just moved house. "That's sixteen years ago! It's a great part of town. London's on your doorstep if you need it. I just love it. I feel very at home in this part of the world."
Her favourite thing about the borough? "I like that it's a really diverse area. Dulwich Village is a little bit of a beautiful goldfish bowl and one of the reasons I'm glad I'm not in the villlage any more is that I just like to be in a more real part of town. It's a really good atmosphere - a good buzz."
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