Monday, 18 December 2017

‘The most prolific writer of first chapters on earth’

A THROWAWAY comment at her wedding gave Amanda Jennings the push she needed to complete a novel.

A THROWAWAY comment at her wedding gave Amanda Jennings the push she needed to complete a novel.

Thirteen years later, Sworn Secret, the tale of 15-year-old girl’s family coming to terms with her death, has been published.

It has been a long journey for the mother-of-three from Binfield Heath, who feared she would never finish the book.

In a speech at her wedding, her father said she was “the most prolific writer of first chapters that ever graced the earth”.

Mrs Jennings, now 39, agrees, saying: “That was what I did then — I would lose interest after a while. I never thought I was good enough, not having read English at university.”

In fact, she began reading architecture at Cambridge before changing to history of art.

“It was a bit dry and I wanted to do something with writing,” says Mrs Jennings.

“I started writing short stories and would wake up in the middle of the night and write.” After university, she and a friend set up a company writing copy for small businesses, which paid just enough for the rent.

As fun as it was, a rethink was required when she fell pregnant with daughter, Ella, now 14. When she became pregnant with her second child, Beth, now 10, she took the opportunity to be at home, grabbing every spare moment she could find to write.

A few years later, she was working as a researcher and assistant producer at the BBC but she missed looking after her third daughter Lexi, then two, and could no longer ignore her yearning to write.

Then she entered a talent- spotting competition for comedic writing and was shortlisted.

Mrs Jennings says: “I had a real panic that I was going to have to write comedy for the rest of my life but it ignited my desire to write.”

Encouraged by her husband Chris, a fund manager in London, she began to write full-time.

“We moved to Boston for a year for his business, which was when I wrote my first book,” recalls Mrs Jennings. “It was about a woman who was so desperate to get her children into grammar school that she starts plotting to remove the other children who are above hers on the list.”

This book made her realise she could write and her next attempt was taken up by an agent.

She says: “That was about a woman who finds out she was kidnapped as a child but the book did not sell.

“That was really disappointing as when you get an agent you have this idea that it is going to happen. What was most disappointing was that lots of people expressed an interest in it.” She was told to put her disappointment behind her and write another book, which led to Sworn Secret.

The inspiration for the story was her sister and her daughters.

Mrs Jennings says: “I knew I wanted to write something about the relationship between sisters and I got to thinking how I would feel if something had happened to my sister when growing up. Also, being the age I was with three children, the idea of motherhood was also quite strong.”

She says her family have provided invaluable support.

“Chris has been so encouraging and he always says that he would not encourage me if he did not think I could do it,” says the author. “He has also picked up the pieces when the children have had a mother-in-absence.

“Financially, I have obviously not been bringing anything in for all this time but he has done everything with really good grace.

“Now I am just relieved that enough people who are not my friends are saying that they have enjoyed the book. To hear the words ‘gripping’ and ‘unputdownable’ is really good. I am really proud of it and this is an exciting time.”

Mrs Jennings completed the first draft of Sworn Secret in four-and-a-half months but it took her around 18 months to edit it.

She says: “I would work all weekend, in the evenings and at every opportunity.The edit is the bit where you add all the nuances. It is the good bit but there was a lot of rewriting involved. It sounds cliched but the more time you spend with the characters the more they start to take on a life of their own.”

She signed a contract with Canvas Books. “It was all about getting the book published for a long time so when it came out I was wondering what happened next,” she says.

“The waiting game has been horrible, although I was really lucky I could write it as a hobby. I look at the book now though and think I would have done things differently.”

Mrs Jennings has already finished a draft of her next book. “It is dark again,” she says. “It is about a relationship that is not love but obsessive love. My books are always going to be about relationships. I do not think I will ever run out of ideas.”

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