Amanda Reynolds on First Publishing in Her FiftiesJul 24, 2022
Amanda’s first novel, Close To Me, was a number one ebook bestseller and recently adapted into a major TV series starring Connie Nielsen and Christopher Eccleston for Channel 4 and Sundance AMC. Lying To You followed in 2018 and The Hidden Wife in 2019. Amanda’s psychological thrillers have all been sold internationally.
Here, Amanda discusses getting her first book deal in her fifties and how finding a writing community gave her the confidence to pursue her writing dreams.
‘What took you so long, Amanda?’
I stared out at the packed room, avoiding the question and the eyes watching me. To be talking about my books and a recent TV adaptation of my debut, at my first in-person event since the start of the pandemic, had been a complete joy. The interview was well-attended and the audience questions were abundant. But the query about my long route to publication had stopped me in my tracks.
‘What took you so long, Amanda?’
It was a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. A well-intentioned jibe. I am in my fifties and had shared that already. So why had it taken me so long to become an author?
The seed of writing was always within me
My debut novel was published when I was fifty-one. I’d always wanted to be a writer, for as long as I could remember. Had I wasted all those years? And if so, why? What held me back? Was it me, or some outside constraint?
I’m an only child and much of my world existed in my imagination. One entire summer was indulged in the fantasy of Misty, an invented horse I dreamt of owning, but sadly never did. Another long school holiday was spent writing my first proper book (ten pages at most!); the computer printouts Dad brought home from work hazardously stapled together, fingers torn as I added the all-important illustrations.
But it took me another four decades from that first tome – the subject of which now eludes me – to hold a published copy of Close To Me in my hands.
So what took me so long?
My love of writing shaped my life
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I would suggest the same of a novel. It certainly took me many years to feel even remotely qualified to put pen to paper, or rather fingertips to keyboard. Years spent in entrepreneurial endeavour and employed in jobs I never really felt passionate about, whilst somewhere, protectively shielded within, lay that unfulfilled ambition.
That ambition had flared inside me as I visited the library as a child, and then went on to study English at the local college. Short story competitions fanned the flames whilst I attended a procession of uninspiring evening classes as a young mother. The days were a blur of nappies, and then school runs. But we’re all busy people, aren’t we? Was that just an excuse?
We writers are an odd mix of emotional rawness and steel-hearted tenacity. We need to be in order to write with empathy and clarity, whilst negotiating the hurdles which await. The inevitable rejections. Hopes raised and often dashed.
But that kernel of ambition was never completely abandoned. For four decades I nurtured the will to someday write a book.
Prosaically, I could suggest the time was right after my children were older and had left home. That I finally had the headspace. The free time. But that’s probably a justification rather than an explanation. Joanna Cannon wrote The Trouble With Goats and Sheep whilst training to be a doctor, scribbling in the hospital car park. I wasn’t that busy!
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I would suggest the same of a novel. It certainly took me many years to feel even remotely qualified to put pen to paper, or rather fingertips to keyboard.
Finding my writing community
I was very lucky in my mid-forties to stumble upon a brilliantly supportive writing group. Friday mornings filled with inspirational, talented and – crucially – ambitious writers who spurred me on and lifted me up. It was demonstrated to me first-hand that with purpose and perseverance, it could happen.
They weren’t celebrities in their twenties. They had worked hard, gone the slush pile route to find agents. They had tried, and succeeded; got publishing deals. I could too, couldn’t I?
In short, I committed.
But more than that, I finally knew what I wanted to write about. Women of my age and experience. Women who raised kids, had careers, had been wives, lovers, ignored and revered, and still have so much left to say and do and give. I was ready and I had all that lived experience to draw on. Nothing was wasted.
Prizes might glitter a little brighter for the young. They may have more time, more confidence perhaps? But the publishing world doesn’t care if you’re twenty, or fifty, or ninety-nine. It’s the story that matters.
I finally knew what I wanted to write about. Women of my age and experience. Women who raised kids, had careers, had been wives, lovers, ignored and revered, and still have so much left to say and do and give. I was ready and I had all that lived experience to draw on. Nothing was wasted.
Exploring universal themes
My first published book, Close To Me, is about the secrets in a marriage, filled with tension and dread. A woman in her fifties. Talented, capable, yet struck down by empty nest syndrome.
Yes, I placed my protagonist in a set of extraordinary circumstances, her situation exacerbated by a head injury which causes her to lose a year of memories and profoundly changes her personality, but the underlying themes are universal.
It was Jo’s duality which fascinated me, and how it would affect her response, change and warp it, make it dangerous and dark… Volatile. Jo isn’t me, far from it, but I could write with authenticity about her emotions.
And I wrote fast. The TV option had been secured off the back of a partial manuscript, demanding I did so. But it wasn’t just the impending deadline; that’s simply how I love to write.
I’m not a planner, I write with pace and listen carefully for voice and character. They guide me, but I wish I’d known then some of what I know now. I wish I’d had a hand to hold. Because you still have to do the work, show up, be there, every day. You need your village.
Revisiting stories I hadn’t been ready to tell
My next book, Lying To You, was an exercise in never letting anything go to waste. It’s an idea I’d worked on and abandoned, then resurrected and dusted off.
In the end, I didn’t actually use a page of that previous manuscript, but the idea was good. Before, I hadn’t fathomed how to execute it, but finally it came to me – as always, through voice and structure.
Jess, our protagonist, is forced to return to her childhood home following the death of her mother. There, she must face the teacher she accused of rape ten years before. The teacher’s wife, Karen, stands by him. But who is lying to you?
Taking inspiration from literature
My third book, The Hidden Wife, is my homage to my Hero books, with influences taken from Rebecca and The Great Gatsby. As they say, ‘Talent borrows; genius steals’ and while I’m most certainly not professing any genius, I think it’s a wonderful way to build your own unique story.
After all, if you loved and were changed by a book, then in the long-held tradition of passing on from one storyteller to another, why not return to those golden themes and wind them into something contemporary? The Hidden Wife is a tale of a seemingly perfect marriage, which has gone catastrophically, toxically, wrong, when Julia, wife to an older successful novelist, goes missing.
The joy of teaching creative writing
Aside from writing my books, which have now been published around the world – far exceeding my wildest dreams and ambitions – I have also spent most of the last decade teaching creative writing. This began with weekly classes, then festival workshops and one-to-one mentoring.
It’s such a rewarding symbiotic relationship, coach and writers fuelling one another. I never leave a class without having learnt something and feeling inspired; my writing improved and challenged. And of course seeing those I’ve worked with gaining literary agents and publishers, and winning competitions, is the ultimate thrill.
It’s such a rewarding symbiotic relationship, coach and writers fuelling one another. I never leave a class without having learnt something and feeling inspired; my writing improved and challenged.
That brings me full circle to say how happy I am to be starting another writing adventure here at The Novelry.
I’m excited to meet you all, my fellow writers, and begin together, hand-in-hand, a village of like-minded creatives. With shared fears and ambitions, we’re ready to surprise and delight, challenge and support one another.
Because in my experience, it is never too late to start the adventure. The blank page awaits.
Writing Coach at The Novelry
Amanda Reynolds is the bestselling author of three novels: Close To Me, Lying To You and The Hidden Wife, and the former has been adapted for a television show starring Connie Nielsen and Christopher Eccleston. Amanda taught creative writing for many years before becoming a published author, and members of the Ninety Day Novel Course, Book in a Year and Finished Novel Course can benefit from her inspiring coaching.