Published by Headline Review
Before this is Over is available to buy in ebook and will be available in paperback from 2 November 2017. I’m delighted to be starting off the blog tour – my thanks to Jennifer of Headline for the review copy and for including me. I have yet to read this so my review will follow, but for my turn today Amanda has kindly answered a few questions.
It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the blog Amanda, would you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?
Thank you so much for having me! I’m from Sydney, Australia, where I live with my husband and two grown boys. I was lucky enough to have the second novel I wrote picked off the slush pile by an independent publisher here, MidnightSun, who published it under the title An Ordinary Epidemic. They also got it to the attention of an overseas agent who found it a home with Headline in the UK. It’s being published on November 2 under the title Before This Is Over.
Without giving away too much information, can you please tell us a little about Before This is Over and why you wanted to write this story.
Before This Is Over follows a family during the outbreak of a new disease, concentrating on the day to day struggles and dilemmas they find themselves in. I’ve often thought that we write a lot about families falling apart but it’s a topic I find less interesting than families that are working — because making it work is not easy. I had in the back of my mind that I’d like to try something that was positive about those bonds, particularly in relation to teenagers. And then I found myself living in Ottawa, Canada during the SARS outbreak in Toronto. It occurred to me that we might end up shutting ourselves in the house if it came down the road to us. And that felt like a good way to explore a family.
How did you plan/research your books? Do you plot in detail from beginning to end or just see where the story takes you?
I guess most of my research comes from what I am already reading. When I start seriously considering an idea, I like to research only what I need to know. I want the details to be right and believable, but for me having too much information risks getting bogged down.
For Before This Is Over there were some things I needed in advance like a time frame for the progress of the disease. Because I was inventing it, I had a bit of latitude but it was important that it was plausible. I looked online for a graph of a real flu outbreak and bumped it up to be more deadly. When I started writing, I kept the symptoms reasonably generic and as I got to the final drafts I showed it to a doctor friend of mine and asked ‘what do I need to change?’ She suggested a few classes of virus it could fit into and what extra symptoms each would need to have. I picked the one that best fitted.
I usually have four or five key scenes and a rough idea of where it ends before I start to write. For Before This Is Over, the school trip was always one and that gave me my opening scene. By the time I’d finished writing that, four or five more had popped into my mind as ‘well, this will have to happen, too’. So I started with a very rough outline, but the specifics became clear as I got into it.
What is the best writing advice that you have received? And what advice would you give to anyone trying to get their novel published? Is there anything that you wished you had done differently?
My Dad used to say ‘One percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.’ (The internet tells me that’s Thomas Edison.) And I didn’t listen to him, of course. But he was right and for me it comes down to a mix of persistence and resilience, both in writing and getting published. I set achievable goals – 300 words a day, say – but if I don’t hit the target then I try not to berate myself. When I sit down to write today, how much I did yesterday is irrelevant. I think it’s easy to get discouraged if you have unrealistic targets and then pile the thousands of words you didn’t do yesterday onto today’s thousands. If you make the goal easily achievable, it feels even better if you exceed it.
I’ve been surprised how many people I know have said to me ‘I don’t know how you do it. I started writing a novel once. I got about five thousand words but then I missed a few days and there was no point going back.’ Sometimes I left Before This Is Over for months at a time. When I picked it up again, I had to say ‘This starts again now.’ You do it by doing it. The same goes for publishing. I gave up counting rejections and just reminded myself that only one person had to like it. I’d get a rejection, file it away and as best I could try to ignore it. Because the one person I needed didn’t know about those rejections. And I did find my one person.
As for what I’d do differently? Be a bit better at following that advice.
Is there any part of the writing process which you enjoy (or find the most difficult) – i.e. researching, writing, editing?
When you are in the flow, when you know what’s coming next and it feels like the characters are living their own life, it seems to come from outside you. For me it comes from a spot just above my right shoulder. That total transport doesn’t often happen, but when it does it’s a fantastic feeling. And then there’s a great satisfaction in editing. To take what came out in that flow and see how it really goes together, take it apart and put it back again like a jigsaw. That’s something I can do for hours.
Are there any authors whose books have made an impact on you? What type of book do you enjoy reading for pleasure, and what are you reading now?
I love books that make me think while pulling me along in a story. I want to be immersed, but I don’t want to drift. I want to be challenged. If a book can show me the world from the point of view of someone completely different to me, so much the better. A few books that have really done that for me are Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Once Were Warriors, a contemporary New Zealand book by Alan Duff and My Beautiful Enemy by Cory Taylor about a relationship between a guard and a Japanese prisoner of war in World War II.
At the moment my favourite writer is probably Kate Atkinson. I loved the Jackson Brodie novels, especially Started Early, Took My Dog. I also loved her Life After Life — it was a fantastic and challenging idea.
The kind of thing I read changes from year to year and even day to day. But I also find it hard to read and write at the same time, so there are periods when I don’t read as much as I would like.
When you’re not working or writing, what do you do to relax?
I probably spend way too much time curled up on the sofa binging Netflix (I miss Orphan Black!). But I’m a bit of a tinkerer. I always have a project going on — building something like a wall garden or a plant holder for the fish tank, knitting, bookbinding, restoring an old set of chairs, gardening. Basically I like to work out how to do something and once I have, I move on. Although the garden still wants to be weeded.
If you could only keep 3 books on your bookshelf, which ones would it be and why
Three? Seriously? Three? That’s cruel!
If I’m reduced to three, they would probably be books I have a sentimental attachment to.
I read my copy of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth literally to pieces as a child. I didn’t know you could make words play like that. Luckily for me, my husband had read it too and we still quote bits to each other.
My copies of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books are also in pieces, but that in itself is three. If I have to pick one it would the last, The Tombs of Atuan, because I didn’t realise until I was an adult that however much I loved Ged, the character of Tenar had so much more to say to me.
As for the third, I’m a sucker for 19thC female writers. I’m a big fan of Jane Austen (Persuasion and Emma over Pride and Prejudice) but in the end it would be a hard to choose between Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley and Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. Both are absorbing books that pull you into a world that was changing profoundly — in work, in politics, in the choices women had to live their lives.
Thank you so much Amanda and I’m sorry to be so cruel for only allowing you 3 books! 🙂
| About the Book |
A normal family. A quiet, leafy street. A terrifying epidemic.
It’s been coming for a while: a lethal illness. With sons of five and fourteen to look out for, Hannah has been stockpiling supplies, despite everyone telling her that it’s unnecessary.
Then it arrives.
At first there are a few unconfirmed cases. Then a death. Now the whole city is quarantined. But Hannah’s family is not yet safe behind their locked front door…
Basics soon become luxuries, and neighbours become hazards. There are power cuts, food shortages and an ever-growing sense of claustrophobia. How will the family cope?
How would you cope?
How far would you go to protect your children?
BEFORE THIS IS OVER by Amanda Hickie is a powerful, thought-provoking drama that looks at one family in the heart of a devastated community and compels us to ask: how far would I go to save my children? ‘Shatteringly suspenseful…it’s impossible not to be super-glued to the page’ Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of PICTURES OF YOU
Originally published under the title AN ORDINARY EPIDEMIC.
| About the author |
Amanda Hickie was born in Sydney and has lived in Australia most of her life. In 2000, she moved for some time to Canada, and was living there when Toronto was one of two centres of a SARS outbreak. Observing the news, and the response of those around her, she became interested in what decisions a family might have to make to survive an epidemic on the scale of the 1918 flu.
Amanda lives in Sydney with her husband, two sons and two cats.