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Waterstone’s New Voices 2009 – Interview Three – Amanda Smyth

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Amanda Smyths debute novel Black Rock

Amanda Smyth's debute novel Black Rock

Amanda Smyth has been included on the Waterstone’s ones to watch list 2009, after her debut novel Black Rock was well received by critics. The Independent book reviewer Lesly McDowell labelled Smyth’s story as “a powerful, authentic one” describing the protaginest Celia as “an appealing, earthy, yet spiritual heroine who grows, wounded and embattled, through the course of the book.”

Amanda’s has sited her own Trinidadian roots as being a big influence on her, and after completing an MA in creative writing at UEA in 2000, her short stories were published in New Writing and London magazine as well as being broadcast on radio 4 as part of a series called Love and Loss. After having a number of short stories published Amanda Smyth received an Arts Council Grant for her first novel Black Rock.

Taking time to talk to The Scribbler Amanda discuses becoming published, where she gets her ideas from and what struggles she faced with her debut Novel Black Rock.

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The Scribbler: What is different about your writing that helps it stand out from other new writers at the moment?

Amanda Smyth: Gosh, that’s not a question for me to answer, I think. There’s a great deal of wonderful international writing out there. Perhaps the only thing I might have to offer that’s a little different is the location. My novel is set in Trinidad.

TS: As a ‘New Voice of 2009’ you must be inspired by some very contemporary authors. Which writers do you enjoy reading and draw inspiration from?

AS: I really enjoy reading Jhumpa Lahiri, Jamaica Kincaid, Richard Ford

TS: Our readers will be very interested in how you approach a writing project. Where do you lift your ideas from?

AS: Black Rock was originally inspired by a true story that came from my childhood. My great grandfather was murdered in Trinidad in 1950s, and I began Black Rock with the idea of writing about this event. I strayed very faraway (!) but that was the first seed of thought.

TS: When you first began writing how easy was it to find and sign to publisher? Can you talk us through that process?

AS: Initially I wrote short stories, and after graduating from Creative Writing MA at UEA, I was lucky enough to quickly find an agent, and there was some interest in a collection. Twice I came close to getting the stories published as a whole, but then the possibilities fell through. It was tough. I was advised to get on and write a novel. At the time, I was very in to Jean Rhys, and I remember reading a quote about novel writing from her letters: “All you have to do is start it, get on with it, and finish it.” So this is kind of what I did! And yes, it wasn’t easy finding the right publisher, but it did all come together in the end.

TS: What obstacles have you come across in your writing and how did you overcome them?

AS: I think we all have blind spots, in one way or another. Learning to take criticism from people who know more than me was a big thing. There were moments when I’d feel defensive around feedback. But I think I really learned how to *hear* it, and learn from it and move on. That was so important – in order to get better.

TS: We often hear that artists have trouble dealing with their own pieces (i.e. musicians not able to listen to their albums etc.) How do you feel about your own work? Are you comfortable with it?

AS: Yes, I think so. I know when I’ve tried to take a short cut, and there’s just no point in it. Why kid yourself.

TS: Have you already started work on your next book? Is it difficult to leave one piece behind and start new one?

AS: I have something stewing… And yes, I think it can be difficult, especially if you’re still involved in the current book with readings etc.

Amanda Smyth

Amanda Smyth

TS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given and advice would you give to our budding readers today?

AS: Always assume your reader is much brighter than you are.

TS: In your opinion what is Black Rock about?

AS: It’s a coming of age story.

TS: What books inspired you to pick up the pen and start writing?

AS: In my early days of writing, I think I wrote things down as a way of trying to understand them.

TS: What is your learning background?, and do you feel it helped you in writing your novel?

AS: I wanted to act when I was young, and did bits of TV, commercials, theatre work, so I didn’t bother going to university. As long as I had an equity card I could get work. But then I met a writing teacher/poet/journalist in Trinidad while I was living there. I went to his workshops every week and learned as much as I could. He changed my life. Then I came back to UK and applied to UEA to do the MA in Creative Writing. I found some of the academic work challenging, but the creative writing workshops were terrific.

TS :What does it mean to you to be named as one of the New Voices of 2009 by Waterstones?

AS: This was just wonderful, especially when I saw the other selected novels. And last year’s list was terrific, too. It’s a great honour.

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Promote or rant about Amanda Smyth or any of your favourite new writers for 2009 and expect more Q&As with the novelists on the Waterstones ones to watch list 2009.

Words: Seamus Swords

Ones to read in 2009

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Richard Milward author of Ten Storey Love Song, one of Waterstones New Voices of 2009

Richard Milward author of Ten Storey Love Song, one of Waterstones' New Voices of 2009

In true eagle-eyed Scribbler enthusiasm, we have sought out – with the help of Waterstones – the writers we all need to look out for and read this year.

The high street booksellers, Waterstone’s this week announced its New Voices for 2009, the books from emerging writers that the chain believes will go on to feature in and possibly win the literary awards of the year.

Incredibly half the choices came from independent publishers, including A Kind of Intimacy, a debut by prison librarian Jenn Ashworth which is being compared to Notes on a Scandal, and Ablutions by Patrick DeWitt.

Waterstone’s fiction category manager, Toby Bourne said: “There are a huge number of novels published every year and it is very difficult to say which will strike awards gold and which will not, but we had a fantastic hit rate last year.”

Included in 2008’s selection were Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger which went on to win the Man Booker, Sadie JonesThe Outcast, which was awarded the Costa First Novel Award, and other novels that made Richard & Judy’s Book Club (bleurgh!) and other awards shortlists.

“Even more so than last year, debut fiction dominates our list, with only the precociously talented Richard Milward two novels into his career,” said Waterstone’s fiction buyer, Janine Cook, who helped choose the list.”

Ten Torey Love Song by Richard Milward, only his second book, is a novel written in a single, 286-page paragraph by the 24-year-old.

Cook went onto to say: “The writers may be new, but they have huge talent and these books deserve to compete with those from more established writers for both the attention of readers and for the big prizes.

“This is an invaluable opportunity for these authors to reach the widest possible audience. The Outcast and The White Tiger have gone on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies between them since inclusion in New Voices 2008, so the rewards can be very high.”

Waterstones’ New Voices will be featured in Waterstones’ stores and online at from 5 March.

The titles are:

Watch a Richard Millward talk about his New Voices of 2009 highlighted novel Ten Storey Love Song below:

So then, has anyone read any of these new offerings? Will anyone be looking into any of these books now they have received the titles of New Voices of 2009? It’s gotta be a good thing right?

Words: Dean Samways

Keep coming back to The Scribbler for interviews with the New Voices of 2009 in the coming weeks