In conversation with... Amy Lord

Hi Amy! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of The Disappeared! Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you! The Disappeared is dystopian fiction. It’s about a young woman who uses banned books to fight back against an authoritarian regime after the disappearance of her father. The story is told from the perspective of both Clara and the major, who is the book’s antagonist and the man responsible for Clara’s father being taken. It’s about obsession, the importance of personal freedom and what happens when that is taken away.

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing the book or did it take an unexpected turn as the characters grew on the page?

A: I thought about the story for a long time before I wrote anything down. When I started writing I had an idea of how the first section of the book would pan out, but the rest came as I went along. I did plan scenes out as I worked, but not too rigidly. I only get so far with planning before impatience sets in and then I like to start writing and see where the words take me!

What kind of research, if any, did you have to carry out while you were writing this novel? In general, is research something you enjoy or a means to an end?

A: I’m not a big fan of research; I prefer to use my imagination as much as possible. There were a few small things I had to look up when writing The Disappeared, but nothing that had a big impact on the plot.

If this novel was going to be turned into a film, who would you cast in the role of Clara?

A: It’s not a very exciting answer, but I don’t know! Whenever I imagine a film being made, I tend to picture who might play the major. I think Cillian Murphy would be perfect, or perhaps Tom Hardy. Just putting that out into the universe…

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: The book is quite dark and violent in places, so it was often challenging to write. It’s a serious subject and one that I wanted to do justice to, so I did feel pressure in that sense.

I’m probably most proud of the ending, for the writing and emotional threads that come together within the story. I’ve read it so many times when editing and always feel it physically in my chest.

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: Yes! I worked on the book for about five-and-a-half years, over a lot of different drafts, so huge chunks of the story got deleted over time. Originally, the whole book was written from Clara’s perspective, which was limiting as it meant I couldn’t explore her father’s story as she wasn’t present for any of those scenes. I started with some dream style sequences that addressed his narrative, but they didn’t really work. I’d also had some feedback that the character of the major was too stereotypically evil, so I rewrote about a third of the book from his perspective to try and get into his mind-set and show his motivations.

There’s also a section towards the end of the book, with Clara’s childhood friend, which I only wrote during the developmental edit before the book was published. It replaced a similar storyline that didn’t have the same pace or connection to the wider narrative.

While I took a lot out, I added a lot too. The first draft came in at 60,000 words, whereas the final book is 90,000.

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: My next book is quite different – it’s not dystopian fiction but you could call it speculative. It doesn’t have a proper title, but I’m toying with calling it Swallow(s). It’s about a young woman who’s dissatisfied with her life and longs for something more. An unexpected event leads to a drug overdose and she ends up able to see what her life would have been like if she’d done things differently.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: I’m currently switching between two books. The first is the Common People anthology of working class writers, edited by Kit de Waal, which was released by my publisher, Unbound. I supported the book during its crowdfunding campaign, so it’s exciting to see how well it’s been received. I’m also reading The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, which is a memoir about a couple who decide to walk the 630-mile South West Coast Path in the UK after losing their home and business, and discovering the husband is terminally ill. The first few pages broke my heart utterly, but it’s such a beautifully written book.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: I spend a lot of time on social media and I’m terrible for that mindless scrolling that ends up costing you hours that could have been spent more productively. But social media has lots of positives too: when my book came out and people started to receive their copies, I got so many lovely messages and photos of it out in the world. And I’m a new writer, so having lots of readers distract me with messages is still something to dream about!

However, it’s more general marketing that eats into my time. I’ve been focused on promoting The Disappeared since the start of the year, as well as finishing the final edits, so haven’t had much time to work on my new book. But I’m hoping to reduce the time spent on marketing now The Disappeared is out and put more energy into the next story. 

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: The best piece of advice I can give is to keep going. Perseverence is really important in writing. So many aspiring writers give up too soon. It is hard and you will get rejections, but everyone does. I’m not sure it’s a mountain most of us will ever climb completely: there’s always another obstacle to overcome or goal to aim for, but there some special moments along the way that make it worthwhile.

Thank you for your time!

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