|Amanda Lees is the author of the bestselling satirical novels Selling Out and Secret Admirer as well as the acclaimed YA trilogy Kumari: Goddess of Gotham, Goddess of Secrets and Goddess of Destiny. She has a degree in drama and her first telly job was as a member of the Communist Resistance in ‘Allo ‘Allo. This involved running around with a dachshund tucked under one arm and deploying her best cod French accent. It’s all been dramatically downhill since.A broadcaster as well as an actress and novelist, Amanda appears regularly on BBC radio and LBC and was a contracted writer to the hit series Weekending on Radio 4. She won an award at the Hungarian Film Festival for a short film called Pros and Cons that she produced, and has a number of film and book projects currently in development. Here are Amanda’s top five writing tips:
Amanda’s top 5 writing tips
1. Write what you don’t know. Forget the old adage – it’s far more fun to explore outside your comfort zone. The trick is to then get to know everything you can about your subject. For one of my next books I crawled around in the mud in the Brecon Beacons alongside 20 men waving AK47s and then shared a tent with them. It was hell but I’m all for suffering in the name of art. Seriously, the excitement of your discoveries will transfer to the reader. There will be far more freshness about your work as the story unfolds for both you and your audience. And, unlike me, you might just emerge without being shot in the bum
2. Set aside writing time. When I first started writing I had a temp job so I got up an hour earlier each morning to write. I also scheduled in several hours during weekends and evenings (as well as sneaking in time whenever the boss wasn’t looking!). After I got my first deal I had the luxury of writing full time but all that changed again when I had my daughter. I learned once more to write in snatches and to value whatever pockets of time I had. If you have a spare half hour – write. Those half hours soon add up.
3. Be ruthless with that writing time. Turn off the phone and issue strict orders that you are not to be disturbed. It took me years to train my partner not to wander in when I’m writing. This time is sacred. It’s your time. How successful you are at this depends on my next point.
4. Take your writing seriously. Give it your heart and soul and guard it well. By this I mean don’t discuss it with anybody, at least not while you are getting that first draft down and possibly even the fourth. It’s too easy to feel crushed by someone else’s opinion and to then give up. This is your baby and you must nurture it until you feel it’s ready to go out into the world. There are way too many unfulfilled people out there ready and willing to pour cold water on those who dare to dream. Avoid them like the plague until you can slap your bestselling paperback into their hands.
5. Feed the muse.Thankfully this is not the fashion world – a writer positively needs to gorge but on ideas rather than chocolate (although if you’re Dorothy you cleverly combine the two). Keep reading as much as you can although I tend to avoid anything in the same genre that might inadvertently affect my work in progress. Visit galleries, museums, parks – watch people, feast on everyday life and let it enrich your work.
Find out more about Amanda at her website: http://amandalees.com
Amanda’s Essential Reads
I’m a voracious reader and it’s impossible for me to pick out five books over all the others I’ve read. Here’s the closest I can come – my current favourites list:
|Child 44 by Tom Rob SmithA brilliantly plotted, chilling account of one man’s struggle for redemption in Stalinist Russia. Although this is ostensibly about a hunt for a mass murderer, in reality it’s a window into a regime that brutalised so many people, including its unlikely hero. Read it to understand how fast humanity disappears in the face of fear and how some choices are too stark to contemplate.|
|Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John BerendtOne of my perennial favourites – I’m a sucker for Southern American Gothic and Berendt is one of the best. Wildly seductive and wickedly entertaining, this is all the more enthralling because it’s a true story.|
|Tell No One by Harlan CobenI’m a huge fan of Harlan Coben’s stand-alone psychological thrillers and this is particularly brilliant. Clever plot, cracking dialogue and characters you care about. It’s intelligent and gripping from the off with Coben’s trademark wit acting as an effective counterpoint to the darker moments.|
|Street Without a Name by Kapka KassabovaI admit to a vested interest here as I have a house in Bulgaria but you don’t need to have dipped a toe in the Black Sea to enjoy this book. Kapka Kassabova grew up in Sofia in the dying years of Cold War Communism. Now living in Edinburgh, she revisits the country of her birth and the result is part bittersweet travelogue and part scathingly honest, wryly funny observation.|
|Restless by William BoydBoyd is a superb storyteller and this is one of this finest. It’s about a woman who was once a wartime spy but has successfully rebuilt her life under a false name and identity. Now in her twilight years, she is faced with one last assignment and in order to complete it she needs her daughter’s help. A riveting page-turner with a great deal of depth underpinning the excitement.|