Your narrative swaps mainly between mother and daughter, Laura and Kate, and shifts from the 1970s to the present day. I like the way you weave detail in each section, showing the setting rather than stating the year. Was it an easy thing to navigate between the two eras?
It was – but only as I wrote them separately and then weaved the two stories together! When I initially started writing As If I Were A River, it was just Kate’s story and the first draft only had her point of view. Kate lived in London at the same time as I did, so most of the settings she found herself in were the ones I experienced in the few years that I lived there. When I finished the first draft and read it back through I realised that Laura needed to be there too so then I immersed myself in her character and the 1970s setting appeared quite naturally. I was born in 1972 and I have some pretty vivid memories of fashion, food, TV and music from the late 70s when Laura’s story starts and they just came out in the writing. I’ve also lived in Lancaster where she comes from.
Once I had written Laura’s story in, I sent the novel off for a professional critique. It was the feedback I got then that led to Una’s story being in the final version through her letters and diaries. My initial reaction when I read the recommendation to bring Una’s point of view in was ‘Noooo’ but I quickly realised it was the right decision. And I really enjoyed writing Una’s side of the story and recognising how what it was revealing had unconsciously echoed through what I’d already written in Kate and Laura’s stories.
There is an obvious resemblance between Kate’s responses to her situation and how her father, Ken, reacted to his loss. Do you feel Kate's problem with Ken is partly due to a clash of personalities?
That’s an interesting question and now that I think about it, yes it probably is a lot to do with that. Kate sees in him the things that she doesn’t like about herself but has never faced up to. Facing up to things about your personality that need improving is a hard thing to do and her biggest problem is that that she can’t properly deal with her emotions, or those of the people she shares her life with. So she just breezes along not letting herself think too deeply and keeping things at a pretty superficial level with everyone. Then when Jimmy goes missing these barriers she’s spent her whole life erecting come crumbling down.
This is something that really interests me – how some people appear to be going through life never really reflecting and looking inside themselves in order to grow. And what it would take to finally make them do that. Although we can never really know what people are thinking, even those that are closest to us.
It’s easy to view Jimmy as the villain of the piece, although he’s never given a voice. His actions are clearly irresponsible and selfish. But do you have any sympathy for his character, given that Kate has deep-rooted problems and might not have been the easiest person to live with?
I’ve had a very changeable relationship with Jimmy. To start with I didn’t even know where he’d gone. I was several months into writing Kate’s story before I realised and at that point I really didn’t like him, I was completely on Kate’s side. But as I got to know her more and the many issues she has came to the surface, I did start to have a tiny bit of sympathy for him as nobody is ever all good or all bad. I don’t think what he did is OK but a part of me can understand why he did it. He has his own issues that made him deal with it in the way he did – a weakness that means he can’t stand up for himself and will do anything to avoid confrontation.
I love the river as a metaphor for life circumstances as it’s forced into different directions, depending on the terrain. How much control do you believe people have over their own destinies?
Oh, that is such a hard question to answer! There are so many different factors that influence it. I think the more I learn about life the less I know. I was so certain about things when I younger but now I’m always seeking answers as I’ve come to realise that there is really very little I know for definite.
A part of me believes we don’t really have any control over our destinies, as there will always be the random, unforeseen happening that changes everything. How many life plans have you made that never come to fruition as something you hadn’t even thought of comes along and you find yourself doing something different? I know it’s happened to me plenty of times and I’ve ended up living many different lives that I’d never imagined would be mine.
But another part of me thinks you do have some control as many things I’ve said I wanted in life have come true as I’ve set about making them happen. Are we in control of our lives? This is one of the questions I was asking when writing As If I Were A River and, to be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever have just one answer.
Thanks so much for your brilliant questions, Shirley. I really enjoyed answering them. I’m looking forward to picking your brains in return soon when Skyjacked comes out.
Thank you, Amanda for this deeper insight into your characters and thoughts behind writing your novel. It's been a real pleasure having you over, and I wish you every success for this novel and your future writing.
The link to my review is here.
Today, I'm delighted to welcome Amanda Saint, another talented Urbane author to my website.
Her wonderful debut novel, As If I Were A River, is released today, and is the story of three generations of women, Una, Laura and Kate. It deals with loss, denial and acceptance, and explores how life events can often take us in unexpected directions.
We discuss viewpoint, characters, swapping between eras and destiny.
Interview with Amanda Saint