Monday, July 4, 2011

Interview: Amanda Coetzee

Amanda Coetzee, South African based author of Bad Blood, was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule as writer, deputy principal and mother to do a quick interview.

Bad Blood is published by Pan Macillan SA and is currently available at all good bookstores. If you haven't done so already be sure to read the review of Bad Blood posted earlier.

Firstly, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Would be delighted! Am 43 years old, originally from England and emigrated to RSA when I married my South African husband 13 years ago. We have a 2 year old son and four dogs. I am the deputy principal of a busy school in Rustenburg and love (almost) every second of my chaotic life.
Bad Blood is your debut novel. What has the experience been like of having your first novel published?

It has been a long time dream to see my work in print and that’s probably the best way to describe it. A dream shared and fulfilled. The process of publishing a book is more complex than I imagined, and there are a lot of people/systems involved in getting it from a draft form to finished product. I have yet to get over the thrill of seeing my book on the shelves, although most local book stores are long over me hanging around like a potential shop lifter…

How would you describe your work to someone who might see Bad Blood on the shelves and wonder if it would be something they would like.

It is a crime thriller that focuses on the why rather than the who in the crime. I hope it grabs your attention and keeps you reading avidly to the last page. It contains violence and love in equal measure and is based around the secretive and nomadic Irish Travelling community.

Where do you get your ideas? What is your writing process like?

I start with a topic that interests me and then research much more information that I could ever use or need. I normally choose a title before I start planning and writing and spend hours thinking about possible plotlines and characters. Eventually I draw a flow chart for the basic storyline and then I start to write. I often plan chapters, dialogue etc in my head before I put it on paper, so by the time I begin to write, I have a pretty good idea of what I want to say. I am also fairly disciplined. I set myself targets in terms of daily word counts, as I think it is a lot easier to edit poor writing than stare at a blank page.

Bad Blood is set in Bedford, England, but you are a South African author. Why the choice of an overseas setting rather than a local one?

I have written a locally set novel too but Pan Macmillan decided to go with the English story. I do feel I have a more authentic voice when I write about England as I lived there for the first 26 years of my life. South Africa still thrills and shocks me in ways that quickly identify me as an immigrant but I love my adopted homeland and read a great deal of local fiction.

The dialogue in Bad Blood really stands out. Did you put extra effort into getting it sounding just right or is it something that comes naturally?

I studied Performing Arts and although my ability to speak in different accents is notoriously appalling, I have a good ear for tone and inflexion. The Irish Travelling dialect is almost impossible to understand by outsiders, so research was an essential tool in trying to make their communication accessible but realistic.

The depiction of the Traveller (gypsy) community, their lifestyle and customs seems very authentic. Did you spend any actual time with them or is it based purely on research?

There was a great deal of research involved, but pretty much everyone in England has an experience or opinion of Travellers. My initial interest was piqued by my Aunt who spoke of our Romany blood and my grandmother’s clan, the Seths. The Travellers are seen as less romantic than traditional gypsies and are often associated with general lawlessness and crime. My father worked with them on the farm as a young man, which we had never spoken about until he read a draft of the book and asked how I knew about Shelta (their language). I also met a group that attended our high school for a short period and many of the descriptions of Mikey and Seamus stem from that brief interaction when I helped them read in a special group during register period.

Children, and more importantly missing children, play a huge role in the book. Is that something that’s of particular importance to you?

Definitely. The innocence of a child is so fragile and the world is unforgivably careless with our children. I know I would kill to protect my son and expect my husband to avenge anyone who tried to hurt him. I think that’s the Badger in me.

The protagonist, Harry O’ Connor is a flawed and conflicted character with a huge amount of emotional baggage. Why did you choose to go this route instead of just having a run-of-the-mill hero swooping in to save the day?

I wanted to create a character who was a paradox and whose layers would be revealed throughout the novel. I never wanted his personal story to overwhelm the plot, but I wanted him to be interesting enough to exist past Bad Blood. I love Harry, his doubts coupled with his uncompromising character really appeal to me. I wanted the male antagonist to combine ruthlessness and tenderness and be capable of both.

You’ve signed a three-book deal. Will we see some more of Harry or will your next novels be unconnected to Bad Blood? When can readers expect the next one?

Redemption Song features Harry and is due for release in 2012. The third book is currently undergoing potential construction in my head, but ultimately Pan Macmillan will decide if Harry O’Connor will be part of a trilogy.

Who are your favourite authors? Any that inspired/influenced you as a writer?

I love Karin Slaughter, Lisa Gardner, Lee Child and Harlan Coben for the intriguing characters that form the backbone of their series. I like good storytelling, with damaged characters and a dose of humour and/or love to counter the violence.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Do not give up. Rejection letters are great firelighters for the braai and necessary scars for an author to temper their talent and stamina upon. Let people read your work and be prepared to learn from their comments. Keep trying, keep writing and find the story you really want to tell, then you are far more likely to tell it really well.

Anything else you’d like to add or say to your fans?

Thanks for reading Bad Blood and I’d love to hear what you think on the Facebook page.


A huge thank you to Amanda for doing the interview. I know I will definitely be picking up Redemption Song as soon as it is released. I can't wait to see what Harry gets up to next, hopefully there will be some more unusual dialogue involved!

1 comment:

  1. Great interview! Amanda I love your comment about "letters are great firelighters for the braai". I know quite a few writers than need to learn that lesson.

    Bad Blood sounds fascinating! I will definitely have to pick it up!