Talking Location With author Charlotte Rixon – Newcastle
Psychological thriller set in St Ives, plus we chat to author Amanda Jennings
1st June 2016
In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings, psychological thriller set in St Ives.
“A perfect life…. until she discovered it wasn’t her own”
In Her Wake has had widespread critical acclaim, and deservedly so. It is well written and thoughtfully constructed.
Bella has “A perfect life” according to the description on the back cover. But the story has hardly begun and it is evident that cracks in her current and past life are profound. Married to David, a stultifying husband who essentially likes to control, she has learned to be biddable. The couple arrives at her parents’ house – the gloomy Old Vicarage – as her Mother has just passed away. But soon Bella does not only have the death of her mother to contend with! As the story unfolds she is presented with new and shocking information about her very core.
Looking back on her relationship with her parents, Bella’s nature to mollify and acquiesce was set very early on. Her mother was anxiously attached to her, having miscarried multiple times. The cloying environment that her mother created, her focus on keeping Bella safe and confined at home, has certainly taken its toll.
Once Bella makes her startling discovery, she finds herself compelled to take off for St Ives and look up the members of a family based down there. She does this at the drop of a hat, and, totally out of character, leaves David behind.
Away from him, she has a chance to emotionally breathe and adjust to her new knowledge, and take time to find out who she really is… on more levels than one.
She makes contact with the new family, and although she encounters hostility at first, she soon has a firm foot through the door, she propels herself into this very fragile family set-up, totally focussed on her own needs. At this point I felt torn between my empathy for her in her new found circumstances, and Dawn in her humble family home. Dawn just doesn’t have the sustained wherewithal to withstand Bella’s determination. Psychologically speaking this is probably not surprising – having been controlled all her life, her unconscious drive, in turn, might be to control those around her.
The author tackles so many issues and cleverly manages to dovetail them in a credible, informed and very readable way. A mature woman discovering who she really is, on so many levels, a hackneyed theme, but there is sufficient psychological depth that the reader can root for her, despite her gauche and controlling sorties into a world that is very new to her.
A gripping and enthralling read.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
Over to Amanda who has agreed to answer our questions:
TF: In “In Her Wake” you tackle the issue of controlling/abusive behaviour within relationship and family units. It can a very subtle but extremely insidious dynamic. What drew you to tackle this issue? Did that come first or did it develop as you built the story?
AJ: I am very interested in the ways that people manipulate others, and how some behaviours can seem acceptable to one person but in actual fact are controlling to the point of emotional abuse. This element was something that developed as the story grew. I wanted to look at how a person might ‘contain’ a child they had taken but without hurting that child, and so Elaine became a very controlling person who set up a rigid framework – driven by her fear of being discovered the child being taken away from her – for Bella to exist within. As I delved deeper into the subject I wondered about what type of adult this child would grow into, how controlling behaviour can actually be linked to people becoming dependent. I knew that Bella had it within her to break free, but she was only able to do such a thing in gradual steps. When she finally leaves her childhood home, she is automatically drawn to someone who wants to look after her, make her decisions for her, control her. So she falls from one restrictive environment into another because this is what she is conditioned to need. Human beings have very complex relationships and this has always fascinated me, as has the idea of looking deeper into those relationships that might prompt an onlooker to say ‘but I just don’t understand why she stays with him?’ I want to understand why.
TF: Bella seems remarkably competent given her background and relationships. My heart went out to her in general terms, although she made me squirm when she barged in on the family in St Ives, and started to almost take over. How did you work out her psychology and the bits that would work for the story and the bits that wouldn’t?
AJ: I think she had no choice but to foist herself on her family in St Ives. They were all she had left. She was utterly lost. So much damage had been done and in many ways she felt responsible, so wanted to help. She wanted to make up for all the wrongs that had been done to her real family. She felt complicit in the crime – even though, of course, she wasn’t – but wasn’t sure how to make things better. She had grown up with a very forceful ‘mother’ and this woman – who had cared for her, cooked for her, made things safe – was her role model. As was her husband who also tried to make things better by forcing care and concern on her. She had no other example to follow having had this very cosseted and damaged life. But, in the end, her trying to assume this role, unnaturally perhaps, was nearly her undoing in a very tragic way, which highlights the fact that she really wasn’t as competent as she was trying to be. She wanted to be strong, to ‘fix’ things, but it wasn’t as straightforward as that. Bella had to grow as a person as she uncovered the mystery of her life and work out how to interact and engage with other people and form relationships with those people who shared her blood.
TF: The Mermaid of Zennor has been a popular choice in fiction. She also features in your book. Can you tell us a little more about the church carving and how you were particularly drawn to her?
AJ: My mother is from the area and I have been visiting Zennor every since I was tiny. My parents now have a house in Zennor, and the stream that the mermaid swims up from the sea in runs straight through their garden, so I feel a particular connection to the story. I adore myths and legends and always have done. When I first saw the carving on the pew in the church I was very moved by it and knew I wanted to weave this myth into my story to highlight the delicacy of Bella’s state of mind as she battles with the truths she unveils and the emotions she has to confront. There is something very freeing and peaceful about swimming underwater, about the silence that envelops you. It was this atmosphere, this peace, that I wanted to capture, so the mermaid legend leant itself very nicely.
TF: What was your own route to getting published and what are your tips be for an early days author?
AJ: It was fairly typical, I think. Insofar as it was long and involved a lot of rejection! There was one book written and then another – an early version of In Her Wake, in fact, which was called The Merrymaid and I – with which I was lucky enough to secure my agent but sadly not an editor. I finally got a publishing deal with my next book, Sworn Secret, which was published seven years after I started writing that first novel. A writer chasing a traditional publishing deal needs determination and a thick skin. And a good work ethic. Nothing comes easily in life and hard work is so important when it comes to realising ones dreams. If I had to offer one very practical tip to an aspiring author it would be: get your first draft written. Without a first draft there is nothing to work with. It’s so tempting to rewrite those early chapters and polish them over and over, but until you have a complete body of work it’s impossible to see the shape of the story it will become. Your first draft is your lump of clay to shape and improve, refine and work into, during the edit. The edit is where the magic happens. Everybody’s first draft is no good, but within the first draft is everything you need, all the ingredients you require, to finish a book you can be proud of.
TF: What is next for you in terms of writing and travelling?
AJ: We are heading to Zennor for a few days, which I’m very much looking forward to, and then in the summer we are going to Tuscany with my family and then will have a few days walking in the French Alps. I adore the mountains – with snow and without – as much as I love the sea! I am currently battling with the first draft or my fourth book and remembering the advice I just gave to aspiring writers. ‘All first drafts are no good but you can’t write a decent book without one….’
TF: You clearly know the area around St Ives really well. What are your top tips for visitors to the area?
AJ: Oh, what a lovely question! Definitely take a walk out towards Zennor, maybe stopping for a drink in The Tinner’s Arms (which makes a cameo appearance in In Her Wake!). Visit Cape Cornwall for a dose of pure maritime passion. For something very unusual go to the Minack Theatre, which is an outdoor theatre carved into the cliff and overlooking the sea. Sennen Cove is the most magnificent beach (though does get very busy in the summer). Go at low tide and enjoy the huge expanse of golden sand. Have breakfast at West Beach Cafe on Porthmeor Beach – amazing food and a setting on the beach to die for! And then, for a special occasion, book an outdoor heated ‘pod’ at Porthmeor Cafe, again right on Porthmeor Beach, for supper and watch the sun go down. And if it rains, buy a proper Cornish pasty and take a thermos of tea, park up somewhere overlooking the sea, and watch the waves crashing beneath a dark, grey sky from the warmth of your car. Bliss!
Thanks for this great set of questions! And for featuring In Her Wake.
For more books set in CORNWALL, just click here