Conversation: Amanda Jennings & Tammy Cohen
Last year I invited James Law and Susi Holliday to join me for a chat at Grab This Book. My plan had been to try and recreate the feel of a festival event or a book launch conversation in a single blog post. It was great fun to do, but my plan to bring together two strangers who would share the experience of being published for the first time slightly missed the mark when I ‘introduced’ two good friends.
I was keen to invite more guests to join me this year and, on finishing the astonishing In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings, I contacted Amanda to ask if she would be interested in chatting to a friend (with me listening in). Having clarified what I was hoping to achieve through the ‘chat’, Amanda suggested that Tammy Cohen may be willing to join in. I was beyond delighted when Tammy agreed.
This is what happened next:
GTB: Hi Tammy, Amanda thanks for joining me. Unlike the last time I had two guests here for a chat, I know in advance that you are good friends outwith the Social Media world. Should I be worried about what I may have let myself in for?
Amanda: Well, Tammy is a terrible influence on me, to be honest. We bonded on Twitter over a shared envy of the black-edged pages of a hardback edition of Gone Girl. God, I really want black-edged pages one day. When you get black-edged pages you know you’ve made it.
I can’t remember when we first met in real life, probably because Cohen fed me too much wine. I speak to her quite regularly on the phone because she is one of the few people who understands the self-doubt that plagues me as a writer. Also, she is generally having a worse day than me, so we have a jolly good moan, then a bit of a laugh, and maybe a chat about the film script we will one day write together, which we’ve been talking about – but not writing – for ages.
Tammy: I think saying I’m generally having a worse day than you is pretty fair actually, Amanda. I like to think of it as an extra service I offer my writer friends to convince them things aren’t going so badly for them after all.
Seriously though, having close writer friends like Amanda is one of the unforeseen upsides of being published. There are so many neuroses tied up in spending the best part of a year holed up in your own head that only someone else who does the same thing can really understand that particular blend of agony, tedium, self-loathing mixed with the (very) occasional bolt of elation it induces. And then when you couple that with the other seemingly irreconcilable aspects of being published – having to stand up in front of lots of people and waffle on in a (hopefully) coherent way and being expected to go out and promote your own book, you can understand how vital it is to be able to offload to someone who knows what you’re going on about.
The thing is, writing is such a privilege, and I don’t think any of us ever forget that, but it can also be very socially isolating, so having writer mates is such a relief. When we’re trying to distract ourselves from having to work, there is no subject too minor for Amanda and I to discuss at ridiculous length. So, Gordon, the short answer to your question is yes, you should be afraid. Very afraid.
GTB: I will consider myself suitably warned and am now drawing some small comfort from the fact I am in a different country from you both!
So, Amanda’s latest book has just released and Tammy you are rapidly approaching your next publication day.
Until now much of what you have been working on is shrouded in secrecy. Amanda, did unleashing In Her Wake bring new fears or was there an overwhelming feeling of relief that the edits and revisions were done?
Amanda: This book has been with me for such a long time, and has undergone quite a transformation through multiple rewrites and the gained experience of publishing two books between writing the first draft and publication, that by the time we neared publication I was actually quite pleased not to have to read it again.
But at the same time, there was great trepidation. At this stage the book is no longer mine. It’s under the control of my editor and publishing house, so even if I wanted to shout ‘no, I’m not ready, don’t publish it!’ I couldn’t. It’s a very surreal feeling to send that final, FINAL, version – edited, revised, and proofed – knowing it’s heading out into the big bad world.
I always feel like I should crack open the Champagne to celebrate, but really I just want to hide beneath the duvet for six months! This is the moment when the real self-doubt sets in, but it coincides with the time when you have to shout about it and convince people they will love reading it! This is why authors love book bloggers so much. To have early support, and people who want to share your book, helps so much in these early days.
Tammy: Amanda is being modest about her ‘early support’. In reality there was so much fanfaring about In Her Wake from the blogging and writing communities around publication day that we had to decree that day #InHerWake Day for ever more. But she’s absolutely right about that weird, seemingly neverending pre-publication limbo between signing off the final page proofs and waiting for the first independent, unbiased reviews to come in. And of course during that wait you (for which read ‘I’) convince yourself that the book is absolutely the worst thing ever written, and everybody is going to hate it and make you into a laughing stock when it eventually does come out.
At the moment I’m two and a half weeks away from publication of When She Was Bad, and luckily I’ve had some great feedback from bloggers and early reviewers on NetGalley and Lovereading, so I’m slightly less convinced that people will be openly pointing and jeering in the streets. Only slightly mind.
I find the only way not to obsess about publication is to have started a new project, so my focus isn’t on the book that’s coming out but the book I’m writing next. Amanda, have you got any tricks up your sleeve to stop you refreshing your Amazon rankings every hour?
Amanda: Every hour? *looks sheepish* You mean every ten minutes is too often? I think shifting focus on to another project is by far the most sensible thing to do. The trouble is there’s always something akin to a mourning period for me, when my brain seems locked on that last book, unable to fully dive into the next. I’m in that peculiar limbo now, my new project is there, emerging through the mist so that I can just make out the characters and have a glimpse of the story, but not quite been grabbed yet. It will come. Perhaps I need to cut down the checking of Amazon rankings to only once per hour…
While we’re talking about early reviews, I’m lucky enough to say I’ve read an early copy of When She Was Bad and loved it. It’s brilliant to see it getting reviewed so well. The book gives us a delicious window into the world of office politics with all the dark humour and piercing observation that we’ve come to expect from you. I’d love to know what drew you to the idea of exploring the realms of ‘Office Noir’?
Tammy: Thank you Amanda, for that seamless invitation to talk about MY NEW BOOK! And for saying such kind things about it too. The Office Noir (or Paperclip Lit if you prefer) aspect of ‘When She Was Bad’ came about really because I couldn’t face the idea of writing another thriller with a domestic setting. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading about dysfunctional marriages and dark family secrets, but I felt I needed a break from writing about that. And if you want to get right away from the domestic, the workplace is the obvious setting.
Many of us spend more of our lives with our workmates than with our families, yet how much do we really know about them – what their background is, and what they’re capable of? In ‘When She Was Bad’, a group of people who’ve been working together more or less harmoniously for years find their relationships rapidly unravelling when a bullying boss is introduced into the department operating a divide-and-rule style of management . As the atmosphere becomes increasingly toxic, the one-time friends turn on each other, with catastrophic results.
While I was writing the book, I wondered at points if it was too far fetched, yet almost everyone who has read it has come back with some experience of their own of working in a toxic work environment, and said how much they could relate, so Office Noir has clearly hit a nerve!
Having said that, my next project has nothing to do with offices or workplaces. I’m not saying exactly what it is, in case it doesn’t come off, but it’s a completely new direction for me, which is very exciting!
GTB: Tammy, I love the idea of Office Noir, I can relate to the idea of a dysfunctional office environment as I have worked in my fair share of those down the years! It may surprise some readers to even think that writers would know what office life is like…have you not ALWAYS been authors? I know it was something of a shock to me when (around 10 years ago) I was told that the guy sitting behind me at ‘The Bank’ was an author – what was he doing in a bank if he wrote books?
Tammy: Gordon, I love the idea that we ought to be somehow born fully formed as authors, maybe with a little pencil stub behind our ears. Like most of us I did lots of jobs when I first started out, including teaching English in Spain and secretarial work (at which I was agonisngly rubbish). Finally I got into journalism and worked in magazines and newspapers for many years, during which time I worked in numerous offices. The thing about offices is, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the local council refuse collection office or a supposedly swanky magazine office – the politics is exactly the same. In fact the bullying boss in When She Was Bad was directly inspired by a boss I once had on a magazine. And no, I’m not naming any names!
Amanda: I’m certainly happy to have a career that involves my office being next door to my kitchen at home. Despite loving people and being very sociable, I adore working in solitary. I am such a chatterbox and love a bit of gossip and am far too distractible, so working in an office environment would wreak havoc on my output! I work in my slippers, with my dog at my feet and my cat on a chair next to me (or lying on the keyboard, depending on her state of mind and her need for attention) and my water-cooler moments are spent gazing out of the window. If I need interaction to distract me, I have Twitter, of course. That, and my address book full of writers to call…
Not wishing to distract Amanda or Tammy any further, this seems the perfect time to wrap up for now. I suspect I will get in trouble for not asking for more information on the Cohen/Jennings film script. If someone wants to pick that one up at a later date then I can only suggest that you ask your question at a point when they both pause for breath.
I would like to thank Amanda and Tammy for agreeing to join me and for letting me ‘listen’ to their chat. They cannot know how much enjoyment each stage of their conversation brought me and they very kindly left me with hardly any editing to do – perfect guests!
When She Was Bad is released on 21st April in both paperback and digital formats. You can order a copy here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/When-She-Was-Tammy-Cohen/dp/1784160199/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460496470&sr=1-1&keywords=when+she+was+bad
In Her Wake is also available in paperback and digital formats. You can order a copy here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Her-Wake-Amanda-Jennings/dp/1910633291/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460496921&sr=1-1&keywords=in+her+wake