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Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Interview: A.K. Amherst

This week I am pleased to welcome author A.K. Amherst to The Writing Greyhound!

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself?
Hi, I'm Andrea. I'm an Austrian writer who loves to travel the world. Whenever I get the chance I spend some longer time abroad. I lived for three months Down Under, another time I spent a year in Sweden. Living with people from other countries and experiencing their culture really helped me to broaden my horizons. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything in the world. 
My interest in foreign countries also shows in my writing. My books usually pick up one or another historical or cultural topic. By telling my characters' journeys I want my readers to experience a life different from their own and relate to it one way or another.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I started writing my first short story when I was nine. I used the characters of my favourite kid's book and put them into my very own adventure. It took me about six months to develop and write the story. I remember how proud I was when I finally finished it. Then I made a huge mistake: I showed it to my German teacher. He took the story home with him and read it. In the next lesson, he made me read it out loud in front of my classmates. I was so nervous. I asked him to read it for me but he pointed out: No, a writer always reads her work herself.
belfast-central, ak-amherst, book

Tell me about Belfast Central.
Belfast Central tells the story of the young and idealistic paramedic called Ryan. In order to work in his dream job, he neglected a career in the company of his family who made a fortune with producing and selling guns. 
When Ryan gets shot on duty at Belfast Central, he has a hard time dealing with what happened. A welcome distraction is the search for the stranger who saved his life. But the more he finds out about this stranger's past and his involvement in the shooting, the more dangerous it gets for Ryan. 
In order to stop those responsible for the shooting Ryan might be forced to let go of some of his deepest values and deal with the consequences...
What drew you to writing in the thriller genre?
To be honest, when I sat down and started writing this story 13 years ago (yes 13!) I didn't intend to write a thriller. I had the character in mind and the topic, everything else came with the writing. Ryan is very driven to find out why the shooting at Belfast Central took place and he is more daring than I ever could have imagined. I like what he has become, what he made of his own story.
Did you find writing about history a challenge?
Yes, it was challenging. Since I don't live in Northern Ireland I had to do a lot of research from afar. I read a lot about the history and checked each fact multiple times. It was important for me to have the story set up before travelling to Belfast myself. Once there, I didn't want to waste time with basic research but dig as deep as possible. Travelling to the settings of my book was also very fulfilling. It was the last step of a very intense and fun journey.
How did you get inspiration?
I draw a lot of inspiration from music. I love listening to ballads and country, but also pop – everything that catches the mood or feelings of my characters in a certain moment. Most of my key scenes are linked to songs with strong messages. Whenever I rewrote a scene I made sure I have the adjoining tunes in my ear.
What’s your writing process?
I have the worst writing habit you could imagine. I just start randomly in the middle – from there I go wherever my imagination leads me. With Belfast Central being my first book this approach cost me a lot of time. But I learned from it, I'm approaching storytelling a bit more structured now. Still, I don't like to know where my story ends when I start. I want the characters to lead me. It's much more fun that way.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
To get your message across. Knowing what you are on about is one thing, making a reader – a total stranger from probably another part of the world – understand your point, is a completely different thing. 
I never really had thought about that until I started reading to my writers' group. When one scene created completely different emotions and interpretations among a group of ten people I understood the scope of the challenge. But the solution was quite simple: I took the feedback, rewrote the scene and made the message clearer. 
This was an important lesson for me. The art of good writing is to hint a certain direction but to never limit the reader in his own opinion or imagination. As a writer, I need to be aware that they will have their own interpretations of my text and accept that. Telling my readers what to think would be the worst I could do. So I won't. EVER.
ak-amherst, author

What do you love most about writing?
The ability to touch readers with my stories. Storytelling is very powerful. I find it interesting that in marketing – the branch I work in - this is a rather new concept. Companies and brands are trying to tell stories in advertisements and on social media more than ever. But this is nothing new. Writers have used the art of storytelling for centuries. It's the means of choice to get a message across, to make it stay in someone's mind. 
After all, I could spare myself the trouble of writing a book about friendship and simply post on Twitter: Friendships can bridge any difference. - Nice statement but probably forgotten the moment I post it. Having two characters, on the other hand, who come from different backgrounds and embody such an unlikely friendship is much more powerful and memorable.
Which authors inspire you?
I take a lot of inspiration from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – his Sherlock Holmes is brilliant but what I admire even more about him is his versatility. Besides crime stories, he wrote adventures like The Lost World or (slightly) supernatural stories like The Mystery of Cloomber
For Belfast Central, my inspiration came from Joan Lingard who wrote the Kevin and Sadie series. My English teacher in school first recommended those stories and I was hooked immediately.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Keep going. It gets though that's normal. And it might get even tougher but if you keep holding on the result will be priceless.
What are you currently working on?
Well, there will definitely be a sequel to Belfast Central. It's half-finished and I'm very eager to give those characters the wrap that I have been working on for years. 
Parallel to that, I'm crafting a story that addresses The Lost Generation in Australia. I came across the topic while living there and ever since I feel the need to write about it.
What are you reading at the moment?
I usually read at least three books at the same time and I continue with the one that best fits my mood at the very moment. Currently, I pay much more attention to independent authors than I used to. I started reading the Shelby Nichols series by Colleen Helme and I love it.
What’s your all-time favourite fiction book?
I really liked Tess Gerritsen's The Surgeon – the first part of the Rizzoli & Isles series. The book really gripped me because the medical background of Gerritsen shimmered through. The surgery and coroner scenes were so real. I felt like I was standing next to the doctor the whole time... and I know more about sewing material for dead bodies now than I ever wanted to know.
What’s your all-time favourite non-fiction book?
I don't read a lot of non-fiction book, to be honest. If I do it's usually connected to a book research. But the one non-fiction book I bought and read out of pure interest was written by a former Australian police officer. She was one of the first female detectives back in the 1980s and came across a lot of corruption. In the book she described her journey and what made her become a whistleblower.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?

My ambition really is to keep writing, to keep being inspired. A writer friend once told me that publishers consider the average lifetime of a writer to be 10 years – then they have written everything they had to say. I can't imagine this happening to me and I really hope that my curiosity and my travelling will spare me that fate. I can't imagine my life without writing.

What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Well, travelling is one. And trying new hobbies. I want to live as many lives as possible, make as many experiences as possible in order to keep my mind and my writing fresh.
Belfast Central is available to buy now. 

What do you think? Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

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