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Bedlam Square by Roland Jarvis

Bedlam Square by Roland Jarvis

Judging a book by its cover

Old Town resident Amanda Nicol, known locally more for her landscape paintings than her writing, re-launches new editions of her three novels this month – each with amazing covers by local artist, Roland Jarvis. Writing skilfully, compellingly and often very humorously about topics close to her heart, she is a tenacious and talented author who deserves a high degree of success. Zelly Restorick asks Amanda about what drives her to create – especially when things get tough – her creative collaboration with acclaimed local artist Roland Jarvis and her publishing journey.

I first met Amanda Nicol up on the Hastings’ East Hill, spurred by a shared environmental connection – and soon discovered that she’s a very talented, caring and tenacious woman and writer. Dead Pets Society is a cracking read – insightful, thought-provoking, very real, well-researched – and recognising the references to Hastings makes it even more enjoyable; her use of different fonts and the concept of a book-within-a-book are both stimulating and enjoyable factors adding to the reader’s positive experience. Having searched for a good read, I’m looking forward to discovering the contents of her other two books, House of Bread and Badric’s Island.

What has drawn you to writing? A recent thing – or life-long ambition?

I’ve always written – diaries, journals and short stories, but it wasn’t till I was 30 that I set out to write a novel, something I’d always wanted to do. I was doing an art history degree at Birkbeck at the time, but dropped out, realising that I wanted to be writing my own stuff rather than academic essays.

Amanda Nicol with her dog, Molly

Amanda Nicol with her dog, Molly

How do you choose the subjects you write about – or do they choose you?

They sort of choose me – or rather I choose to write about my own life experiences, or adapt them to the themes and ideas that I’m interested in exploring. I try to spread my thoughts, feelings and those experiences over a range of characters.

All my books are about things I care about; mental health, women’s issues; trying to puzzle out how to live and, especially at the moment, our environmental crisis, (explored in Dead Pets Society). I try to find humour in dark places, without undermining how serious these issues are. I write short stories too, and a couple have been long and shortlisted for the Fish short story competition which was nice.

At the moment I’m working on a memoir, Love, Medicine & Mexico, about my experience of healthcare, here and abroad, after being diagnosed with cancer in 2011. It feels important to own my experience this time and go deeper into what happened to me in my twenties too – the experience I wrote about in House of Bread. It’s quite scary – you can hide in fiction, but not with this!

Do you have a writing schedule – or are you a sporadic scribe?

When I’m writing, I’m very focused and tend to write between 1,000-2,000 words at a time, then re-read and edit a bit before going on. Mornings with a coffee in my shed in the garden works for me, but I’m not rigid about it. Nowadays I try not to push myself too hard, which I used to do all the time, because I don’t take my health for granted like I used to. I then have a long cooling-off period. That’s when I paint, which also gives me time to think about what I’ve written and make notes. (Amanda currently has some paintings of Mexico on show in the spring show at Fleet Gallery.)

Badric's Island Front Cover 600x400

Badric’s Island Painting by Roland Jarvis

Which books are you launching?

I’m launching my three novels with their new covers by Roland Jarvis: House of Bread, about a young guy’s time in psychiatric hospital; Badric’s Island, about an actress and feminist activist dealing with the compromises she has to make in her career and personal life, and Dead Pets Society, about a writer who’s trying to write an eco-thriller, traumatised by the research she is doing and the death of her own dog, who sets up a self-help group.

The other two books have been around for a while, but Dead Pets was only finished last year. My central character in this novel comes to the conclusion that if we could extend the love we feel for our pets to the wider environment and to ourselves, we might not be in such a mess. It’s a book within a book: that was the only way I could find to lighten up the very grim research that I was doing about the environmental damage being done at this time. It’s set in a seaside town that anyone who knows Hastings will recognise.

I recently signed up with, then, for various reasons, pulled out from a publishing company geared towards indie authors, which prompted the decision to make new editions of the books and have a fresh start. Most people here will be familiar with Roland’s work; he’s a genius and a very good friend of mine. It was fun choosing the images to fit the text and I think they work brilliantly. It’s a privilege to use his work in this way.

[A film about Roland Jarvis directed by Mark French can be viewed here: Timelines.]

I really like the idea of local authors and artists hooking up to produce books, and at the moment I’m also working with illustrator Josh Ross (Josh is showing work at The Crown till May 30th) on a children’s book, also with an eco theme .

We have such a great local arts scene, books can all too easily disappear into online obscurity and they need to be out there and part of it.

House of Bread front cover 600x400Tell us about your publishing journey.

It’s been a long haul to get the books to this point: House of Bread was first published by a small publisher who went bust, Badric’s Island attracted a large publisher, and I’ve had couple of agents along the way. Because of the cancer diagnosis I didn’t send Dead Pets out – I just wanted to get on with it and get it into print without the horrible process of submitting work again. I couldn’t have done any of this alone and if Steve, my husband, hadn’t been a graphic designer and able to do book layout, it would have been much more difficult. I’ve got the obligatory folder of rejections; it’s just part of the deal of having the privilege of being able to live a creative life – or at least that’s how I see it now.

It’s very hard to get reviews and sell books, even with a deal from a publisher; I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t wanted that to happen, in the past at least, but having creative control is really important to me. Of course the downside is that there is still a perceived distinction between published and self-published – not least from writers themselves. It’s an ongoing exercise in self-belief but the good feedback, letters and reviews that I’ve received help hugely. with print-on-demand publishing and the internet you can get your stuff into the world relatively easily and that’s great. Just like painting, do it and get it out there – if it touches one person it’s been worthwhile. In the end you write because you love writing and anything else is a bonus.

The fact that House of Bread has touched and resonated with people with mental health problems means a great deal to me and I’ve used the book as part of Brighton University’s School of Midwifery and Nursing’s ‘Better than the book’ module, whereby service users or ex-service users speak to psychiatric nursing students about what it’s like to be on the receiving end of mental healthcare. Going through cancer certainly puts things into perspective – success becomes something completely different – happiness and health become the things you value most.

Dead Pets Society Front cover 600x400Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Hastings connection.

I came to Hastings when I left school in 1984 to study art restoration at the South East Conservation Centre as it was then, in Old Brewery Yard in the High Street. I did a two-year diploma course which included going to the Art College, visiting Billy Ware out at Burwash for lessons in technique, and life drawing taught by Mick Rooney and other local artists. I lived in a flat in the High Street, very close to where I live now. Everyone used to hang out at the Pig in Paradise and listen to great music played by the likes of Liam Genockey and co, who are still playing great music here now. I then lived and worked in London for 16 years before being lured back in 2001 to a place I had come to love very much, and although it’s different to how it was back then, something at the core of this town seems unchangeable. It’s very special.

More info and book extracts at www.amandanicol.co.uk.

Twitter: @amandanicol11.

From May 20th Amanda’s books will be available from Borough Wines, Made in Hastings, and The Crown.

Paperbacks and ebooks available from Amazon and ebooks on Amazon/Kindle or at Kobo Books.

A couple of Amanda’s beautiful paintings from her time in Mexico:

Guadalupe by Amanda Nicol

Guadalupe.

 

 

Playas border by Amanda Nicol

Playas border.

Posted 10:52 Thursday, May 5, 2016 In: Literature

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