The Amanda Hemingway … er, Jan Siegal … erm, Gemma Harvey Interview - in two parts. Having met Amanda at for the first time at Eastercon last year, I quickly recognised a kindred spirit. We are both quite loud and probably talk too much. We both enjoy a glass of red wine, (or two!) both write fantasy for the YA market and we are both hungry to make names for ourselves. Amanda, I feel, has cheated to get ahead by marrying into a literary surname that stands her out from the crowd – perhaps I should apply to change mine by deed-poll to Mark Shakespeare or Mark Asimov. Either has a certain ring to it, don’t you think? A note of explanation as to how I structured the interview: questions have been grouped together in themes to try to avoid duplication of response. If on reading this interview you think of more questions raised by the content, Amanda has kindly said she will appear on Chronicles to answer them on an individual basis. Just post your further questions here on this thread. Here’s the interview: Amanda, have you always been an author, either in life, or at heart? How would you describe your route to becoming a published author? Was it always a burning ambition to write, or were you pushed into it? Don’t like the term ‘author’, I prefer to think of myself as a writer, not sure why. Anyway, yes, I’ve always been a writer – whether I wanted to or not! I made up stories and wrote them down almost before I could write and certainly before I could spell. My mother kept them for years – creative spelling included ‘bloon’ for balloon and ‘pingk’ for pink. Very phonetic. I first sent stuff to a publisher when I was 8 – I suppose I just thought if I was writing things they might as well be turned into books – and was nearly published by Edward Blishen at OUP when I was 10. Happily for my future embarrassment, he decided it would be bad for me, though remained a helper and adviser for years. Good thing – it would have been Daisy Ashford meets Tolkien, a horrifying combination! You wrote in several genres before settling into fantasy. How do you feel about those early books now? How did you manage to convince agents and, more impressively, publishers to put such a variety of stories into print? What have been the publishers’ reactions to your writing in more than one genre? How do I feel about my early work? Check my website – some of it is fairly terrible, though I still like PZYCHE, ( Amazon.co.uk: Pzyche: Books: Amanda Hemingway ) my first novel, a sort of Science Fantasy, and THE ALCHEMIST, (Amanda Hemingway ) a novella which featured in Faber’s Introduction series alongside the first published work of Kazuo Ishiguro. (He was the grownup of the collection, I was the baby.) TANTALUS, (Amazon.co.uk: Tantalus: Books: Amanda Hemingway ) a psychological thriller, is also okay. But good or bad, I learned a lot from trying different genres, and I still don’t want to get too typed. It’s too easy to get a winning formula and stick to it, when I prefer to stretch myself in different directions, despite the risk of messing up. At the moment the fantasy is going great and there is a lot more I want to do with it, but I’ll change genres rather than repeat myself. It does confuse publishers – and booksellers – when you switch, which is why I’ve used various pseudonyms: that way they approach your work without pre-conceived ideas, then you can tell them who you are once they’ve decided they like it. I suppose I’ve been lucky with getting everything published; I’ve only had one manuscript rejected since I was 22, another Science Fantasy idea which one day I intend to re-work. (I’ve been picked up by publishers three times under three different names.) Also, I think I’m fairly versatile, which means that when I was younger I had different editors wanted to nudge me in different directions. Your first major work of fantasy began with Prospero’s Children (Amazon.co.uk: Prospero's Children: Books: Jan Siegel ) – what was the inspiration behind this story? Did you see this series as a turning point in your writing career? If so – in what way? Definitely a turning point. I started writing the way I REALLY wanted to write, and it felt wonderful, though I was terrified when I finished it. I’d done the book on spec, I had no money, and the new vogue for fantasy hadn’t yet kicked in, so I was doing something WAY out of step with the sword-and-sorcery that was around then. I remember reading through the jobs section in the Guardian while I was waiting to hear from publishers, and realising I was completely unemployable. Very scary. The trouble with me, is I tend to run out along the tightrope first, and then notice the drop when I’m stuck in the middle. The vertigo hits when it’s too late to do anything about it… Your Sangreal Trilogy, starting with The Greenstone Grail, (Amazon.co.uk: The Greenstone Grail (Sangreal Trilogy): Books: Amanda Hemingway ) is clearly linked to the first series, yet it stands alone. What was it about the legend of the Holy Grail that drew you to the idea of writing a fantasy trilogy loosely based around it? Was it simply a useful jumping off point, or were there deeper reasons? We’re all intrigued by the Grail legend, which has its roots in pagan myth and the cauldron of rebirth – also seen as the cauldron of hell in the Mabinogion. In its modern form, the legend is usually about ‘the quest for enlightenment’, as Sean Connery put it in THE LAST CRUSADE. But I wanted to do something different with it – go back to its origins where the cauldron is potentially evil, and kind of twist the story to give it a far darker meaning. I like taking classic tales and turning them inside out to see what you get. I also wanted to try alternative universes instead of simply magical dimensions of this world. I’m fascinated by particle physics – I don’t completely understand it, but I’m fascinated! Once you start bouncing quantums around (or is it quanta?), reality goes right off the chart. Then you can go anywhere!