We first read Amy Lord’s debut when an early draft reached the longlist of our inaugural award. Next week The Disappeared is published by Unbound and we caught up with Amy to hear about her path to publication.
Congratulations, Amy. Did that longlisting help in any way?
Thank you and absolutely! Making the longlist was a huge motivator for me; it gave me the confidence that I was writing a story that was worth persevering with.
And this is where I make a confession: when I entered, I hadn’t actually finished writing the book. After finding out I was on the longlist, I had a week and a bit to write the final 20,000 words in time to submit to the next stage of the competition. Obviously the manuscript wasn’t polished enough to make the shortlist, but it was complete. It’s amazing what a deadline can do for you!
Your cover is stunning…
Cover design was something that I really looked forward to!
Unbound sent out a detailed questionnaire, asking for information on the book’s themes, audience, character descriptions, setting etc.
Books and literature are an important motif throughout the story, as my protagonist, Clara, teaches English and uses books as a way to rebel against the government and inspire her students.
There’s also a thread of books being hidden away or burned. Urban decay is another theme: under this government the cities have begun to crumble, falling into disrepair. People have been forced to move into sub-standard homes, abandoning possessions and memories. That all comes through on the book cover.
As well as filling out the questionnaire, I set up a Pinterest board full of book covers that I love. They’re mostly striking and bold, with eye-catching graphical elements. That’s what I wanted for my book too.
And I think the designer really nailed it! This was actually the first cover that was presented to me. I went back with a few comments and we played around a bit with the font, but ultimately stuck with the original design. It felt appropriate for the genre and the story. I’m in love with it!
I’d been circling Unbound for a while as a reader before I submitted. I knew of them, but I hadn’t pledged for a book until I happened to see on Twitter that another Bath longlistee was crowdfunding with them. Niall Slater’s book The Second Death of Daedalus Mole was the first pledge I made and I got a bit hooked from there.
Having that familiarity made it easy to submit and make the choice to crowdfund, although the process was long and pretty arduous.
How did the editorial process work?
The editorial side of things was a dream! Unbound are just like a traditional publisher in that they do work with some amazing publishing professionals. I was fortunate to work with two fantastic editors who really helped me make the book better. I threw myself into the process and did a whole host of rewrites and introduced new scenes and characters.
I worked with one editor on two rounds of structural and line edits, which began with a detailed report on the main issues with the manuscript: world-building, pace and my protagonist’s character arc. After that I worked with a copyeditor and did the final proofread. I’m quite proud that my copyeditor came back with less than 600 edits on the manuscript – all marked up with track changes. Apparently that’s quite good – although I did learn I have an issue with semi-colons!
Any tips for creating a successful debut crowdfunding campaign?
The one thing you need is a strong network. Most of your pledges will come from people you know in some capacity, whether that’s family and friends or Twitter followers. Don’t be afraid to make direct, personal approaches to everyone you know: that is the one thing that seems to work universally. And take breaks, because this can be a long and emotionally draining process.
I found it really tough at times – it took me 10 months to get funded. But I’ve learned so much from the process and I’m so grateful to have had this experience, because it’s made me stronger and more confident in my abilities. I might not sell a million copies, or even a thousand, but I’m so happy that the book has a chance to be out in the world.
The Disappeared is set in a near future broken Britain. Did you ever imagine we could be where we are today?
I’ve been working on the book for about six years, but it existed in my head for about the same length of time before that. That’s a long time before Brexit, or Donald Trump, or any of the other things that make us feel the world is tumbling into political oblivion.
There’s a scene where one of the characters, a history teacher, is talking to his students about how society became what it is in the book. He references things that have really happened over the last few years, before the story slips into an alternate history.
Over the years, that lecture has changed so many times. When I first wrote it, the London Riots in 2011 were the starting point. Since then, so many things have happened to bring us to the point we’re at now. Some of them are briefly mentioned in the book.
As I’ve become more concerned with the changes in society, so the story has changed, but it does feel increasingly timely, especially as the situation with Brexit unfolds. A couple of months ago the government were seriously discussing plans to put martial law in place in the event of no deal and it’s the introduction of martial law that leads to the events of The Disappeared.
In your book, democracy becomes so eroded society begins to forget what came before – why was it important to wrote about that?
People can be cruel and lacking in empathy. We hear stories every day about people suffering war, poverty and persecution, but it’s easy to turn your back when it doesn’t affect you directly. Since Brexit we’ve begun to turn inward as a nation and sometimes the lack of compassion shown to those who need help is frightening, whether that’s the residents of Grenfell or child refugees from Syria.
Despite austerity and Brexit, we’re still fortunate to live in a parliamentary democracy where we have the freedom to openly speak out against our government. Not everyone has that. But democracy isn’t set in stone. At the moment, it’s not hard to imagine how that might slip away.
Is exploring a dark world a way to try to figure out how to fix ours?
I do sometimes get caught up in the news and social media and despair at some of the tragedies happening in the world, particularly on an individual level. There isn’t much I can offer to the people in these news articles, but I can see them, I can hear their stories and I can share them with others. It’s important we don’t turn our backs and ignore the things that make us uncomfortable or unhappy, because not everyone has that privilege.
I wouldn’t presume to have the answers. But I wish humans could be kinder to each other; more concerned with sharing their wealth and protecting the environment. Instead of trying to take what bit of power we can at the expense of someone else, we can choose to be compassionate.
Since the TV show it feels clichéd to say this, but it is The Handmaid’s Tale. I first read it aged 17 when I was studying for my A-Levels. The way Margaret Atwood uses language in such a layered, symbolic way really blew me away. The depth of meaning she conjures with so few words is stunning.
What does a typical writing day look like?
To be honest, I’m not writing much at the moment. I have a full-time job, as a Digital Marketing Manager for a cultural organisation in North East England. That takes up a lot of my time and energy, and the last few months have been focused on getting The Disappeared finished and out into the world. Unbound are great, but they don’t have a massive budget for marketing so I’m doing as much as I can myself.
I’m giving myself a few months to focus on giving The Disappeared what life it can have and then I’ll get back to my current work-in-progress, which is very different (but still quite dark!)
However, I have recently discovered a passion for flash fiction, so I’m trying to fit in some snippets of writing where I can to help me stay motivated. When I do write, it tends to be late at night, when the house is quiet and I can immerse myself in my work. I’m not a morning person!
You recently completed a mentoring programme run by Writers’ Block NE, where you worked on a new novel – what’s the best thing you learned in the programme and what can you say about the new novel?
The programme was amazing – if you’re in the North East it really is worth applying! It definitely helped me to think about story structure and planning, I’m not the most organised. I tend to scribble stuff down and shuffle it into shape later.
My new book is about a 20-something who is dissatisfied with her life and thinks she should be doing something better with it. When her boyfriend proposes, she runs out on him and ends up in a nightclub, where she overdoses on the latest party drug. It leaves her with the ability to see what other lives she might have lived if she’d made different decisions.
It’s quite a dark story, about the things we keep hidden and how we all long for something more. My writing style has also progressed and has become much more stripped back. I’m enjoying the direction this story is taking.
Interview by Caroline Ambrose
Amy Lord is a writer, blogger and digital marketer from North East England. She won a Northern Writers’ Award in 2015 for The Disappeared and was also longlisted for the inaugural Bath Novel Award. She blogs about books, writing, travel and life in the North East at Ten Penny Dreams, which recently won Best Arts and Culture Blog in the Northern Blog Awards. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @tenpennydreams.