Sunday, 17 July 2016

Amanda Addison on her writing life and new book An Amsterdam Affair

My first degree was in illustration at Chelsea School of Art and in 2005 I completed an MA in Writing the Visual in Norwich at NUA. Since then I have worked across both disciplines of Art and Creative Writing.

This makes for an interesting working pattern where I alternate between teaching (Art and Creative Writing), writing and making art. This has proved very productive, as it allows me to take a break from one area of work, allow things to mull over in my subconscious and then return with a fresh take on my work – rather like the way an artist/writer often realises the solution to a problem whilst doing the washing up.

As the author I make artworks (as if I’m the protagonist) – in the manner of William Boyd’s Nat Tate. This cross-discipline approach has been supported by the Arts Council, which awarded me a Grant for the Arts to write a novel, where the key characters are artists and use art to sustain and explore themselves. Although, unlike Nat Tate, I made a decision to not include the works in the novel – as I wanted the writing to carry meaning and allow the reader to use their imagination.

Whilst working on my manuscript Picasso, Cream Horns and Tulips for Alice - which is out now with the revised title An Amsterdam Affair - I began to hear more and more about notions of creative living (making art, writing, music). I am a great admirer of Elizabeth Gilbert’s (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) Big Magic, a non-fiction book on creative living and its wonders. This really struck a chord with me as last year I taught the Art Module on the Arts & Wellbeing degree at City College, Norwich.

I write about East Anglian big skies, the sea, windswept beaches and flat landscapes both sides of the North Sea. I paint the landscape too, from memory, sketches, en plein air, and have just had a painting shortlisted for the Holt Festival Art Prize. In many ways the settings in An Amsterdam Affair are almost characters in themselves, reflecting the main characters’ changing moods and emotions. Sam, one of the story’s narrators uses a beach hut as her studio. I also use artistic motifs as settings, for example, Maggie Hambling’s shell sculpture on Aldeburgh beach, is a key location for a romantic tryst in An Amsterdam Affair

As with many writers I’m not too keen on my work being placed within just one genre, which can mean there are difficulties for publishers who tend to like books to come in neat boxes.  However, I have had great support from my literary agent, Sonia Land at Sheil Land, who patiently takes on board the artist side to my work!


An Amsterdam Affair is out now.  It’s a bitter-sweet family saga about searching for lost love and how families come undone and are re-made. At the heart of the story is a family secret. If you enjoyed Last Tango in Halifax: the inter-generational themes of romance, second-chances and how the internet and Social Media can change our relationship with the past and each other; or the seaside and painting motifs in Notes for an Exhibition; or the art & craft themes of my previous novel, Laura’s Handmade Life, this may be the book for you!

The story is based in The Netherlands and Norfolk. Sam and her idealistic teenaged son, Matty, feel constrained by the demands of Sam’s mother, hypochondriac Nan. Phil, Sam’s husband, is unemployed because of a short-lived affair that cost him his job as a geologist.
Sam finds solace in wild swimming and making art in her beach hut studio, while Matty dreams of becoming an architect. He prepares for a college trip to Amsterdam but before he leaves, Sam gives him a book that requires him to look for someone in Amsterdam.

Phil gets a temporary job off-shore and for the first time in a long while, Sam finds herself alone. She starts writing an art blog which attracts the attention of Theo, her Dutch-Indonesian ex-lover from a long forgotten relationship. He emails her and their online correspondence re-ignites their relationship and he wants to meet up with her once again.Matty meets the girl of his dreams, Alice, and both soon find themselves as detectives caught up in unravelling his family’s secret history.

Sam visits Nan who opens up to her daughter and unlocks the true nature of Matty’s search and brings to a head the unsavoury past and the racist morals of the 1960s. She meets up with Theo and realises that it was her husband’s affair that forced her to wake up from sleep-walking through life. Her careless emailing is read by Phil who returns back early to confront her.


Amanda Addison is a graduate of the Chelsea School of Art and holds an MA from the Norwich School of Art & Design. She lectures in Art & Design and Creative Writing and taught art and design for a number of years, winning awards for her paintings, illustrations and textile works. She had been the Travel Writer/Illustrator for a range of articles for the Archant Newspaper Group.

Her hand embroidery featured in public collections, including that of the Redditch Needle Museum, and provides inspiration for much of her novels which taps into the popularity of vintage fashion, the love of handicrafts and the drive for creative identity and self-sufficiency.

Her previous full-length novel, Laura’s Handmade Life, was published by Little, Brown to great acclaim and has been translated in several languages. Following consultation with library staff and the public, Laura’s Handmade Life made it into final 12 works of fiction for Norfolk Narratives 2014.

Amongst numerous awards, her short story, Alternative Renditions, a re-telling of traditional fairy tales, was selected by Bridge House Publishing, and she was runner-up for the Cinnamon Press Novella Award.Currently Amanda is on to the Longlist of the Commonword Diversity Writing for Children Prize with her novel for 9-11 years, Billy's World Class Bake-Off.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

RUNNING INTO SUNRISE - A Writer's Residency - Part Two

Here is Part Two of Sarah Bower's post about her writing residency at Lingnan University in Hong Hong. Please scroll down to the post dated 4th July for Part One and Sarah's biography:

View of Central from Victoria Peak
PART TWO: I was made incredibly welcome by my university and by the friend who had originally told me about the residency, but Hong Kong is not an easy place for artists. Its status as one of the world’s biggest commercial and financial centres is deep-rooted, and most of the westerners living there are young, ambitious professionals. At the first social event I attended (a beach barbecue), I was repeatedly asked about what a writer earns and little or no interest was shown in what a writer does. While the traditional Chinese blend of caring for body and spirit simultaneously is much in evidence – Chinese medicine stores, reflexology parlours, groups ranked like the Terracotta Army performing Tai Chi in the parks – the leisure time of the Western population revolves around competitive sports. On weekend hikes, my tendency to stop and look at views rather than see how quickly I could complete the route was regarded with mystification. Cultural events tend to be more the kind of thing you want to be seen at rather than attending for its own sake. There are regular high-level tours by big international theatre and opera companies, and an exhibition mounted by the Basel Art Gallery every spring, but what really excites Hong Kongers is the Rugby Sevens tournament, which brings Central to a boozy, testosterone-fuelled halt for a weekend in May.

Front cover of the student anthology
Competitive pressure shows itself more painfully among the Chinese population. At Lingnan, I taught mainly third and fourth year students, who were coming up to their finals. Although my classes were in English creative writing and basic linguistics, we were left in no doubt that this was a luxury, that the students’ real focus must be on improving their language skills in order to get well-paid jobs in international companies. Even in the local middle school, where I led a drama project with eight to eleven-year-olds, this was the case. At the end of my semester, my students produced an anthology of their fiction and poetry in English. Nearly all of this dealt in one way or another with the pressures imposed on these young people by their parents, to work hard, achieve high results, get good jobs. Hong Kong has no welfare system and it’s traditional for children to support their parents in their old age. In Chinese society also there is little understanding of art for art’s sake.

On a personal level, I was going through the surreal process of getting divorced at arm’s length. My third novel, Erosion, was published in April 2014, in the middle of my stay, and I felt oddly out of control of that process too, as if the book were a child who had left home without leaving a forwarding address. The book I was writing, entitled Love Can Kill People, Can’t It? (now on its final edits and hopefully for publication next year), is set in Palestine and Yorkshire. My own transitional and impermanent state was reinforced by the world around me.

Hong Kong’s history is determined by its geographical location on a major trading route through the South China Sea. Its native people have virtually disappeared and been overtaken by incomers from all over the world. Most of the Chinese who live there now are descended from mainlanders, economic migrants or refugees from the upheavals of the Maoist era. Westerners rarely stay longer than three or four years, the Philippina and Indonesian maids send most of their money home so put down no roots in the Territory. Triad money flows through Hong Kong’s shopping malls on its way to the West. Everything is temporary, everyone is in flux.

It was an hour’s bus ride from my home in the New Territories to Central. The bus travelled along the shore, and I could look out over the narrow channel between the mainland and Lantau, where Hong Kong’s airport is located on land reclaimed from the sea. The channel is a bit like an aquatic M25, crowded with tiny fishing boats, inter-island ferries, leisure craft and container ships the size of Manhattan. Aircraft lumber up from Lantau and seem scarcely to miss the bus roof en route to Shanghai or Tokyo or Sydney. A cat’s cradle of suspension bridges, glittering with traffic, links Kowloon to Hong Island, whose iconic skyline emerges mystically from the smog. (I never did manage to get a good photo of the distinctive clawed roof of IFC1, from where Christian Bale’s Batman abseiled in The Dark Knight Rises.) I was struck by the way in which the natural and the manmade have combined in this city, whose sun rises eight hours ahead of Europe’s, and which is altogether brighter, faster, more exciting and more alive than any European city I know (and I will defiantly include London here!), to create an extraordinary beauty. A beauty whose particular quality lies in its unnerving transience.

No-one ever turns off the lights or the air-con in Hong Kong. No-one ever cleans the beaches of the detritus of the ships which clog its sea-lanes. It’s not advisable to eat the local seafood or vegetables grown in China because of pollutants and pesticides. You can’t be there for long without developing a vertiginous sense that the human race is going to hell in a handcart. But Hong Kong is a particularly exotic handcart…

Monday, 4 July 2016

RUNNING INTO SUNRISE - A Writer's Residency

Sarah Bower writes about her residency at Lingnan University, Hong Kong:

Towards the end of 2013, I decided it was time to run away. I was working for the British Centre for Literary Translation, helping to run a mentoring scheme for emerging translators. This located me in a world in which no-one I worked with stayed anywhere for long, wherever they might be based. I’m a light sleeper and frequently found myself engaged in email exchanges with people in Bogota or Byron Bay at all hours of the day and night. It was exciting; it made my feet itch.

So I started to trawl the web and follow up personal contacts in pursuit of a writing residency. I’d set these up in Norwich for other writers and translators, and it quickly became clear to me that a residency would give me, not just the chance to get away, but the even more precious opportunity for uninterrupted writing time, something I hadn’t had since completing my MA in 2001.

A friend in Hong Kong alerted me to a residency being advertised at Lingnan University, a liberal arts college in Tuen Mun in the New Territories Of Hong Kong. Their English department was looking for a writer to spend a semester at the college, to write and also to undertake some teaching and outreach work in the local community. Within weeks, I found myself applying for a Chinese work permit and packing for the tropics. I was to fly out in January 2014 and wouldn’t be returning to the UK until June. It was an exciting thought – Greece was the furthest east I’d been at that point.

View from Sarah's apartment in Lingnan
I had no idea what to expect. I always try to travel without expectations because that way, it’s easier to keep an open mind and be receptive to what you find. What I found in Hong Kong were extremes. The Territory is made up of more than 200 islands as well as Kowloon and the New Territories carved out of the Chinese mainland. Some districts are among the most densely populated on the planet, others, such as the island of Lantau, are largely given over to exquisitely maintained national parks. Lantau, with its mountain hikes, put me in mind of the West Highlands fringed by white beaches with palm trees and barbecues. There is fabulous wealth – shopping malls where you can buy a diamond choker or a wardrobe by Stella McCartney but not, for example, a tube of toothpaste – and a troubling underclass of ‘maids’, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, who have nothing but a tiny room in their employers’ apartments. On their Sundays off, they congregate in Central, in temporary encampments constructed of rugs and benders and corrugated board, where they gossip, eat picnics and conduct ‘boot sales’ of everything from clothes to vinyl records. When it rains, which it often does, many congregate in the undercroft of Norman Foster’s HSBC headquarters, where their voices echo around the concrete and glass like those of trapped birds.

New Year Lion Dance
The sense of dislocation induced by the loss of almost an entire day to international time zones never left me. My first real experience of my new home was Chinese New Year, when everything closes down for the best part of a week and a bewildering variety of ceremonies took place from which I felt cut off by my ignorance. I watched, I photographed, but not until months later did I make sense of the lion dances and fireworks and offerings of strong liquor in red cups on the steps of corporate offices. And hunger became a serious issue as all the shops and markets were closed! The markets remained places of mysterious fascination – the strange fish, bought alive for the table and dried for medicinal purposes, the unintelligible cuts of meat, entire stalls devoted to different kinds of mushrooms, ginger roots of phallic proportions. One immediate and abiding favourite sold fish, kitchen equipment and counterfeit iPhones...

Part Two of this article will be posted on Thursday.


Sarah Bower is the author of three novels and many short stories. Her work has been translated into ten languages. Her first novel, The Needle in the Blood, won the Susan Hill Award 2007 and her second,  The Book of Love, was a Toronto Globe and Mail bestseller.  Her third, Erosion (written as S. A. Hemmings), was published in 2014.She was writer in residence at Lingnan University, Hong Kong in 2014 and currently teaches creative writing for the Open University, Writers’ Centre Norwich and the Unthank School. She holds a MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia, where she was shortlisted for the Curtis Brown scholarship in 2001. For five years she managed the mentorship scheme for literary translators run by the British Centre for Literary Translation. She currently works as general manager at Writer’s Centre Norwich and is working on a short story collection and a new novel, Love Can Kill People, Can’t It?, inspired by the history of Palestine since 1947 (though much of it take place in Whitby…)