Since my debut novel, As If I Were A River, was published in April I’ve been lucky enough to get lots of reviews from book bloggers and readers. It’s been interesting to see the themes that have emerged in people’s reading of it.
When I started writing it I was driven by the pondering I’d been doing on how a woman would react to her husband vanishing and having no idea of what happened to him. That woman turned out to be Kate and in the writing of her story it turned into so much more. It went from being just Kate’s story of her husband going missing, to also being the story of her mother, Laura, and grandmother, Una, and how the decisions they’d made in the past had a huge influence on how Kate reacted to everything.
Kate is a product of her past and she has never moved on from the emotional hurts of her childhood and adolescence. But most importantly, she has never recognised this in herself so has never taken steps to deal with it. When her husband, Jimmy, disappears this is a catalyst for everything that she’s been suppressing to come to a head. Which is where the story of the women in the family that came before her comes into play.
Each of them are influenced by society’s structure and attitudes to women and the weight of family expectations. As I worked through the different drafts of the novel, I could see a theme emerging that questioned how people live their lives. Whether it’s the ones they really want to or the ones that just happen to them. Whether they even stop to think about that. That’s where the title came from – the river is a metaphor for the paths our lives take. How you can be going along one way and come across an obstacle that send you careering off on another route, and how you have very little control over that. But now that I’ve been reading other people’s reactions to the book, it seems that other strong themes that have been emerging for many readers are love, loss and acceptance.
When I saw this appearing in so many of the reviews, I obviously started to think about that myself. And I realised that these are the themes that run through so much of my writing. I’m fascinated by human relationships – with other people, with themselves, with other animals, with spirits, gods, and with the planet.
How people born to the same parents, brought up in the same house, educated at the same schools, can be so different in so many ways. How we react to love and loss, and how some people find a way to peace and acceptance and others never do. Why we carry on blindly doing things we know are bad for our physical and/or mental health.
This is where the focus in As If I Were A River is. Both Kate and Laura make decisions and take actions that hurt themselves physically and mentally, and the narrative of the story is driven forward by the urge to discover whether they will, or can, ever come back from this and find a happier future. Although the story deals with some harrowing themes and goes to some dark places, it is also filled with love and I’ve been so happy to see that readers have got this from it and that they find the hope that runs through it all.
Thanks to Amanda for this insight into a striking debut which is sure to be a big hit with readers. You can follow Amanda on Twitter @ to keep up-to-date with all her writing news.