Today’s guest blogger is Amanda Jennings whose debut novel Sworn Secret is published today.
I knew I wanted to write a book about sisters. I have a sister and also three daughters, so the concept of sisters is close to my heart. As I was playing around with ideas I thought about what it might have been like to have lost my sister in childhood and how that would have affected my life. It was a quick progression to imagining how I would cope if something happened to one of my girls, and it was the vivid emotions I felt that convinced me this was the area I wanted to explore.
Writing the book meant I had to trawl through some pretty dark imaginations. As a mother my worst nightmare is something happening to one of my daughters, and by happening I mean the kind of thing that makes a parent stop dead in their tracks and wince at the thought. Sworn Secret begins with the death of a teenage girl, and one year on her family is still struggling to cope with their loss. Their daughter was hiding something from them, something disturbing and shocking, which not only leads them to question the circumstances of her death, but compromises their emotional recovery further. It was heartbreaking to sit at my desk and have to think about how I’d feel if my own teenage daughter was killed. I would often find myself in tears as I wrote certain passages and would leave my study feeling shattered. A few people have asked how I was able to write about dealing with the death of a child without having experienced this directly myself. My first response is that as a writer this is my job, to use my imagination and empathy to evoke emotional responses in the reader so they can connect with the characters. But I also think that as a parent one is naturally moved by the plight of other parents who suffer the tragic loss of a child. Every parent expects their child to outlive them; this is the way of the world, the natural order of things. When you learn of a family whose child has died you immediately – and without much difficulty – put yourself in their place. You feel a vast amount of sympathy, but at the same time there’s an element of grateful relief. Thank god that’s not me. Thank god that’s not my child. You might suddenly grab your son or daughter and hug them, or slip upstairs to check them while they sleep; wondering for a painful moment how on earth you would cope.
I wonder if writing about these feelings, these fears, is a way of trying to protect myself, perhaps hoping that if the worst did happen I’d somehow be prepared for it. But of course, nothing could prepare you. Worrying about our children is perfectly normal and is a sure-fire way of reminding us how precious the here and now is.
More information about Amanda and her work can be found on her website.