Sworn Secret is the debut novel by Amanda Jennings and published by Canvas.
Why did I pick this book as my Book of the Month?
As August approached, I had my book of the month in place and settled down to read a few books from my pile before starting to look for September’s book of the month. I picked up Sworn Secret, a book by a new Author that i had been sent by Constable & Robinson. I was blown away by how fantastic it was. What I am most delighted about is that this book was unexpected and not what I had planned for this months main feature, but so good it made me move things around as I knew I just had to have it for September.
When Anna, Lizzie Thorne’s charismatic sister, is killed in a tragic fall from the roof of her school, her family is plunged into shock and despair.
One year on and grief still has a suffocating hold on them. Her mother, Kate, consumed by loss and desperate to find someone to blame for Anna’s death, retreats from her family, locking herself away to paint Anna’s portrait for hours on end. Jon, her father, is doing his best to care for his loved ones but the pressure of trying to stop his marriage collapsing is pushing him to breaking point. And amid her parents’ turmoil Lizzie just wants to grow up and leave her sister’s ghost in the past.
But then a devastating revelation rocks her parents further still and raises questions concerning what really happened the night Anna died. While Kate and Jon grapple with their dead daughter’s secrets, Lizzie throws herself into a passionate but forbidden love affair that frees her from the heartache all around her – but also threatens to tear her family apart.
Wow what a book and even more impressive with it being a debut novel.
Brilliantly written, very gripping, emotional and heartbreaking. You’re plunged (sorry – bad choice of words but you will understand why in chapter 1!) straight into the story on page one, this is not a slow burner of a novel. The writing style reminds me very much of Rosamund Lupton and I really believe that anyone that enjoyed Sister or Afterwards will love this book too.
The characters are very believable and you warm to many of them so easily. This isn’t a gentle story, this is a story of a family being torn apart and the after effects that it has on each and every member. Great plot and sub-stories running through the book. I’m relectant to say too much about the story as I don’t want to spoil any part of it.
I can’t praise this book enough, I couldn’t put it down and read it cover to cover in a day. I have to say I really think it has been my favourite read of 2012 so far. I will definitly be reading Amanda’s next books.
I asked Amanda the following questions:-
1) What an amazing story Sworn Secret is Amanda and your debut novel – please could you tell us a little bit about it?
The story starts when fifteen year old Anna is killed falling from a school roof, then focuses on how her parents and younger sister, Lizzie, are coping a year on. They’re struggling with their grief as it is, but when Anna’s shocking secrets begin to surface and questions are raised over the circumstances of her death, the emotional recovery of the family is jeopardised.
2) Are there any Authors that you have read past/present that have inspired you to write or was it something else that made you start?
I started to think about writing around the age of 20, and although I was always starting a book (my dad referred to me in his wedding speech as the most prolific writer of first chapters known to Man), back then I really wanted to write for television, and if I’d had my dream, sitcom. I was addicted to sitcom through my teens; Blackadder, Fawlty Towers, The Young Ones, Girls on Top, you name it, if there was a tight script and a laugh on offer, I was watching. (Very different to my reading matter at the same time which was overwhelmingly Stephen King and James Herbert.) I entered a script for BBC Talent, and was shortlisted from a couple of thousand to the last eight. I got to meet Paul Mayhew-Archer, who co-wrote The Vicar of Dibley among other things, and he was very encouraging and positive. However, something wasn’t right. I suddenly felt enormous pressure to have to make people laugh consistently – I think I felt I’d put all my jokes into that one episode, perhaps! But I was now convinced I wanted to write. I used this mini-success as the impetus I needed to start (and finish) my first book. In terms of inspirational books, around this time I read Alex Garland’s The Beach and Alice Seebold’s The Lovely Bones, and remember clearly being a bit jealous that I hadn’t written them myself.
3) What advice would you give to debut novelists trying to get published?
Firstly, get to The End. You need that first draft in front of you before you can do anything. No unfinished novel was ever published. The temptation to constantly rewrite the first chapters every time the narrative makes a change in direction is huge. I write the changes in capitals at the appropriate place in my manuscript and make a note of it in my notebook (eg TOM HAS AGORAPHOBIA) and then in the edit make the necessary changes. The edit is where the story comes together. If you read the first draft of Sworn Secret, for example, you would think it was a different book to the one published. The piece of advice is grow a thick skin and expect rejection. There might be a few writers out there who got there first book published by the first editor they submitted to, but I certainly haven’t heard of them.
4) Are you able to tell us a little bit about your next novel?
My next book centres on two men who were involved in a dreadful incident whilst at school. They happen to meet again after a long time apart. One of the men is married, and the memories and emotions that are dredged up put strain on his relationship. Further complications occur when the wife develops an attraction for the other man and turns it into a dangerous love triangle. It’s a story of the differing definitions of love, of covetousness, and a look at what constitutes an outwardly ‘perfect life’.
5) What has been your favourite read of the last 12 months?
I’ve read some great books this year. I really enjoyed Sister and Room, but without doubt my favourite has been The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I was chatting to a friend and she horrified to discover I hadn’t read it! She pushed a copy into my hands and told me to get on with it. It was a great recommendation. It’s everything I love about fiction: distinct characterisation, an evocative sense of place, heartbreaking and thought-provoking.
Thank you so much to Constable & Robinson for sending me a copy to review.
You can get your copy via Amazon UK (and you’d be mad not too!)