Amy Heydenrych – Wayback Wednesday

Amy Heydenrych is a writer who lives in Johannesburg with her husband and young son. She has been shortlisted twice for the acclaimed Miles Morland African Writing Scholarship and her short stories and poetry has been published in multiple anthologies including Brittle Paper, The Kalahari Review and the Short Sharp Stories anthologies. Her debut novel, Shame on You, was acquired by UK publisher Bonnier Zaffre in a two book deal and was published last year. In 2018, Amy was nominated was one of the Mail and Guardian 200 Young South Africans. Her second novel, called The Pact, will be published in January 2020 in South Africa, but is available on Audible and Kindle now.

Amy Heydenrych and I showing off her books at Love Books
Amy and I showing off her books at Love Books

Amy interviewed me for her blog Bookish and had to stop recording because we got so deep into the literary goss, that we went completely off the topic. Not much has changed. We still love a bit of lit goss, but more importantly we discuss our plots with each other and beta read each other’s books.

Can you perhaps explain what a beta reader is?

A beta reader is someone who reads an author’s work in progress in its unpolished form. This is so important becaue usually we create in isolation, with only our cats, ragged pajamas and angst for company. A beta reader doesn’t have to be another author – it just has to be someone who loves reading and can share their opinions about your book when they’re done.

You are published internationally (that has such a COOL ring to it). Your first step was getting a kick ass agent. Tell us about that process.

Shame On You by Amy Heydenrych

Haha, I think so too! Gosh, getting my amazing agent took a good couple of years. I first pitched a thriller set in SA, which nobody was interested in. Then, after a few rounds of edits to Shame on You, I began pitching to agents in the UK.

I did this in rounds, often getting close to signing an agent and failing. Every time, I took their feedback and went back to the manuscript and edited in line with their concerns.

Gradually, the rejections got better and better (yes, there is such a thing as a good rejection!). Finally in 2017, I got offered representation by The Bent Agency.

I was so used to receiving rejection emails by then that it took a while for me to understand what the email was saying!

You were in the UK last week for the launch of your latest book THE PACT. I saw pictures of you signing books at Waterstones (I think it was?). Talk us through every dream-come-true moment of that trip.

Amy signing copies of THE PACT at WH Smith in London last week
Amy signing copies of THE PACT at WH Smith in London

That pic is of me signing books at WH Smith at Victoria Station. It is extremely hard to get into bookstores in the UK, and while I was in London I was lucky enough to hear the news that WH Smith was planning on promoting The Pact across all their stores in airports and train stations.

Two days before my book was set to come out, my friend and I stood at the bestseller charts, imagining where the book might appear. Suddenly, she started tugging my arm and gesturing wildly – it had been unpacked early and was already there!

That feeling was so surreal.

Other dream-come-true moments included meeting with my agent at a beautiful club in Soho, thoughful and exciting media interviews, seeing my book in print for the first time, meeting other authors at my celebration drinks and overall, just feeling part of a global community of writers and storytelling.

THE PACT is your second book to be published internationally (I’m sorry, I have to keep saying it). What is it about?

THE PACT Amys latest psychological thriller...

The Pact is a psychological thriller that deals with office bullying, the #metoo movement and life where technology is able to track our every move. When Freya arrives at her dream job at a renowned tech start-up, it feels like nothing can go wrong.

But her colleague Nicole has it in for her, and bullies her to breaking point. One night, after one too many drinks, she plays a silly online prank on her as revenge. It’s nothing to speak of, and she almost forgets what she has done the next day.

But then Nicole is found dead in her apartment, and she receives a mysterious text message that suggests she may be next.

If someone had access to your Google history, would you be arrested?

No, but they may be perplexed. Not everyone has a mix of ‘toddler dinner recipes’ and various crime scene forensic searches!

Now that we’ve told everyone the magical bits about your publishing journey, let’s tell them about the not-so-magical bits. Talk us through both your lowest point (the ugly crying bit) and your highest point (which may have been last week??)

the launch of SHAME ON YOU at Love Books…
The launch of SHAME ON YOU at Love Books…

There have been many low points – for years, I came so close to being published and just missing it. This was excruciating, because so often you wish that the path was linear, or made sense. I think there is this illusion that the success writers have is in direct proportion to how hard they work.

While it does take constant grit and hard work, the depressing truth is that many authors work hard, have amazing ideas and talent, but for whatever reason they don’t get published or their books don’t do well. I still have low points, but I don’t cry as much anymore because my heart has withered into a dry, scrunched up ball of paper with my failed sentences printed on it (hahaha…I love this!)

My highest point was as I was leaving London to catch the flight back to South Africa. I went into the bookshop at Heathrow to get something for the plane, and there was The Pact on the ‘Christmas Bestsellers’ display, snuggled in between James Patterson and Donna Tartt.

That sort of thing is so incredible that it’s hard to process – I think I’m still processing it now.

Spill the tea about where you get your inspiration. Do you keep a file of good ideas? Does a story have to be personal for you to really engage with it? 

Inspiration comes at many moments for me, but right now it seems to turn up when I am driving or sitting up with my son at night while he is teething. It’s important to have non-working moments where your mind has space to explore new paths and ideas. There is always an element of myself in the stories I tell, but the more I write fiction, the more I learn to abstract myself from the process.

Writing process: how does it work between your agent and your editor? Who sees your work first? How much input do they have?

I write a first draft in a couple of months, and then take a few weeks break from it before editing it two or three more times. When I am happy with it, I sent it to some beta readers for their feedback. Once I have integrated this, I send to my agent, who usually has really specific notes on how to improve the manuscript. When we are both happy, we sent this to my editor, which sets off a process of a couple months of developmental editing, line editing, copy editing and proof-reading.

the launch of SHAME ON YOU at Love Books 1…
The launch of SHAME ON YOU at Love Books

In the early stages there is a lot of discussion about key aspects of the narrative. A good editor will tell you where a character or part of the narrative isn’t working and then leave it up to you to find creative ways to solve the problem. While there may be one or two sentences or characters that I hold onto, I am overall very open to being edited. It is absolutely critical to growing yourself as a writer and my favourite part of the publishing process.

Explain to our readers about the horror of being on submission.

Amy Heydenrych Inscription

Once you have an agent, the rejection is not over! Together you work on your manuscript and prepare it for submission to publishers – with international agents they focus on bigger markets first, so the US and UK. The book you hold so dearly is opened to the scrutiny of editors working at the publishing houses of your dreams.

The potential for your life to change (or to remain the same) is enough to make you crazy, it feels like there is so much riding on that moment.

Once the book is out there, your agent sends you the rejections in real time which is a particularly acute form of soul crushing. Thankfully, when my agent submitted in the UK, I got early interest from my publisher, Zaffre, and was offered a contract a few weeks after.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on a third thriller, as well as a few other books in different genres.

Advice to aspiring writers.

  • Focus on writing the absolute best book you can.
  • Don’t show your work to anyone too early.
  • While being published is thrilling, the publishing industry is a business like any other, with fluctuating tastes and markets. The absolute best part of writing is the writing itself, so enjoy the process and don’t stress too much about the outcome.

Any book recommendations for this upcoming festive season?

Being Shelley, Qarnita Loxton, The Dutch House, Anne Patchett, A Sin of Omission, Marguerite Poland, and The New Daughters of Africa Anthology.

Where can we get your books?

Shame On You Autographed Copy

You can get Shame on You at all bookstores and online bookstores now. You can get The Pact in South Africa on Audible and Kindle right now, and in print from January onwards.

But, this is the important bit – if you are interested in reading a book and supporting South African authors, order the book at your local bookstore or pre-order it online. This helps retailers understand the demand for local books and order accordingly.

Thank you, Amy for taking part in #FridayReads! I have read both her books, they are intelligent psychological thrillers, absolute page-turners and make great gifts. Go forth and buy them at once…