Dark thriller mines social media pitfalls

SA author, Amy Heydenrych

SA author Amy Heydenrych, whose first title has just been released in SA, spoke to the Chronicle about her life as a young mom and now published author.

Question: You have a special connection to the Midlands, in that you were married to Rhys Johnstone at Crystal Barn near Fort Nottingham on 15 December 2015. Did you know at that time that Shame on You would be published? How far down the process were you?

Answer: You’re right, I definitely have a special connection to the Midlands! Before Rhys had even proposed to me, I heard about Crystal Barn (which had just opened) and knew in my heart that it was the place we would end up getting married. At that stage, I had written two fiction books that had come very close to being published, but had not started Shame on You yet.

Q: Shame on You, your first book, has just been released in SA. Where can people find it?

A: Everywhere! Booksellers have been so supportive of the novel, so it can be found everywhere from Exclusive Books and Readers Warehouse, to Bargain Books and smaller, independent bookstores. And if you don’t see it, just let the store know!

International book deal

Q: You also have an international deal. Can you tell us more about that?

A: From the moment I started writing fiction in 2010, I hoped for an international deal, but I knew it would take perseverance and hard work. I bought a copy of The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook and systematically enquired with agents in the UK and the US. After almost a year of trying, The Bent Agency in New York signed me on. Together, we worked on the novel so it could be submitted to international publishers. In September 2017, on the same day my son Zach was born, I got a publishing deal with international publisher Bonnier Zaffre.

Q: The central character in the book Holly, she is dealing with some serious 21st century, 2018 issues. Was it always your intention to build a lot of the story around social media use, issues and abuse?

Dark, intriguing crime story

A: Holly’s character is inexorably linked to her social media persona. Much of the story shows how she battles to separate herself from the social media brand she has built. I think social media use and abuse was at the forefront of my mind at the time of writing, as I was beginning to pick up on the contradictions of social media, and its potential for damage. It was ripe for a dark, intriguing crime story!

Q: Is what happens to Holly a warning, a sort of cautionary tale about some of the pitfalls of social media use and online celebrity?

A: Definitely – Holly pressures herself to portray a certain lifestyle online, and followers worship her for this. Both parties are enabling a sort of lie, which has petrifying consequences for Holly. I’d like to believe the book will make readers think about their own online behaviour, as well as the information they read and believe.

The cover of the recently released Shame on You – the first novel by SA author Amy Heydenrych.

Q: Some writers are appalled when reviewers and interviewers try to categorise their work; your book would definitely appeal to young women readers, was that just a natural thing or was it your aim from the start? Or do you believe the appeal goes way broader than that?

A: I wanted to write the kind of book that not only dealt with modern issues, but that someone could pick up and enjoy on the beach. However, the life of a book is never entirely in your control. Overseas, I am finding a lot of middle aged and older women really enjoying the book, and I’ve had men sing its praises as well. I think fiction is moving towards an exciting place, where the gender of the protagonists and/or the writer has started to matter a little less.

Q: I know it’s a long story, but can you summarise the process between you sitting down to write the book and finally signing off on the version we see in the bookstores today?

A: Once I had written a first draft, I edited it myself a number of times before I submitted the novel to agents. As I started getting feedback, I tweaked the manuscript even more. When I signed on with The Bent Agency, we spent a few months preparing the book for submission, which required some plot changes and surface edits. On signing with Bonnier, we polished the plot points a bit further and then worked on addressing any inconsistencies, factual errors. They are a phenomenal team and caught every little detail.

Q: You’re the mom to a 9-month-old, Zach, but have also been feverishly working on your second book. What can you tell us about that next title and where will it be published?

A: I am working hard on getting the next title out as soon as possible! The next book also deals with digital themes, but where Holly dealt with the fallout of online celebrity in Shame on You, this particular online scandal could happen to anyone, which makes it all the more chilling.

Finding balance

Q: How has being a mom changed your working life, in terms of schedule, balancing your different work and home activities/responsibilities and basically “getting the job done”?

A: Hah, it changes day by day, but overall I try to get most of my writing done in the morning, and dedicate specific times to being completely present with Zach. I am still searching for that elusive balance though!

Q: What’s the long-term plan for Amy Heydenrych, the writer?

A: There is so much I would like to do! I’d love to share more suspense stories with the world, but would also like to write a memoir on my experience of pregnancy and motherhood. I love to draw, and would love to write and illustrate my own children’s book one day!