Interview with A. K. Amherst
by Dr Marina Nani
Who is A. K. Amherst?
A storyteller. I love crafting characters, write about people like you and me and send them on a very unique journey. I always loved to play with ideas in my mind and my writing channels that.
Your book, Belfast Central, was released at The London Book Fair, on 10th April on the same day when we celebrated 20 years since The Good Friday Agreement was signed. Is this a strategic plan or just a coincidence?
The story I tell is about friendship and building bridges. I choose the setting of Northern Ireland consciously and I also choose the date of publication consciously – to emphasise the message that I wanted to send. It is more of a symbolism to me than anything else.
Your book is classed as fiction, but it relates to real events. How real is the story?
I started writing the story without the historic context to get a feel for the characters, their relationships and their journeys. Parallel to writing, I read a lot about the Troubles and picked historic events that my characters would most likely come across in their everyday life. Like for example, the teenage boy who lives in Belfast in the 1930s gets involved in a factory worker strike – the so-called Belfast Outdoor Relief Strike. It didn't feel staged to put him in the middle of this. That was very important to me. I didn't want to integrate history just for the sake of it, I wanted it to make sense, to be legit. Seeing my character deal with the situation and get his take on the events was very interesting for me to explore.
What are your plans for this year?
Write the sequel. Again, it's not for the sake of it. I don't feel like doing something just because many other writers do it. I want to write a second book because there is a story yet to tell. In Belfast Central, the lives of two men collide during a fatal shooting at the Belfast Central Station. That brief encounter and everything that follows is told from the young man's point of view. He sets off to find this (much older) stranger who saved his life and disappeared. The backstory of the old guy (set in the 1930s) is part of the young man's journey, of his healing process. This kind of soul searching is not over until the past catches up with the present. So for me, the end of the whole story is the moment those two lives collide again, at Belfast Central in 1993 – but told through the eyes of the old man.
You are a self-published author. What determined your choice of self-publishing versus the traditional publishing?
After finishing my book I cautiously tested the territory and sent the book to literary agencies in Germany and the UK. I wanted to get a feeling for the book and its chances. Although, honestly, I never really considered to go with an agent. The share a writer gets for his work is small enough, I don't need additional people making that amount smaller. That might sound harsh but I wrote this book. Without me there would be no product, so I have the right to determine who is in the game and who isn't.
Anyway. Although I received compliments for my writing from agents of both countries, there was reluctance about the topic. Interestingly, the reasons for the reluctance couldn't have been more opposing. Some German agents stated that the topic wasn't current enough and that the market wouldn't be that interested in a book about the Troubles anymore. The British agents, on the other hand, were a bit cautious because of the topicality. With the Brexit the independence of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland is a current topic in the media again.
What are the top challenges you are facing as an Indie Author?
Being taken seriously. When I started to market my book and wanted to network with people of the industry and media I was surprised how few people were willing to listen to me. I am aware that publishers, booksellers and industry magazines are approached by a lot of writers each day and that they have to deal with a lot of impoliteness themselves – I get that, I'm not blaming them for their behaviour. I was just … taken aback at first. I had to swallow my pride and just keep going. Today, I am happy to have my own little network set up and I'm grateful for every single person I work with.
What are the major benefits of being a self-published Author?
After the feedback of the literary agents, I decided to not send my manuscript to any publisher. Not one publisher received my script. It's important for me to emphasise that. I am a self-publisher by choice. There are so many benefits of doing it yourself. No one tells you what the cover should look like, nobody tells you what the title should be, no one tells you to axe 100 pages just to save printing costs. – Self-publishing means freedom. But with it comes a lot of work. I'm not saying it was easy. I had to find the right partners to work with– editors, graphic designer, printer, distribution partners.
Now, looking at the outcome, I wouldn't do it any different. It was worth the effort because I'm holding a book in my hand which is a 100 percent me. My personality is shining through every little detail, it's authentic and people notice that.
What is your message to our readers who would consider publishing their own story?
Be aware that it is a lot of work. And even if you think you know what you are getting yourself into, believe me, you don't. There are always surprises and setbacks. I was so happy when I sent my edited and designed book to a print-on-demand-service. I thought that's it, I'm done. Then the first copy came along. The printing quality was unacceptable. I had to stop the distribution and start to search for a new collaboration – with the publishing date coming closer fast. It was daunting and there was more than one time that I considered to give up. But there is this quote I came across on Twitter. I pinned it to my wall to help me through the worst days. It says: Remember why you started.