I’m very pleased to welcome author and fellow Edinburgh resident Anne Hamilton to the blog today. Anne’s travel memoir A Blonde Bengali Wife was published in October 2010 and you can order a copy here: A Blonde Bengali Wife
Thanks for taking part Anne. First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?
I moved to Edinburgh from the West of Ireland in 2003 to do a year’s developmental work with the charity CHILDREN 1ST. Twelve years later, I’m still here and now I share life with my 5 year old son and a couple of his imaginary friends. I’ve progressed from social work, through community health and epidemiology, to writing, teaching creative writing and editing fiction full-time – and it’s the latter two that keep us in bread and water. We spend our summers in the USA, Christmas in the East of England and return to Ireland in between, all in the name of catching up with our very scattered extended family.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’m one of those people who says they have always written, though to be fair I’ve probably spent far more time thinking and talking about it than doing it, and it’s only since I’ve been in Scotland that I’ve become committed to it. My first acknowledged foray into fiction is one of those embarrassing childhood things that parents gleefully trot out – a ‘book’ called The Little Blue Elephant I wrote when I was seven, eight, nine… sometime at primary school. It was typed up, someone more artistic than me drew a cover, and it was shelved in the library. Nearly forty years on, the school is still going strong but I expect the library has become slightly more sophisticated!
Tell me about your journey to publication?
It’s a convoluted and circuitous journey – rather like my life and travels in general. A Blonde Bengali Wife started out as a diary and then, over the next few years, it progressed into a very tentative book. In 2006, following many, many rejections, it found a London-based agent, and eventually it was taken up by a Scottish publisher, and published in 2010 (the week my son was born). In the meantime, it inspired the agent, Dinah Wiener, to set up a charity supporting a community of children with disabilities in Bangladesh – Bhola’s Children – and the proceeds from the book have always supported that. When my publishing contract was up earlier this year, and the publishing house was locating to the USA and changing its remit, I decided – I still have trouble believing this – to self-publish a reprint of the eBook. This was done in November 2015 where it reached the lofty heights of an Amazon Kindle #1 bestseller. I wrote the book, but the thanks due for this go primarily to the wonderful Claire Morley and her company, My ePublish Book (www.myepublishbook.com)
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
A Blonde Bengali Wife is a travel memoir that describes my first ever (of a dozen or so) visits to Bangladesh. I was there for three months as a volunteer in the field of health and social care projects, which were being set up in the poorest rural villages. That was the theory, anyway, but as anyone who has read the book or heard my ‘Bangla’ stories will testify, I did anything from cooking to painting to digging to picking up litter. I truth, I wasn’t very good at any of it, but I was enthusiastic and willing. I was also in a unique position to travel across the country – so that’s what I did. In the travel genre, the book is more Bill Bryson (whom I love) than William Dalrymple (by whom I’ve overawed) and that’s what I intended; a humorous, novel-like story of the Bangladesh that few people know exists.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
With my usual sense of timing I began a PhD in Creative Writing the year my little boy was born (I’m still not entirely sure how either came about but they have both been fantastic; and hard work). The bulk of the thesis was a novel, and re-editing that with a view to eventual publication is my current work in progress. The novel is called Chasing Elena. It’s set on Cyprus and tells the dual story of childhood friends, thirty years apart. In 1974, ten year old Elena went missing during the Turkish intervention on the island, and as an adult, in 2004, April goes looking for her…
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past year? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
I now find it really hard to read like a reader rather than like a writer (with an editing cap on), so a good story, well-written, which pulls me in and makes me forget the technicalities of writing and any imperfections, is always a pleasure. I very much enjoyed The Color of Water in July by Nora Carroll, and I re-read, and liked once more, Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons of Cyprus. And if I can sneak in a huge recommendation from the five year old with me (and in me): The Day the Crayons Quit and its sequel, The Day The Crayons Came Home, (written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers) are two of the best, and funniest, children’s books ever! We have read them many, many times this week alone.
What are you reading just now? (December 2015)
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. Some of her books I’ve loved and others less so – I’m undecided yet where I stand on this one.
Tell me about your reading habits: book or kindle, bed or bath, morning or evening?
I use my Kindle more and more. I have it with me on the bus, on aeroplanes and in bed at night – propping it up against the wall and using one finger tap to change the page is the best thing ever! I don’t prefer it to ‘real’ books but it’s convenient and these days we never make it past the children’s section of libraries and bookshops anyway.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
I haven’t yet conquered my fears (born of ignorance) of technology and social media, though I do have both a (somewhat basic) blog and Facebook page that cover all aspects of A Blonde Bengali Wife and Bhola’s Children; the blog also has random writing/reading news and comments. For my professional writing services at WriteRight I have a website www.annehamilton.co.uk and I am on Twitter @AnneHamilton7
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
Seriously? Nancy Drew. Whilst other crushes come and go, a little bit of me always wants to be her (in a rose-tinted 1950s America, please). Imagine being eighteen years old, endlessly talented, quietly confident, infinitely lucky, always successful, and the best friend anyone could have… and nobody hates her for it.