Amanda Herbert-Davies is the author of Children in the Second World War: Memories from the Home Front, a fabulous and intimately researched book that illustrates the presence of death and perseverance in the lives of children and sheds light on what it was really like on the Home front during the Second World War.
I spoke to Amanda and asked her some questions around her writing.
Can you tell us a little bit about what got you into writing non-fiction?
I had always wanted to be an author and hoped that one day I just might get a book published. I began working for an historical archive, the founder of which had produced a few books from the archive material. I remember looking at the hard copy of one of his final drafts, an impressive mountain of paper sat there on the table, the culmination of many months of research, and wishing it was mine. It was lightbulb moment because I realised it could be. I had the resources so why not?
What was your process for writing your first non-fiction book?
My system for research was really pretty simple and invariably chaotic: collect and save everything, absolutely everything, in files and sub-files. Referencing is vital – there is nothing worse than trying to relocate the source of a piece of info and finding all trace of it has disappeared! Collating all my material into a coherent whole was a quick process. Producing it as a creative narrative was like fitting together the pieces of a jigsaw.
Are there parallels (or, indeed, significant differences) between writing fiction and non-fiction?
Fiction writing v non-fiction – hats off to anyone writing fiction! I have two fiction books on the go and both have stalled. I love the freedom of writing fiction, but it is so much harder to write it well in many respects. At the moment, for me, the methodical planning I use for non-fiction kills my creativity for fiction yet trying to write a whole book without a methodical plan or water-tight plot outline leaves me floundering. I can write multiple great literary scenes but putting it all together is like a feat of magic I have yet to master.
How difficult was it to find an agent/publisher?
I was lucky that the one publisher I wanted accepts online proposals without the need for an agent. I had my ‘hook’ – previously unpublished material. I was luckier still that I was offered a publishing deal immediately.
How much involvement does your publisher expect you to have in promoting your own books?
My publisher did all my promotion and arranged national newspaper coverage which really boosted sales.
What advice would you give someone setting out on their first non-fiction project?
To anyone considering writing non-fiction, make sure you research your facts thoroughly and that you have your ‘hook’ to make it stand out from all the others.
Who’s your favourite author and why?
My current most favourite non-fiction author is Ken Tout (a WW2 ‘tankie’ and D-Day veteran) because even today at the age of 95 he is still writing and being published. Now that is something to aspire to! I must include my favourite novelist, the literary genius Irene Nemirovsky.
You can find Amanda’s book on Amazon.