Interview with the Writer
Sick Lit Magazine: How long have you known , deep down, that you’re a writer?
Amanda McLeod: I always loved to read, and could read well before I started school. English was always my favourite subject and right through school I just adored reading and writing.
I ended up with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English, but was just a little too scared at that point to try and make a career of it. Later, I tried again – starting an editing course – but I had to move in the middle of the course, and external study wasn’t available so I had to withdraw. After my first child was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I started studying child development and education so I could be the best advocate for him that I could be. This set me on another path for a while, supporting and advocating for children with additional needs. As I studied though, I found a passion for children’s literacy. The way young children are spellbound by books, and how beneficial reading is for children, really resonated with me. I studied writing children’s picture books – they’re much more complex and nuanced than they seem on the surface!- and have written a number of manuscripts. This led me to question why I shouldn’t keep going, and write the kind of literary fiction I loved so much in school (and still do, to this day). I sent out two pieces. One of them was rejected pretty quickly, which was really deflating. But I read it over again and I knew it was good. I believed in it. I just had to find it the right home – it needed someone who wouldn’t shy away from the grittiness of it. And that’s when I heard about an editor named Kelly, who ran a magazine called Sick Lit, which published material others would shy away from. I read some Sick Lit content and it felt like it might fit. Turns out, it did. The feedback I got from Sick Lit staff made me feel like I could back myself. So I dove in, and started writing and submitting in earnest. Recently I’ve had an opportunity to exercise my journalistic skills, which has been both challenging and enjoyable. I’ve ended up coming full circle, back to the reading and writing I’ve loved for so long – it just took me a while to get here.
SLM: What inspires you as a writer?
AM: A lot of my work stems from asking questions like ‘what if…’ and ‘what about…’. These flights of fancy can take me in unexpected directions.
The piece ‘Remains’ is a great example. When I first read your prompt, I wasn’t sure it was for me. I haven’t written or read very much science fiction. But I let the concept of ‘future’ sit there in my mind and incubate for a while. What might the future be like? It depends who you ask. I pondered today’s forward thinkers. People are planning for the colonisation of Mars. Space flight is coming closer to being a reality for everyday people. People will soon be leaving Earth, many permanently. Plenty of people have speculated about how intergalactic travel might look in the future. I started wondering, ‘what about everything that gets left behind?’ If in the future (and this is becoming increasingly likely) Earth can no longer support humanity, what might be left? Life almost always finds a way. If all the humans upped and left the planet, how might life change?
And what if something, or someone got left behind? What if someone refused to go? How might it feel to wake up and find that the universe had moved on without you? Those were the seeds of thought from which ‘Remains’ grew.
SLM: Tell me one thing that scares you and excites you all at the same time.
AM: Sharing my work with the world! It’s exciting to think that others might read my words and engage in deep thought or lively discussion as a result, as I have with the words of so many others. But it’s also terrifying to take something you’ve worked so hard to create, and share it with strangers.
SLM: Name one of the WORST experiences you’ve had as an up-and-coming writer; I.e., submission disasters, strong personalities, etc.
AM: I’ve been focusing really hard this year on paring back. For a long time I was multitasking to the point of ridiculousness, and it was draining. I started really cutting back on everything – stuff, engagements, responsibilities – so I could dig deep and make real, substantial time for the things in life that truly bring me joy. And I really notice it now when that overwhelm starts to creep back in – because I start making really careless errors. The worst was a competition entry I sent, rushing to beat the deadline when I decided what I’d written was good enough to enter, and promptly submitting the wrong file because I was trying to balance too many tasks at once.
SLM: Favorite book. Or books. And go!
AM: Take a seat, we could be here a while… I have a beautiful illustrated collection of Jane Austen’s work that my husband tracked down for me. I had a copy of Bryce Courtenay’s ‘The Power Of One’ that I read and read until it fell apart, and each individual page was loose inside the cover. I have a book by Norma Johnston called ‘The Potter’s Wheel’ that I have dragged to every house I’ve ever lived in – it resonated with me when I was younger and I’ve kept it with me ever since. More recently, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood really got me thinking and sparked a lot of intense conversations, which is something I believe books should do. And a marvellous book called ‘All Cats Have Aspergers’ by Kathy Hoopmann holds a special place in my heart.
SLM: Is there a novel in the works for Amanda McLeod? If so, tell us about it. And then send it to me so I can mark it up and encourage the hell out of you!
AM: There is a novel! It’s in the super early stages of development. I’ve written about three chapters. I’ve got it planned out, but structuring it will be challenging – the protagonist is unravelling a family secret that only came to light after her mother’s death. There are two people who know the whole truth, and one has just passed away. I need to make sure that it peels like an onion, and as the layers come away, new meaning to old events becomes clear. I’d be honoured for you to read it Kelly, when I get more of it written! There are also a number of children’s picture book manuscripts I’m working on, and a series for early readers. Children who love books grow into adults who love books and sparking that passion for literacy early is something I really feel strongly about and want to be a part of.
SLM: I got over 200 rejections before my book was finally published in 2016. I still take rejection to heart and sometimes react very poorly. How do you deal?
AM: Nothing rips the base out of your gut like a rejection, does it? The disappointment still stings me every time. Depending on the situation, I think I react differently. If it’s a straight up ‘no thanks’ and nothing else, I go back over my list and remember all the pieces I had published that were initially rejected. Just because they weren’t right for one publication, doesn’t mean they won’t be great for another one. I cast a critical eye over my work again – have I missed something? – and then just keep looking for the right home. If I get feedback with the rejection, I look at it as an opportunity to improve it, and hone my skills. Another great consolation is to look at acceptance rates. A lot of them are really low – I figure a 5% acceptance rate means 19 rejections for every acceptance. And finally, I tell myself that the sting is because of how much I value my work.
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Amanda McLeod is a writer and artist, currently based on the east coast of Australia. Her fiction has appeared in Sick Lit Magazine, The Scarlet Leaf Review, OJAL: Open Journal Of Arts And Letters, and elsewhere. She enjoys good coffee, rainy nights, being outside, and almost anything to do with cheese. Her plans for the future include finishing her novel and publishing a children’s book.