When I was the writer in residence at Canterbury University in 2008, part of my job was to make myself available to creative writing students who might want to talk to me and ask me advice. Only two students ever contacted me. One of them was Andrea Eames.
She emailed me and asked if she might come and have a chat to me. We made a time and when it came I opened the door to a beautifully dressed young woman with brown hair (I know it's now blonde). The chat turned into an hour's conversation. Andrea was writing a novel, had nearly finished it in fact, and wanted some advice about getting agents and publishers. I took a copy of her manuscript with no promises that I would be able to read it. It's a cliche I know, but Andrea, in that fusty old English Department, really was a breath of fresh air. We bonded over our love of vintage clothes and blogging (it turned out that Andrea has an extremely popular blog about, among other things, fashion, or more specifically, style). I showed her some swing dancing videos, which were my obsession at the time. We talked about writing, and books, and probably a whole lot of other things. She utterly charmed me and I think the next morning I made just that little more of an effort when I got dressed.
Andrea was just 23 (I think) at the time, and she gave me a little information on her background. I immediately asked when we met if she was English, because of her accent, which I couldn't quite place, but she was actually from Zimbabwe (she also revealed to me the shockingly ignorant questions people sometimes ask her when they hear where she is from, which I won't share). Her novel was based on her experience growing up under the Mugabe regime.
So, thus far, I knew I liked Andrea very much, and I knew she had some incredible material for a first novel, but could she write?
Uh, the answer was a resounding yes. I read the first few chapters of her book and I didn't hesitate, when it came time for Andrea to send it out into the world, to recommend her to my London agent. My agent was similarly impressed and took her on immediately. Before long she had a book deal with a highly respected London publisher, Harvill Secker. I was so thrilled for her and couldn't wait to read the finished novel in proper book form.
It was a bit of a wait. But nearly three years on from that first meeting, the book is out and I am happy to report that it is wonderful. I was gripped from beginning to end, and couldn't wait each evening to fall into bed with it, to find out what was going to happen to Elise and her family, and to experience the world she brought to life, like magic, using only words. How could someone so young be so astute, so intelligent, bring so much? I'll tell you. Bloody hard work. And a sharp mind, and a good heart.
Please go and buy The Cry of the Go-Away Bird. You will not be disappointed.
*note the outstanding taste in publicity-shot headgear.