Thursday, May 26, 2011

Andrea Eames*.

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.


Andrea said...

I just finished reading it recently - I think it's a wonderful book and it's so interesting to read how the two of you first met since I'm a fan of your books as well.

Andrea Eames said...

Thank you so much, Rachael! I feel very emotional after reading this. It seems like such a long time ago that I came into your office asking for help, and you have been such a huge inspiration and support ever since then. I know I wouldn't be with Vivien without you, and I wouldn't have been able to negotiate all the ins and outs of publishing without your guidance. I am so, so grateful to you for everything you have done for me - and for all your encouragement! I am so lucky to have such a great mentor and role model. xx

Jayne said...

What a lovely write-up! I was lucky enough to stumble over Andrea's blog a few years ago and just knew I'd enjoy her book; her writing is wonderfully fresh and has that special something that makes you fall into the page. I, too, was swept up into Elise's tale. Andrea is very inspiring and it is nice to see you inspired her - it's like an inspiration chain!

Ooo - and you're a swing dancer! I have been learning lindy hop for about 8 months - absolutely love it. I also play swing vids on youtube - the lovely Jean Veloz dances like a dream!

Cathy Benavides said...

I've been fortunate enough to get to know Andrea now that she's here in Austin, TX and I agree on all counts! I got her book (which she was kind enough to autograph for me) and was absolutely blown away by the story and the amazing writing. You are right- Andrea is a breath of fresh air in my life as well!

Guernsey Girl said...

Just caught up with your blog - and that's a breath of fresh air for me, too. Always good to hear about the encouragment of real talent - and what an amazing mentor you turned out to be...Greetings from England!