Welcome to Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series. Here to share a pot of tea and to chat about her brand new book, Sixty Summers, is Amanda Hampson.
Amanda Hampson grew up in rural New Zealand. She spent her early twenties travelling, finally settling in Australia in 1979 where she now lives in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Writing professionally for more than 20 years, she is the author of two non-fiction books, numerous articles and novels The Olive Sisters, Two for the Road, The French Perfumer and The Yellow Villa.
Hello Amanda. It is my pleasure to warmly welcome you to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews. Thank you for joining me for Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series. To set the mood for our tea infused interview, what is your preferred beverage, tea, coffee or other? And side accompaniment, scone, cake or other?
Thank you for the invitation! My favourite tipple is a pot of leaf tea, boring old English Breakfast, and a crunchy piece of toast spread with butter and blackberry jam.
Can you tell us what genres you write for and how many books you have had published?
Sixty Summers is my fifth novel, my books are fundamentally about ordinary women becoming empowered in their own lives. I’m increasingly interested in stories of women of my generation, the much maligned baby-boomers, with first-hand knowledge of the challenges and changes we have faced over the years.
Sixty Summers is your latest novel. Can you describe it in just a sentence?
In a bid to recapture the sense of freedom and purpose they once possessed, three long-time friends decide to retrace the steps of their 1978 backpacking trip through Europe and set off on a journey that will test their friendship, challenge their beliefs and redefine the third age of their lives.
I love the title of your book. Where did the inspiration for the title come from?
Finding a title that is catchy, apt and unique can be torture. For once, this title came easily and fitted perfectly with my theme. It grew from the idea that people sometimes quantify their life by calculating how many summers they have left, which focusses the mind but is a tad depressing at the same time. I wanted to have a sense of my characters looking back over the lives, over the sixty summers that led to this point in time.
Can you tell us about the research process to bring Sixty Summers to life? How did you incorporate this research into the narrative?
The kernel of the story was always going to be the relationships between these three women, put to the test by a journey that was both physical and mental. Initially, I thought of taking them on the Camino Frances: the 800km walk across Northern Spain. But having done the walk myself a few years ago, my sense was that the setting didn’t offer enough interest and variety. Then I realised that I had another journey to draw on, backpacking around Europe in the late seventies, that I could parallel that with a current day journey.
So last year, taking my imaginary friends with me, I set off by train from London to Paris and then to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Italy and Greece. As I travelled, I made notes and took photos and generally thought about the characters and their lives, so the story was fermenting throughout that trip. Putting it all together was a task and a half because I needed to interweave the past and present, progress the plot, keep the characters moving (mentally and physically) and make it all quite natural and seamless.
Did you find it challenging to capture the complexities of friendships and relationships, which are strong themes in your novel?
In the first three chapters we dive straight into the life of each of the three main characters: Maggie, Fran and Rose. Once I had those chapters down, I was really getting to know these women, not as ‘types’, but as real people. So from that point, I felt I could ‘listen’ to each character, rather than have a preconceived idea of what she might do or think. With a lifetime of experience in the complexities of friendships that part was fun.
What character did you most identify with in Sixty Summers?
There is something of myself in each of the characters but Rose is probably the closest in that I am honest and generous-hearted but also impulsive, a bit sweary and occasionally annoying (sometimes deliberately).
Can you tell us more about the different settings featured in Sixty Summers?
The three women are all from Sydney and lived together in London in the late seventies. Fran remained there while Maggie and Rose came home. The trio are reunited in London and start their journey visiting places they once lived. We then accompany them as they travel by train to Paris, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Verona, Bologna and Greece. The locations are backdrop for memories and reflection, as well as testing their patience with each other – as travel generally does!
How long did it take you to write Sixty Summers?
I was tinkering with the idea for a few months and, once the concept was clear in my mind, I started getting it down. It turned out to be more complex and longer than I had envisaged, so ended up being like two years’ work compressed into eighteen months.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading Sixty Summers?
I’d love women to recognise something of themselves in these pages, perhaps enjoy a laugh here and there, but also reflect on their own lives and wonder if there is some long held aspiration that could be fulfilled – before it’s too late.
How will you celebrate the official release day of Sixty Summers?
Definitely with a cup of tea! I had a launch for friends and family in a local book shop a couple of days earlier and it was wonderful to celebrate with them; to look around the room and see the faces of dear friends I’ve have known for decades. That’s truly a celebration in itself.
How has your writing evolved since your first published novel?
My first novel The Olive Sisters took me five years to write but, at that time, I had small children and was basically teaching myself how to write a novel. Each book adds skills, not just in ‘writing’ but editing and pacing. The children are now adults and my time is my own, so I can more easily immense myself in the story and work for longer periods. These days I feel more confident that I will be able to untangle some of the knots that naturally occur; perhaps more faith in my own ability.
Is there a genre you haven’t tried writing yet, but want to in the future?
I think the genre would only shift a notch or two, the themes or family and relationships are what interests me. I can’t imagine delving into speculative fiction or even romance – I wouldn’t know where to start!
Aside from writing, do you have any interesting hobbies?
Aside from work, I generally go to any lengths to avoid writing! I’m currently learning Spanish and just returned from a language school in Seville. Last year, I started learning salsa and latin dance, but I also enjoy quiet creative pursuits like drawing and photography.
What is next on the horizon for Amanda Hampson? Do you have any writing projects you would like to share with us?
I’m working on another book, that’s as much as I can say on that one. Writing has become part of the structure of my life, everything works around that. If I wasn’t working on a book, I’d feel something was missing.
What 2019 book releases are you most excited to read?
I’m still catching up with 2018 releases but looking forward to reading The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris and Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House.
If you could slip back in time, what era would you travel to and why?
I set my earlier book The French Perfumer in 1956 in the South of France because, being a relic of the fifties, I have an abiding affection for that era. Although there were hardships, it was simpler time; a golden period of optimism, gorgeous dresses and brilliant literature.
Finally, wrapping up our tea themed interview, who would you most like to share a pot of tea with?
I love being around people who are funny and opinionated and outspoken, so my first choice right now would be Hannah Gadsby, who is all those things and immensely courageous as well.
Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews for Tea with Mrs B Amanda. Congratulations on the publication of Sixty Summers!
Thank you for having me!
Life is too short for compromise …
When Maggie, Fran and Rose met in their youth, they had dreams and ambitions. Forty years later, the three friends are turning sixty, each of them restless and disenchanted with their lives.
Fran works in a second-hand bookshop. Her lover, one of a long line of disappointing men, is drifting away and her future is uncertain.
Maggie married into a volatile family. Her beautiful, indulged twin daughters are causing havoc and her elderly mother-in-law has moved in and is taking charge.
Rose has been an off-sider for her hopelessly vague but academically brilliant husband and their two sons. Time is running out to find and fulfil her own ambitions.
In an attempt to recapture the sense of freedom and purpose they once possessed, they decide to retrace the steps of their 1978 backpacking trip through Europe and set off an odyssey that will test their friendship, challenge their beliefs and redefine the third age of their lives.
Sixty Summers by Amanda Hampson was published on May 1st 2019 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Connect with Amanda here: