Two talented local authors. Amanda Smyth and Jean Baggott

PUBLISHED: 11:26 24 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:15 20 February 2013

Amanda Smyth

Amanda Smyth

Two talented local authors have hit the headlines this year with two very different books.

Jean Baggott
Many people say they have a book in them but few do anything about it and even fewer succeed, never mind at the grand old age of 73.
But this is what happened to Warwickshire author Jean Baggott, whose book, The Girl on the Wall: One Lifes Rich Tapestry was published earlier this year and tells the story behind her stunning autobiographical tapestry.
Inspiration for the tapestry came from seeing the interlocking circles of a ceiling in Lincolnshires Burghley House in May 2006 and she realised, as a talented needlewoman, she could replicate it in a tapestry.
Initially the desire was to commemorate the working class people of my early life but it developed into an appraisal of most of my life in general, she says.
The resulting work spans 112 cm by 41cm with 73 interlocking circles, each one representing a key moment or influence in her life, from the Second World War to her move to Warwick.
A book naturally followed as friends became fascinated by the story and what each circle represented. She began to write it all down and her son then helped her seek publication. From there press interest soon followed and she has now become something of a local celebrity appearing in the Sunday supplements and on local radio, something she has found it hard to come to terms with.
While I have spent the last thirty years thinking that I had a good tale to tell I find it difficult to accept that there is so much interest in what I have to say, she says.
For while her life spans one of the most turbulent and innovative times in our nations history her life remained remarkably ordinary, defined for her by society and, even more crucially, her mother. It was her mother who prevented Jean taking up a place at the local grammar school and deemed that a lesser school would be perfectly adequate for her daughter.
It was a happy rut which I learned to accept; or so I thought, she says and bears no regret or bitterness.
In a round about way I have my mother to thank for the husband that I had and my children and grandchildren. I would not want to change that at all. In any case it wasnt just me who lost out on an education. That is the way it was then if you were working class.
Because of the way I was bought up I never had much ambition but as I grew I became aware that I was always interested in everything that was going on around me. Apart from seasonal changes and new inventions, handicrafts of every description would keep me transfixed.
My experiences of the war and the ten years that followed taught me to bide my time, everything would come to those who waited. Have patience. In my old age I have learned that this is not always a good thing. While I have spent my time waiting I have seen others grab the bull by the horns and make things happen. Perhaps I should have done the same, she adds.
After many years of marriage she was left to face life alone after her husband Ray died in 1996 and on an impulse she moved to Warwick in 1998 because it was a place Ray said he would like to live.
At the turn of the millennium the black and white photograph of her aged 11 hanging on the wall became someone to talk to and even more importantly, she suddenly wanted to please her and make her proud.
The girl on the wall and I are still one and the same. What I failed to appreciate until that moment when the 20th century became history was that in always seeking to please other people I had let her down. She had been a clever girl.
I began to make amends to her, she adds
And amends she did, embarking on a history degree at Warwick University which she chose because she says: I wanted the best.
But after all she has achieved does she believe the girl on the wall is proud of the 21st century woman shehas become?
I doubt it, but I can say that I am proud of her. While it would be seen as conceited to be proud of myself I can get away with this, she replies. I think, after all Jean has achieved, she has every right to be proud and she remains a timely reminder that it is never too late.

The Girl on the Wall: One Lifes Rich Tapestry by Jean Baggott (17.99, Icon Books).

Two talented local authors have hit the headlines this year with two very different books. Jean Baggotts touching and inspiring autobiography is a story of the 20th century and one womans working class life. Amanda Smyth has been hailed as an exciting new writing talent with the publication of her first novel Black Rock. Debbie Graham spoke to both women about how they came to write their books.

Amanda Smyth
Spending every summer holiday from school in Trinidad sounds positively idyllic but to author Amanda Smyth, who lives in Leamington Spa, it was nothing to be envious of, just part of growing up and a chance to see her grandparents and extended family. And it was at their knee she learnt her craft without even knowing it.
Storytelling in Trinidad is a part of everyday life. So I was used to hearing my great-aunts and my grandmother talk about their lives in an interesting way. Their world was enchanting to me their stories of living on a plantation, the superstitions, and their simple way of life, she says.
An incident in her familys past provided the inspiration for her first novel Black Rock. Her great-grandfather was murdered in Trinidad in the 1950s, a crime that remains unsolved, with rumours circulating that a woman was involved. So when her agent suggested she needed to write a novel Amanda did not have to look far for an idea and began to write the story of the woman she imagined killing him.
Well this was the plan but, as is so often the case, it did not work out quite like that for it became apparent, as the book progressed, that the heroine of the novel, Celia, could not have carried out the murder and instead it became a journey about her self-discovery.
Amanda says that although Celia is just a figment of her imagination she does relate to her need to find her home, her identity and self-worth. For however idyllic it was spending the summers in Trinidad it left Amanda unsure about whom she really was.
She (Celia) is trying to find where she feels she belongs and where is home and that was something I could relate to and the insecurities that brings.
As for Amanda it was always a question of where does she belong? Trinidad, where she spent the summer, or Yorkshire which was home for the rest of the year?
The two worlds were so contrasting, Amanda says, the rich, lush and colourful tropics and the chilly, grey Yorkshire village.
Although the book does invite the question: how can Amanda understand a mixed-race girl and her emotions of growing up in the 1950s? it is actually about more than that, it is about a desire to belong and feel secure, which many people, whatever their race, can identify with.
Ultimately she (Celia) had to find it within herself, says Amanda, who could be speaking about her own life. Although writing was something she has always enjoyed acting was her first love, fuelled by a longing to create, find my voice, express. In reality, Amanda says she was filled with self-doubt and found the world of acting harrowing.
It is such a hard life, she says, and even though you would get roles it was really tough. A trip to New York about 11 years ago got her off the endless treadmill of auditions, as it forced her to face up to what she wanted out of life and for the first time she admitted it was not acting.
So that was that, she packed her bags and returned to Trinidad to see her mother and work out what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Here she began to write again but this time seriously, and this time she found what she was looking for.
Once I turned to it and started working at it, it was totally my thing, much more than acting, it was a discovery. You know we have ideas of how we should be in the world and I think when we find something that is quite natural we dont always recognise it as being the way but it totally was when I unlocked it.
What I found with writing is you pull it out of yourself. You dont need anybody to tell you what to do or how to look. It all comes from within you, you are much more in charge of your destiny.
She does not rule out a return to acting but this time it will be on her terms as her husband, Lee, works in films and it will be a joint venture. And it is Lee, who she met again after a gap of several years on the London tube (in itself, a story worthy of a Mills and Boon) that has brought her to settle in Leamington Spa. Drawn here because its tall Regency buildings, she says, reminds her of London but without the madness of London and home, she says, is here for now.
I never thought we would stay here so long. But yes, I think we're pretty settled. And we have good friends in the area now. Some very special people.

Black Rock (7.99, paperback) is published by Serpents Tail www.serpent


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