New Book Inspired by Real-Life Crime; Midland Writer Amanda Smyth Had the Idea for Her Latest Novel after Working with Warwickshire Police. She Chats to CATHERINE VONLEDEBUR
SPENDING her summer holidays in Trinidad opened Amanda Smyth's eyes to a beautiful, exotic but often brutal culture.
It is this world that the Warwickshire-based writer explores in her newly-published second novel, A Kind of Eden.
Amanda, aged 45, who lives in Leamington Spa with her film producer husband Lee Thomas and 18-month-old daughter Amelie, says: "There is a lot of violence in Trinidad. It's very prevalent there. I wanted to write about Trinidad through a foreigner's eyes - a perspective I know well.
"My central character, Martin Rawlinson, is an ex-army/police man in his late 40s who has left Warwickshire and fallen in love with Trinidad - but it all goes horribly awry when his wife and daughter visit him. He thinks it is Eden but it is no paradise.
"One of the themes of the novel is security and what happens to you after a violent break-in.
"I worked as a PA for a chief superintendant when I first came to Leamington. He was lovely. I liked it. I used to hear all the news. It gave me an insight. I kind of based my character around this world."
Amanda's protagonist, Martin, moves to take up a consultancy position with the Trinidad police.
He wants to start a new life with his 25-year-old Caribbean mistress, Safiya, but has yet to break the news to his English wife Miriam and daughter, Georgia.
Miriam has been counting down the months to his return, aware but not understanding the distance between them. But when she and Georgia visit him events in the following week change everything - but not in a way any of them had planned.
The idea for the novel was triggered by a number of real-life burglaries and violent attacks, explains Amanda, who has family in Trinidad.
"I had an attempted break-in, someone I knew in London was broken into and had her home wrecked and my family in Trinidad had a break-in - they were tied up by men with guns and robbed.
"A couple of years ago there was a case in Tobago about The Greens, a British couple who were broken into and hacked by assailants armed with machetes. They were absolutely traumatised and there were lots of questions about what the police and British embassy did to help them.
"There have been times when I've gone back to Trinidad and my mum has said 'oh, you know so-and-so is dead. They chopped him down right in the yard'."
Amanda was born in Sligo, to an Irish father and a Trinidadian mother. She grew up in Yorkshire and worked as an actress in commercials and TV before completing an MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in 2000.
"As a child I would go from living in the UK to spending the summer holidays in Trinidad. Me, my mum and brother would visit my grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts. We would go for two months. It was a very unreal place and was so different. It really sparked my imagination - the landscape, the textures, the smell and the food. It was a place of great happiness and very joyful.
"Being an outsider you see it though a very different lens. It was always very stimulating.
"I have always written. In my late 20s I moved to Trinidad and went on a writing course by a friend of my mother. He cracked the whip but said I had talent. It changed my life. I jumped into a creative writing MA and got an agent quite quickly."
Amanda was writing her first critically-acclaimed novel, Black Rock, seven years ago when she and Lee moved to Leamington from London.
"My husband got a job in Birmingham and we thought Leamington was a nice place. We have settled here. …