What fun! I’m having award-winning Author Amy Elliott-Smith to visit in the Bingergread Cottage today so we’ve got cake and cookies … – knock at the door …………. AMY!! Welcome! Come on in and make yourself at home. Kick your shoes off, snuggle up on the sofa and enjoy your peppermint tea.
I know you as a colleague from Crooked Cat Publishing and someone with whom I had a ball at her launch party but that’s a bit superficial. I’ve got your author profile from Amazon but I want to go a bit deeper if that’s OK. I think I spot a few similarities here.
She began to perform stand up comedy to friends and family at an early age. Aged twenty she decided to book herself in to perform at a gong show. This went well, so Amy did more and more comedy until anxiety and depression hit her like a shovel in the face, effectively halting her career.
Oh Lordie that sounds familiar – what was it that made you want to do stand-up? Was it a “fighting shyness” strategy?
I’ve never been the shy type! I decided to go into stand-up because I watched and really enjoyed a lot of comedians. I simply decided to give it a go. I got quite far, even landing my own show on BBC Manchester Radio – then the depression darkness fell. I was almost disabled by it and had to give up the show, the comedy, my life really. I had absolutely no idea how to deal with what was happening to me. It felt as though I were possessed. Everything I had known changed almost overnight. I felt as though I had no control over my own brain.
A quivering wreck, confined to her room in fear of an irrational and sticky end, Amy began to write. This lifted the gloom a little and, slowly but surely, she become one of you ‘normal’ people, able to roam free in public once more.
Yes, I’ve had my own run-ins with the black-dog. Tell me how you got out of it – not just the writing but anything else that helped you. I’m always fascinated by other people’s coping strategies.
I don’t think I’ll ever truly be out of it. As you say, it’s more about coping strategies and curbing its enthusiasm than thinking you’ll ever be ‘cured’. Depression is such a bizarre and all-consuming condition that its grip held me for many years. I wouldn’t go out, I refused to see anyone, I literally squirreled myself away because I was so scared I’d faint or ‘go mad’ and was terrified someone would witness my meltdown.
I had a lot of therapy. A LOT! Cognitive behavioral, transactional analysis, person-centered, etc, etc, etc. On and on it went and, although aspects of each helped a little, they didn’t get to the root of the underlying issues. Without sounding cheesy, solving my problems had to start and finish with me. I expected a lot of doctors and therapists and pills to deal with the problem without actually wanting or feeling able to deal with them myself. Once I’d got me head round that, I was more receptive to the help I was offered.
It’s a long road but, these days, when sadness attacks, I just go with it and allow myself to cry or be angry or whatever I need to do to get over it and not repress my emotions in that moment. Obviously, I do that in private. I’m not that mental! If anxiety threatens, I challenge it now by thinking “oo, I haven’t had a panic attack for a while, this should be fun!” It instantly dissipates the fear for some reason. That’s my little challenge to my demons, bring it on, and off they go. Cowards. They don’t mess with me much these days!
Amy holds a degree in English Literature from Liverpool University so should be treated with respect at all times. As part of her studies she lived in North Carolina for a year where she discovered the wonderful musings of David Sedaris.
Do you think having an EngLit degree helps you write? Does anything you studied influence your writing now? David Sedaris – oh isn’t he just the best? What is your favourite sketch?
I chose my degree because I already had an interest in literature. I’m not sure if that means I chose it or it chose me. Reading most things helps me to write. From pamphlets in the doctor’s waiting room to Shakespeare, I’m sure I’d have my love of writing and reading regardless of my degree.
It certainly honed my knowledge of the English language and introduced new authors into my life, specifically Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He’s quite heavy-going but it’s well worth plowing through his work – just beautiful. The first time I ever cried reading a book was to his Love in the Time of Cholera. I never realized the power of the written word until that point. I remember thinking I want to do this. I want to be able to make people cry (in the nicest possible way, of course!)
I discovered David Sedaris’ work by chance, just browsing a bookstore. After I had read one, I devoured the rest of his books one after the other as soon as they were released. A Plague of Tics from his novel Naked is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read in my life. It describes his life with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. His novels are so quick, easy and an absolute joy to read. It’s like stand-up comedy in book form.
OK – now the journalistic questions. Your novel “a guide to becoming distinctly average” published by Crooked Cat, just won the Beryl Bainbridge People’s Choice Book Award for “First Time Author”. We’re all obviously delighted but I would like you take us through it – in the immortal words “ how did you feel?” From being nominated right through to picking up the award! Go on … tell us!!!
When Laurence at Crooked Cat Publishing told me that A Guide to Becoming Distinctly Average had been nominated for The People’s Book Prize I almost fell off my chair! It’s the most flattering compliment to bestow upon any author, let alone for a first novel. I wandered around a bit bemused for a while then begged everyone I knew to read and vote for it if they had enjoyed it.
I was performing stand-up in LA when I heard that I’d made the final and flew back to attend the ceremony last week in London. Luckily Tom Gillespie, whose novel Painting by Numbers (also published by Crooked Cat) had been nominated too, so we went together. We had a great time on the night and I hope I made him feel as supported and relaxed as he made me feel.
When my name was called, I felt like a robot. I can’t remember what I said into the mic but I was really nervous. It was all a bit of a blur really but I was, and still am, so incredibly happy and honored to take home The Beryl Bainbridge Award for First Time Author. I even put a seatbelt around it when I drove home!
Amy that’s brilliant! Thanks so much for dropping by the Bingergread Cottage and sharing your smashing news with us. I want to thank you personally for helping to dispel some myths about depression. You are an inspiration, lady!
That’s very kind of you to say. You’re not too bad yourself!
A Guide to Becoming Distinctly Average is available from Crooked Cat books and Amazon