It’s no secret how much I loved Peggy Riley’s debut novel Amity & Sorrow and when Headline Publishing got in touch to ask if I’d like to be on the Amity & Sorrow blog tour do a mini-interview with Peggy, I jumped at the chance to get a bit of a scoop behind Amity & Sorrow! They’re also being super awesome and generous and offering up a beautiful hardback copy of Amity & Sorrow along with a matching badge! See below for details on how to win.
For the duration of March, I celebrated female empowerment and International Women’s Month on my blog. Following on that theme, what do you think constitutes a strong female character and role model, and do you see any of these traits in Amaranth, Amity or Sorrow?
It takes Amaranth a long time to become empowered in her own life. She takes a lot of knocks and she makes so many compromises in her marriage(s) that she completely loses track of herself and all she wanted. She loses herself. But I do think that, by the time the novel begins, she is a strong character, strong enough to pull her children from a family and faith that she can finally see for what they are. She takes herself away from a man she still loves, however dangerously, to protect her daughters. That does make her a role model in her children’s eyes, even if they do not want to see it or to leave their home. Through leaving, Amaranth rediscovers who she is, who she was, and who she might still become. Amity and Sorrow are still growing up, so anything is possible for them. Amity is young and too eager to please, while Sorrow is a strong character, but no one’s role model. She is self-absorbed and ruthless in her selfishness, raised as she is to believe in her own specialness, her own divinity. It can be very hard for any woman to leave a cult. Having read several memoirs from escapees, I know it takes a tremendous amount of strength and courage.
What made you want to write about victims of a fundamentalist religious cult in Midwest America? How did you come up with the idea for Amity & Sorrow?
I have long been interested in the handmade faiths of America, a nation founded by religious radicals and home to both utopian societies and death cults. The book started with a picture from a newspaper, actually, while I was still solely a playwright. It was a wooden church on fire. Immediately, a story began to form. My mind added a group of women running, their long skirts brushing dry grass; I imagined them to be wives. I hung onto the image and the story for a long time, but I couldn’t make it work on stage. Finally, the idea made me change how I write, to write it. Stories find their own way, somehow, thank goodness!
God, sex and farming (#godsexfarming)… would you say that’s a fair description of Amity & Sorrow?
It’s a tag I used to refer to the book, three strands of story that I wanted to play with, to plait and push and pull against one another. It was something to call the book until I could come up with a title – I’m terrible at titles. Also, the inclusion of farming made people laugh, so somehow, it stuck. But, of course, it isn’t all that Amity & Sorrow is about. No novel is about just one thing or three things. It’s also a book about faith and family, a family made in faith. It’s about a woman who takes her daughters from their fundamentalist, polygamous cult when the church catches fire. That’s how the story begins.
What’s next for you in 2013–besides promoting your first novel, of course!
Well, once the big push for Amity & Sorrow is over, I’m back to my desk to pick up my second book. I’m in the middle of editing it and hoping to get it to my agent very soon for its first read. My head is jangly with plot and unanswered questions, even as I’m talking about this first, finished book. They’re very different stories, so it’s pretty noisy in my head.
Finally, Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”) and it’s a concept I’m absolutely obsessed with. What would be your six word story for your life so far?
I love that piece, too. I adore Hemingway. Here are two:
Writing to find what I believe;
Got there in the end. Hurrah!
Amity & Sorrow is now available in both the US and UK, but you’ve got a chance to win your very own copy! All you need to do is comment on this post letting me know you’d like a copy. I’ll then choose the winner at random on Friday, 19 April at noon (GMT). Good luck!
The London Diaries is just one of many amazing blogs hosting interviews, excerpts and giveaways to promote Peggy’s Amity & Sorrow. Check out some of the other sites on the tour: