Interview: Eames Andrea by Allyson
An Interview with Andrea Eames
Posted on 01/14/2011 by Allyson

First published at fifteen in her native Zimbabwe, local author Andrea Eames is set to publish her new novel, The Cry of the Go-Away Bird, in the UK this February:
Elise is a young white Zimbabwean in the 1990s, living a near-perfect life. Her clothes are always clean and ironed, there is always tea in the silver teapot, gins and tonics are served on the verandah, and, in theory at least, black and white live in harmony.
As Mugabe’s presidency turns sour, however, this idyllic and privileged world begins to crumble into anarchy.
Told through the eyes of a young girl, ‘The Cry of the Go-Away Bird’ follows the struggle of one white farming family to stay afloat in the collapsing economy and escalating horror of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. When the farm invasions begin, the violence threatens to destroy their way of life forever, and escaping the vengeful ghosts of their past seems impossible.
The Cry of the Go-Away Bird is currently available for pre-order through
Below, Andrea shares her thoughts on writing, publishing, and upcoming projects.

It seems like you were born to be a writer. What was the experience like of writing a novel and getting published at 15? How has that early success, even on a small scale, influenced the rest of your career?

I wrote my first novel during 2000, when the violence against farmers in Zimbabwe was particularly bad and my parents sent me to live with my grandparents in England for a few months. The book was pure escapism – fantasy and magic, complete with unicorns and dragons, as far away from the drama at home as I could make it. As I finished each chapter I sent it to my cousins, who were still living in Zimbabwe on their farm. They were the two main characters in the book, as well. Their future was very uncertain, and I wanted to give them something that would entertain and comfort them.
I think publishing one novel, even with a small local publisher (not that being small and local are bad things!) showed me that it could be done. By real humans, too, not by unapproachable writing gods. This was an important realization, particularly when people started telling me that I would need a ‘real’ job. It also taught me how to edit and rewrite (and that editing and rewriting is hard work!), albeit on a small scale, and how to work with an editor. The editor at (and owner of) Textpertise, Roger Stringer, was as stringent as his name suggests and I learned an awful lot from him and his comments (“The characters haven’t eaten in three days at this point. Maybe make them stop and have a sandwich.”). I am very grateful.

What was your impetus for writing The Cry of the Go-Away Bird?

I had known for a while that I wanted to tell this story, but it took me a long time to bring myself to write it. Zimbabwe holds a lot of happy memories, but a lot of painful ones, too. I wanted to share the darker aspects of the country, sure, but it was more important to me to share the joy, humour and colour of the place. I needed to be somewhere, emotionally, where I could do that.

Because you grew up in Zimbabwe, how much research did you have to do for The Cry of the Go-Away Bird, and how much of it was based in memory?

I found it quite hard to access my memories at first – at least, in enough detail to portray Elise’s world accurately. I had shut off Zimbabwe when I left for New Zealand, because it was easier to cope that way, and my memories were buried under a lot of protective material. Doing a fair bit of research helped with that excavation, as did talking to family and friends who also lived in Zimbabwe during that time. My stepdad kept several scrapbooks of newspaper clippings from our years in Zimbabwe which proved invaluable for solidifying dates and the order of events.

What was your writing process like?

A confused mess, really. Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh. It was a learning process. I managed to dredge up a huge block of raw material, then gradually chip and chisel away at it until it reached its present shape. I felt completely overwhelmed while I was writing and became so embedded in the book that it was difficult to see it with any clarity – I thought at the time that this might be a first-novel syndrome, but it seems to be much the same for everything I write now! In fact, I would become suspicious if it wasn’t (“It’s quiet. Too quiet.”)

Your revising process?

Revising is the most enjoyable part of the process for me, because you are working with an existing story rather than trying to conjure one up. I rewrote the book completely before signing with a publisher, and it was so satisfying to see it become tighter and stronger as I worked.

How much time did you spend on the novel from beginning to end?

Three years! I can’t believe it has been that long since I started. I wrote the first chapter in December 2007, and the book is being released in February this year. I wrote the first draft in around nine months, the second in about three, and then rewrote the whole thing in the first three months of 2009. Once I signed with Harvill Secker, of course, I went through the process of editing again.

What was the writing process like as compared to earlier in your career?

I don’t think I had been writing novels before, although I imagined I was. Instead, I had been writing stories – series of events, lists of and-then-and-then-and-thens. I discovered that novels were something else altogether: something you construct piece by piece; deliberate structures that are a lot more complex than a linear story. I don’t think I had really understood that before – and I don’t think I really, truly understood it until I was well into the revision process.

How did you wind up finding publishers? What was the search process like?

As everyone who has gone through the query process knows, it is fairly soul-destroying! I knew that the UK was the market for my book. I searched an agent database and queried all those who sounded like a good match for me and for the book. I eventually found my agent, however, through a friend – Rachael King, who is a New Zealand novelist. She referred me to her agent, I submitted my revised manuscript, and I signed with her within a few weeks. It only took a few weeks for my agent to sell the book to Harvill Secker (a division of Random House) as well, which was a relief – it’s tough being out on submission!

Once your publisher was in place, what was the publication process like?

It has been really quite wonderful. I am very lucky. I have a great agent, a great editor and everything (so far) has gone smoothly. I absolutely love the cover art, as well. Seeing the cover of your book is always a writer’s dream, I think, and it was even better than I had imagined!

I see on your blog that you have a young adult work in progress. Is that at a stage where you’re ready to discuss it? If so, what is the project, and how is it shaping up so far?

I do! Although, in some ways, all the books I’ve written so far could be seen as YA, because of the age of the protagonists. I have just delivered my next manuscript to my agent – another novel set in Zimbabwe – and am planning to work on the YA novel full-time this month. I am rather superstitious about discussing details, as it can sap some of my enthusiasm for telling the story on paper, but it is set partly in modern-day New Zealand and partly in an imagined world, and three different characters narrate the story – something I haven’t attempted before. It’s such a relief to work on something different from my last two books, as well; it feels like a holiday.

How did you ultimately end up in Austin after Zimbabwe and New Zealand?

We moved to Austin because my husband’s work sent him here to open a new office for the company. We had been thinking about moving to a different country for a while, and this provided the opportunity. And I ended up in New Zealand because we had to leave Zimbabwe to escape the political situation and my stepdad had always dreamed of living in clean, green New Zealand. I am very grateful for both moves – although now I am in an unfortunate love quadrangle with three countries that will probably never be resolved. I also lived in England for a while, and I love it there, too – does that make it a quintangle?

That being said, Austin is my favourite city, hands down. I felt instantly at home as soon as we arrived. I love the weather, the vibrancy, the friendliness and the unquestioning acceptance of individuality (and eccentricity!).

What is your favorite part about the literary scene in Austin?

You know, I haven’t really experienced the literary scene here yet! We’ve only been here for four months and we have been concentrating on settling in. I have connected with Sarah Bird and Pamela Ellen Ferguson, who have both been hugely friendly and welcoming, but I would love to get to know Austin writers better. When I get back from the UK in March I’ll make that a priority!

What is your advice to writers at the beginning of their careers? What sort of encouragement can you offer to those struggling to hone their craft and publish their work?

1. Read. A lot.
2. Write. A lot.
3. Write the best book you can possibly write.
4. Edit it.
5. Edit it again.
6. Submit it.
7. Submit it again.
8. Edit it again.
9. Write another book.
10. Repeat until published. Re-order these steps as necessary.

I sincerely believe that if you are talented, hard-working and persistent you will be published. It’s just a matter of when. I am not special – you can do it too. And remember to smile every so often, because although it’s a tricky business it’s a wonderful one too.