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Sunday 13 September 2015

ℚ A Single Breath - Amanda Apthorpe

Today we have the pleasure of meeting up with author to talk about A Single Breath (, Atlas Productions, 188 pages) a Literary fiction novel.

Author Q&A | Synopsis | Teaser | About the Author | Tour Stops

A big welcome to Amanda Apthorpe, thank you for joining us on BooksChatter.

What was the inspiration for A Single Breath?

"It was a small article on page 10 in a newspaper several years ago, in which a male obstetrician was exonerated following the death of one of his patients.

Of all the articles in that paper, why did this particular one catch my eye?  What mood was I in that caused me to tear it out and file it away?  I don’t know the answers, but that article prompted the writing of A Single Breath.  I pondered for days how that doctor, the caretaker of life’s first moments, must have felt when the otherwise healthy mother-to-be died of asphyxiation.  But I also found myself wondering how the female-dominated profession of midwifery gave rise to such a male-dominated profession of obstetrics.  What followed was a fascinating journey through the history of midwifery and obstetrics and a contemplation of what a woman might compromise to break into that profession.

A PhD thesis and a journey to the Greek island of Kos, followed.  As a result, Dana, the central character in A Single Breath was ‘constructed’, but as I followed her, and her sister Madeleine across the world, she became more than a vehicle to address some of these issues that the newspaper article had prompted.

The myth of Persephone and Demeter is like a soft background to this story.  Persephone’s rise from the Underworld is reflected in Dana’s journey."
How much of yourself is reflected in this book, and how?
"I’ve pondered this question myself.  A Single Breath is written from the 1st person point of view, from Dana’s perspective.  I chose this because I wanted to invest more of my own thoughts and feelings in her - to give the writing more intensity.

Strangely, I found that I became a little bit distanced from her. At first I was bothered by this and thought I’d made the wrong decision, but I know now that the book is complete, that it was as it should be.  Dana is not me.  She is a fully fleshed woman whose thoughts and feelings differ at times to my own.  However, she still provided a vehicle for me to sort out some of the things I think about, especially the polar opposites of rational science and mythology, and how someone can come to terms with being implicated in the death of another."
The first thing that draws me to a book is its cover.  Can you tell us about your cover for A Single Breath - why you chose that concept and who the artist is.
"A woman floating in the Aegean.  Being immersed in water is significant in this novel as the reader will come to know.  The top of the woman’s body is obscured, as though she is dissolving - this too holds significance.  I like the fact that the her head and face are not visible as it helps to deter any pre-conceived ideas of what the protagonist - Dana, looks like.  I like to envisage the characters myself, but that’s a personal thing."
Why should we read A Single Breath and what sets it apart from the rest?  What makes your book unique?
"A writer draws on her/his own experiences and life perspective in the creation of characters and the development of a plot, what is said in dialogue and what flavours the descriptive narrative.  So in that way, the book has to be unique.  This novel is a journey - internally and externally and sometimes, for Dana, it’s difficult to distinguish the difference."
Can you tell us something quirky about A Single Breath, its story and characters?
"A couple of times in the novel, Dana’s aunt is mentioned.  This is absolutely based on my own aunt.  Though she is not around now, I wanted to pay tribute to her, and some of her strange, but loving ways.  The maternal side of my family - my mother, aunt and grandmother held some strange superstitions and general beliefs that bordered on the occult.  Tea-leaf reading, old wives’ tales, Western and Chinese herbalism and such were a natural backdrop to our world.  There is definitely some of that in me, in my sister, and my daughter, but my years as a science teacher, trained in rational thinking almost made me reject all of that.  As I get older, I find myself pondering some of these old wisdoms.

The story follows the physical journey of two sisters, Dana and Madeleine.  My own sister’s middle name is Madeline, and, yes, I did base some of Dana and Madeleine on us.  Some of the events that happen in A Single Breath did occur in real life, particularly those in Kos, but that was for my husband and me.  We really did get into the back of the car with that couple and the moon and star above Turkey were truly like a beautiful cliché!  My sister and I have a great relationship, and I wanted to explore some of that in this novel.  However, the two characters became their own people.  When my sister read A Single Breath, she didn’t recognise Madeleine as herself.

One day at work a prominent Australian lawyer whose first name is Julian came as a guest-speaker.  I was so engrossed in what he had to say, in how he stood, looked and of course his great mind, that I think I developed a bit of a crush.  Dana’s ‘lost’ love just had to be Julian.

Carlo - well he just had to be sexy, in an arrogant kind of way.

Elliot.  When I began writing this character, my intention was that he would be a cad - a Hades figure to Dana as Persephone.  In the myth of Demeter and Persephone, Persephone is ‘stolen’ by Hades and taken to the Underworld.  When she is eventually free to leave, he tempts her with pomegranate seeds.  In the scene when Dana and Elliot are at the restaurant, there is a reference to pomegranate juice.  I tried hard to make Elliot a cad, but I found myself becoming very fond of him (probably more than fond of him!), so things had to change.  So much for me being the one in control."
Who would you recommend A Single Breath to and what should readers be aware of (any warnings or disclaimers)?
"For the readers who want to go on a journey with the character, who want to learn something intellectually they might not have known, who want to be surprised, and to take comfort in shared human experiences - this book is for them."
If you could / wished to turn A Single Breath into a movie, who would be your dream team?
"Oh what an exciting prospect that would be!  In keeping with certain themes in the book, I’d have to have a female director, and as a fan of Australian creative culture, predominantly an Australian cast.  So, my dream team would be:

Director: Gillian Armstrong for her sensitivity to landscape and quiet moments
Dana: Cate Blanchett or Claudia Karvan
Madeleine: Rose Byrne or Rachel Ward
Julian: Hmmm ... perhaps Benedict Cumberbatch or Colin Firth
Elliot: Colin Firth or Benedict Cumberbatch (either way, I just love listening to them and looking at them!)
Carlo: Jonathan LaPaglia or other exotic Italian.
Setting: The locations in A Single Breath are beautiful or quirky, so ... definitely on location."
What do you like to write and read about?  Do you stick to a particular genre or do you like to explore different ones?
"I like to write about ordinary people on a journey of self-discovery.  Because of my background and interests in science and religion/spirituality (I’ve taught that too), these themes will probably always influence what I write.  I look for balance between the extremes of most things, but in the end, it’s about the extraordinary things we are capable of as ‘mere mortals’ and the relationships we form that interest me."
What is your writing process?
"I’m definitely a morning person.  I love the promise that a new day brings and my creative energy is at its best then.  For all of the time I wrote my first novel Whispers in the Wiring, and for most of the time that I wrote A Single Breath, I was working as full-time teacher.  My writing routine was established back then.  Up at 5.30, shower, breakfast, family tended, and off to the coffee shop opposite the train station.  I would write for 20 -30 minutes, catch the train to work, revise what I’d written, and that was it for the day.  On school holidays I was able to write for longer periods.  Even though I have more time at my disposal, this is still my routine - though maybe up at 6am now, and can linger over that coffee!  I believe that my brain has wired itself to write very intensely this way.  I have to be careful, though, that I don’t restrict myself by thinking that I can only write in coffee shops.  However, it’s been effective and I have done most of my study this way too."
What is in store next?
"Several years ago, my husband and I travelled to Italy and Greece.  While on one of the Greek islands, we went to visit a Minoan archaeological dig, then had lunch in a taverna hacked into the cliffs on the beach below. The taverna was run by a family - the mother and father, their 40-something-year-old son, and his young wife.  There was a friction between the mother-in-law and the girl that brought her to tears, but her handsome husband was so patient and loving.  We were so enthralled that we went back the next day and witnessed the same.  That family settled into recesses of my mind, but occasionally, we would talk about them and wonder what happened to them all.  Of course it was fodder for a great story, and so , One Core Belief, was born.  The family has morphed - larger, more issues imposed by myself, but I love them. I can’t wait to see what happens!"
And as a final quirky thing, to get to know you a little bit better... do you have a pet or something that is special to you that you could share with us?

Amanda Apthorpe and Pearl
What a beautiful fur-ball :-)  Hello Pearl!  Thank you for sharing her with us :-)

A Single Breath - available NOW!

UK: purchase from US: purchase from purchase from Barnes & Noble find on Goodreads


Unknown said...

Wow what a beautiful interview BooksChatter team! You have put so much work into this and it presents beautifully. Cheers.

BooksChatter said...

Thank you, Helen!
I am glad you like it :-)

BooksChatter said...

I just realised that we are hosting a feature for your novel, The Clairvoyant's Glasses, on 28 September. I look forward to seeing you back! :-)