Author Amanda Smyth Celebrates her Trinidadian Roots through her Works
Updated: Jul 18
As an avid reader, I am constantly searching out new book titles and authors especially over the lazy summer months. It is by chance that I came across a feature on Amanda Smyth on the Repeating Islands site which sparked my curiosity. They spoke of Smyth’s upcoming novel Fortune, a historical novel based on true events in Trinidad’s oil-rush of the 1920s. The main character is Eddie Wade who is determined to become rich by building his own oil wells. And in true Greek tragedy, Wade falls in love with a married woman and well, you will have to read the book to find out the rest.
Photos provided by Amanda Smyth
What was most amazing is that Amanda Smyth is an Irish Trinidadian author who has penned two other novels also set in Trinidad. Smyth, won the Prix du Premier Roman Etranger for her first novel Black Rock which was translated in five languages. A Kind of Eden, her second novel which was published in 2013 was nominated for an NAACP award.
She is a former actor who now resides in England and aside from being an award winning author, she teaches creative writing at Arvon, Skyros, Greece and Coventry University where she is able to reach and inspire the next generation of writers.
Interestingly enough though Smyth was born in Sligo, Ireland, her mother who is Trinidadian ensured that she knew of her culture and its gastronomy. One of her favorite dishes is Doubles. I had no idea what doubles was and now I wish I had had some when I was in Trinidad in 2019.
It’s always exciting to exchange, and learn more about what inspires creative minds and learn how their talents manifest. I’m so looking forward to diving into Fortune.
CE: At what age did you start to develop an interest in reading, and writing aside from what was required for school?
AS: I enjoyed reading when I was young and I also liked writing stories. But I think the biggest influence on my storytelling was probably being around my Trinidadian family--my great aunts, my grandmother-- because they were such excellent storytellers. They spoke about the past in such a rich and compelling way and I was entranced.
CE: Can you tell us a bit about your childhood?
AS: I was born in Sligo, Ireland, but we left when I was very young. My mother, brother and I lived in Yorkshire, but we went back to Trinidad every summer for holidays which were spent with my grandparents, cousins etc.
CE: How did you hone and develop those skills in your early years?
AS: I enjoyed reading, there’s no doubt about that. And when I was in my teens, I read a lot. I was a fan of Patricia Highsmith. She really grabs the reader by the throat. I fell in love with Toni Morrison, and then Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I remember reading 100 Years of Solitude and being blown away. He described blood flowing out of a body, and across the floor and down the steps and into the road…and up the steps. Or something like that, and I was in awe. I also felt liberated in my own writing, free to write what I wanted, even if it was impossible.
CE: What inspires your creativity? Do you have a creative process when you begin working on a book?
AS: Yes, I wait for an idea, let it stew for a while. And I see if it has legs. Then if it does, I start to collect things—visual images which I put above my desk in a big frame. And those images can really be of anything that triggers a feeling I want to create, or they can be specific. So my latest novel is about oil, and it is set in 1920s Trinidad. I included pictures of oil derricks, the real life characters on which the novel is based, and various images of fire, 1920s cars.
Amanda Smyth, her mother and her daughter
CE: Did you ever consider a different career path besides becoming an author, and if so what was it?
AS: When I was young I worked as an actor, in theatre and some television. I was also in some television commercials.
CE: Thus far, what have been some experiences or accomplishments that make you epically proud?
AS: That’s a tough one. This last book has been a real journey, and it was more complicated than the other novels, in many ways. Trying to recreate 1920s Trinidad, imagining the life of East Indian cocoa farmers, and getting under the skin of four very different characters was not easy. I switch point of view a fair bit. It took time, and also, when I thought I was finished, there was another layer that needed to go in, to make it more specific to Trinidad. So all that was quite exhausting. But it came together, and I feel proud of it.
CE: What do you believe makes an interesting and impactful story?
AS: Well, strong characters are really important in engaging a reader. We need drama, too. And lovely prose.
CE: Who are some authors or creatives you admire?
AS: Jean Rhys, Jamaica Kincaid, Toni Morrison, James Salter, Richard Ford, Raymond Carver.
CE: Have you been, or how often are you been able to visit Trinidad?
AS: I go every summer. Sadly the pandemic put a stop to that for now. I miss it and can’t wait to go back.
CE: What is your favorite Trinidadian dish?
AS: Where do I start! I love salt fish cakes, roti, doubles, Tania cakes, crab and dumpling, stew chicken...I could go on. I love Trinidadian hot and spicy KFC. And add a Carib to that, and I’m happy.
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