Dales historical crime writer finds success in her sixties

Author Amanda Taylor.
Author Amanda Taylor.

Once Harrogate’s Amanda Taylor played squash and swam The Channel, now she writes gripping historical crime mysteries set in the 19th century. But the journey to becoming a published author has been a tortuous one for this long distance swimmer, she tells GRAHAM CHALMERS.

There’s a haunted air to the impressive dustjacket of Amanda Taylor’s new historical crime novel.

That ghostly hooded apparition without a face superimposed upon a stormy sky and a menacing sea.

It says danger and intrigue and mystery.

But it also says something else. It also says this is the work of a published author.

To Dales-based Amanda Taylor – and any other aspiring novelist – this is, perhaps, the cover’s most important statement of all.

Amanda said: “It’s hard to believe I got published. the struggle has been so hard - I’m nearly in my zimmer frame! But I’m very pushy and not bad at my own promotion.”

Now aged 66 and, like all the best wines, still maturing, this former county squash player who lives near Thruscross Reservoir to the west of Harrogate has had to have plenty of endurance to get where she is.

Then again, as a long distance swimmer who has swum Coniston in the Lakes 17 times and was a member of the relay team that swam the English Channel, she ought to have it in spades.

The breakthrough came when she sent her self-published novel Dangerous Waves to Jeremy Mills who runs Yorkshire-based Northern Heritage Publications from Huddersfield.

This jocular but sharp woman said: “I’d been forced to self-publish it but it sold pretty well. I was lucky when I sent it to Jeremy. He was about to go on a trip to Canada and read it on the plane. In a way I had a captive audience.”

Many of us dream of being an author, myself included, but it can often be a long road to any sort of success.

Pick any famous writer you want – F Scott Fitzgerald, Stephen King or JK Rowling whose first draft of Harry Potter was rejected by 12 major publishing houses – and the chances are they were beavering away at a typewriter or laptop for a decade or more before they were first published.

Even after the book has hit the shelves, real wealth and fame are fairly choosy about who they consort with in the literary world.

In the case of Amanda Taylor, who lives in the Dales near Harrogate in the middle of a grouse moor, she has been working actively for 20 years to get to this point.

In fact, the origins of her novelist’s dream go back even further, she tells me.

“My father was a crime reporter when I was a little girl. Perhaps that’s why I started writing mystery stories aged seven. Later I wrote historical articles for Yorkshire magazines as a freelancer. All the while I was thinking of being an author.”

But it takes more than having a dream to leave the world of ‘vanity publishing’ and enter the world of bookshops and book signings.

Or literary talent, for that matter.

It takes a willingness to learn the art of writing itself and the patience not to give up.

Above all it takes one thing – acquiring an agent.

Retired but not shy and retiring, the quietly jocular Amanda laughs like Miss Marple, if Miss Marple had a better sense of humour.

“I knew I needed an agent if I was to have any hopes of being a novelist but it took years to get one.

“Eventually I did manage it 15 years ago but she couldn’t sell the book. Just getting an agent kept me going. I thought maybe I will get the break but I didn’t.”

Inspired by her love of the writing of Thomas Hardy and Ernest Hemingway, an unlikely combination of influences on paper – one being classical in style, the jother ournalistic – she persevered.

Not that Amanda finds writing easy. Like most authors, she possesses a strong drive towards excellence and is a litle harsh on herself.

“Writing is a solitary occupation and some of my happiest times are when I write a paragraph that I suspect really works.

“I also love books that both educate as well as entertain so I try hard to get my historical research as accurate as possible.”

When it comes to novelists, Amanda has a suprising triumvirate of influences.

“One of the finest writers of the last century was Ernest Hemingway (pictured). Although I love his books, his style was very journalistic - the very opposite to me.

“I’m more classical as a writer. I like Thomas Hardy and Khaled Hosseini, the Afghan-American author who wrote The Kite Runner.

“I do think the English language is in trouble today. We’re losing a lot of the richness and beauty of our language partly through the internet.

“I suppose I’m a throwback by believing that, however.”

After all these years, Amanda Taylor seems securely on the road to success now.

Set in Staithes on the Yorkshire coast in 1897 during the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, Dangerous Waves begins with the discovery of a young girl’s body on the beach.

It reached 24th on the Amazon list for the best 100 historical novels and was borrowed by 1,000 library readers. It didn’t harm that it was also acclaimed by renowned TV actress and writer Kay Mellor.

Amanda said: “It’s brilliant Kay even read the book. It was her husband who read it first. He enjoyed it so much he said to her ‘you’ve got to read this.’”

If Dangerous Waves did reasonably well, its follow-up Mortimer Blakely is Missing look set to do even better.

It’s already been nominated for the Historical Dagger Award and the print version comes complete with a testimony by Gervase Phinn.

Amanda said: “I was amazed he read it, never mind liked it. I’m a nobody and a lot of somebody’s wouldn’t even reply to a letter like mine.”

Set two years later in 1899, the action moves to York’s Castle Prison, a brand new story but the same central character – crime-solving barrister James Cairn.

Her publisher, Jeremy Mills likes this liberally-minded but complicated hero so much, in fact, he’s commissioned a trilogy from this no-nonsense writer.

Jeremy said: “What most struck me about Amanda’s writing was the way she wove the fictional storyline round extremely well-researched historical fact. I couldn’t wait to read more, so I commissined a trilogy.”

Amanda sounds like she is more than up to the challenge.

Once the Cairn books are completed, she has no intention of slowing down.

She’s already working on another book set, this time, in the 18th century in Knaresborough based on a real case.

The subject? Why murder, of course.