Amelia Kyazze

Amelia B. Kyazze graduated from the Creative Writing MA course in 2017. Her debut novel, Into the Mouth of the Lion, is is based on photographs and notebooks from when she served as a humanitarian worker in Angola, DR Congo, Darfur (Sudan) and elsewhere from 2000 to 2009. It was long-listed for the Mslexia Women’s First Novel Prize in 2017. Into the Mouth of the Lion is published by Unbound.

Can you tell me about your time at City? 

My time at City University was a wonderful experience, but quite hectic. I was taking a career break from my permanent job at the British Red Cross, and starting a freelance consulting business. The MA classes were in the evenings, which worked for me, but my children were very young at the time. I had to pick them up from school and nursery in southeast London, take the train into town with their packed dinners, and hand them to their father on the train platform at London Charing Cross. Then I would hop on the tube and dash up to Angel for a 6:15 pm start. Some evenings it felt like a victory just to arrive in class! But once I was there, I found the seminars and guest lecturers really stimulating. Even though I graduated more than three years ago, I am still in touch with many members of my Creative Writing MA cohort, including two other authors who are also being published this year.

What happened after you graduated? 

After I graduated, I submitted my draft novel to several contests and agents, with some engagement and many requests for the full manuscript, but not instant success. I was long-listed for the Mslexia Women’s First Novel Prize in 2017, which was encouraging. I continued to share my manuscript with agents and readers, taking on some feedback and doing a number of full edits. I also started work on a sequel, and other short story writing projects which were accepted in different publications. I also started teaching creative writing for children in after-school and holiday camp settings. Eventually in 2019 I was selected by Unbound publishers. It’s taken about 20 months from that agreement to get the novel, Into the Mouth of the Lion, ready for publication in May 2021.

Describe your book in a sentence. 

Into the Mouth of the Lion is the story of a young photographer looking for her missing sister in the last days of Angola’s civil war.

What is the opening line? 

“You are thrown backwards by the blast, out of the shack, stumbling and falling.”

How did the idea for your book come about? 

Into the Mouth of the Lion is based on the photographs and notebooks of when I served as a humanitarian worker in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur (Sudan) and other places in 2000-2009. I worked as a photographer and writer, taking testimony from refugees and aid workers living in crisis situations. The book started as a short story, based on my true-life experience on a plane flight in Angola that nearly crashed. This later evolved into being Chapter Two of the book. The ideas developed into a full novel with characters that I started to really like, and the mystery that unfolded.

What has been the biggest challenge with regard to writing your book? 

Keeping going. Writing the first draft, it turns out, is the easy part for me. The final polishing and sharing it with agents and publishers, sometimes waiting months or even years for the result, is very hard.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of the experience? 

The feedback from early readers and reviewers has been really positive. When readers identify themes that thread through your book, some that your conscious of as a writer, others that maybe were more subtle, that is very powerful. Also, having a book come out gives you a chance to reach out to all sorts of friends, family and colleagues. For me with my work all over the world, it was wonderful to reconnect with people from as far away as Myanmar, California, South Africa, and everywhere in between.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps? 

Keep going! If you want to be a writer, you ultimately need to write, to share your work, to seek feedback, and to keep writing. I have joined a local writer’s group, Greenwich Writers, and we met twice a month (online in the pandemic). We support each other with critiques, even though we write in widely different genres.

For people working on novels, I would recommend not being too thin-skinned or precious about each phrase, and each character. However, if someone criticises an aspect of your book that they want to remove, and you have a strong feeling to keep it in, it’s worth examining that feeling. You probably will want to keep aspects or characters you feel strongly about, but maybe you need to fight harder with stronger writing to justify their words, actions or decisions.

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