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Amanda Smyth
Amanda Smyth

Amanda Smyth is Irish-Trinidadian and was educated in England. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at UEA in 2000. Her short stories and poetry have been published in New Writing, London Magazine, the TLS and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Amanda was awarded an Arts Council grant to write her first novel, Black Rock, which was published by Serpent's Tail in 2009 and sold in six territories. In the UK it was ed for Waterstones New Voices in the US as one of Oprah's Summer Reads for 2009 and shortlisted for an NAACP Award in France it reached the second shortlist for the Prix Femina Etranger and won the Prix du Premier Roman Etranger 2010. Creative England are funding the development of Black Rock, the film, with Shona Auerbach directing. A Kind of Eden, Amanda's second novel, was published by Serpent's Tail in July 2013.

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A Kind of Eden: Excerpt

An excerpt from A Kind of Eden by Amanda Smyth (Serpent's Tail - July, 2013)


Chapter 1


          They say it gets chilly here around December, almost like spring in England or in Canada. Although the days are hot, most evenings, right up until the end of February, it is cool enough to leave your butter out. Today he’d realised that wasn’t true, and he told her as soon as she had arrived, presenting her with the oily glass butter dish which she always complained about. Look, his butter has melted. So what do you want, she said. A medal? At which point he didn’t know whether to laugh or take offence. Then she tossed her handbag on the chair and kicked off her sandals - the flat tan girlish sandals she wore for work – and he knew she was okay; they would probably sleep together tonight.

          Later, he looks up at the wooden rafters; there is just enough light from the passageway to see the shadows they make. Once, not long after they first met and they were lying naked, a cockroach fell and landed big and hard like a boiled egg. He shouted something, sprang from the bed and it scuttled over the sheet. Safiya laughed, and flipped up the sheet. Kill it, he said, kill it. But she lay there laughing, tears streaming down her cheeks. ‘You’re so English,’ she said, when she found him sitting at the kitchen table. ‘I had no idea I was going out with such a limey.’  

          He clicks on the small bedside lamp; she turns, and in one movement, tugs the sheet and rolls onto her side. He stares at the triangle of her brown back and the mess of her black hair on the pillow, the neck exposed. Her skin is shining and he knows she must be hot. She has never liked the air conditioner so when she stays he turns it off. But tonight he has forgotten to open the louvers, and the air is thick from their lovemaking. The last three weekends they had made sure to visit his favourite beach at Blanchisseuse. Although they kept in the shade of the trees and close to the rocks for most of the afternoon, they both came away burned. Now her skin is tanned to a delicious shade of tea. She pulls up her arm; her fingers curl against her full soft lips. When they first got together and he admired her lips, she told him, ‘Yes, I have a rude mouth.’ The gap between the nose and upper lip is short and it makes her look younger than she is. She looks quite different when her narrow, hooded eyes are shut.

          A dog is barking now. It happens almost every night at this time. A gang of dogs gathers on the crossroads and when someone walks by they start and set one another off. He’s been caught a few times, thinking the road is clear, walking down to Hi Lo grocery or Ali’s pharmacy, and next thing they are rushing at him in a little pack. He is nervous of them: there is rabies here and a dog like that, the vicious little black one with slitty eyes like a pit bull, could rip your face right off. Some time ago, he saw a young man on the news lying in the street in a puddle of dark blood, his eye torn from its socket. ‘How can they show these things on television?’ he said to her. ‘What about the man’s privacy, his family?’ ‘Get used to it,’ she said. ‘This is Trinidad.’


          It must be getting late. He wonders where they might eat tonight. Last week, he picked her up from outside her mother’s house in Woodbrook and he didn’t say where they were going. From her damp hair and sweet, soapy scent, he could tell that she was freshly bathed. On the radio, Supertramp’s Logical Song made him think of his youth, and he cruised steadily along the west coast feeling, for no apparent reason, lighter than he’d felt in days; feeling as if he’d had good news, which he hadn’t. In many ways things couldn’t have been much worse.

          They passed the shopping complex with its Showcase cinema – he had seen two films there, Shrek, and War of the Worlds - and her favourite Ruby Tuesdays restaurant, which, despite her protestations, he had never liked. Not just the décor—the American old-fashioned posters and traditional wallpaper, but the food: he was certain they used additives in the strong sauces—barbeque, honey glaze, garlic cream, Thousand Island—and they made his head feel peculiar. ‘It’s all flavour-enhanced,’ he’d said that last time, ‘like fake food. No wonder it’s tasty. It could only come from America.’ When he told her this, she rolled her eyes and said he was getting old and miserable; you shouldn’t have to worry about stuff like that at her age. ‘There’s nothing wrong with America,’ she said. ‘New York is a lot of fun. And nothing beats the shopping in Miami.’ At one time, he might have mentioned a string of shops in London: Harvey Nichols, Harrods, the whole of the Kings Road, but he knew it wouldn’t go down well. 

          After West Mall and the new Spanish-style condominiums, he slowed down. This was a wealthier part of town: you could look up at the soft dark hills and see the middle-class houses perched there, the glow of yellow lights. He had imagined everyone at home, taking a drink on the porch, getting ready for dinner, the evening news coming on; people with lives and aspirations. But then the road became narrow, dark, the houses more ramshackle and patched up. And as they drove through the shabby village before Chaguaramas, the village where only last week a man was shot twice in the back of his head while alone watching television in his living room, he wondered what Safiya was thinking about.

          ‘Penny,’ he said. She looked at him and he saw that she was sad. He pulled up at the far end of the car park. There weren’t many people here, and he was glad. It was better that way; she wouldn’t be in the mood to see anyone they knew. She was wearing a purple blouse, and dark tight jeans that he’d bought for her in Long Circular Mall. He liked that she dressed up like this when they went out. And he liked when she tied back her hair, wrapped it about her fingers and twisted it into a knot; it was like watching a magic trick. He took her hand, and she didn’t resist as she sometimes did, and they walked slowly and without speaking down towards the seafood restaurant where little white lights hung along the wooden balcony of the upper level.

          To the right, the water was black and silky. It was night, and yet patches of blue sky were still out there towards the horizon; stars punctured the dark world above them, and he wondered if the curved line he was looking at was actually the plough. And then there was a white curl of moon. ‘The moon’s like a scythe,’ he said, pointing, and he felt pleased that he’d thought of this. And he recognised how romantic this moment was, and how unlike him, or at least the him that he was used to and had known for forty-nine years.



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