DESPITE three top 20 singles, a gold-selling debut album and sharing a manager with the Spice Girls, Amy Studt had been chewed up and spat out by the pop world before she could even vote.

Written off as yesterday's story, the Bournemouth girl, touted by her record company as Britain's Avril Lavigne (never mind that she'd written most of the songs on her debut album, False Smiles, years before Lavigne even entered a recording studio) was on the pop scrapheap.

She seriously considered a future as a waitress in a Cornish coffee shop. Or so we've been led to believe. The truth, as is often the case, is a little more prosaic.

"What actually happened is that I was signed to 19 for management and publishing, and their record label did an extension deal with the Polydor label, who decided not to pick up their option. So I didn't actually lose a record deal," Amy helpfully explains on the eve of the release of her second album, My Paper Made Men, on Monday (May 5).

"But that's not such a good story, is it?

"It's like the coffee shop thing. I said in an interview that I wanted a simpler life with space to be ignored and had considered working in a coffee shop in Cornwall, because I'd had this lovely time working in a coffee shop one summer as a kid on the Isle of Wight. Again though, it doesn't make such good copy."

At the ripe old age of 22, many are imbuing Amy with wisdom beyond her years, especially given the new album's richer, more mature qualities.

Its musical and lyrical complexities channel the likes of Kate Bush, Tori Amos and PJ Harvey, even maverick queen Bjork - a long way from the snotty teen tearaway Amy was portrayed as in 2002 when hit singles Just A Little Girl and Misfit stormed the charts.

And an even greater distance from her Bournemouth childhood, where Amy went to St Katharine's primary school in Hengistbury Head (her mum Delia, was head of music there, while dad Richard was director and associate conductor of the Bournemouth Sinfonietta), before taking up a place at Bryanston School.

Shortly after, aged 13, she contracted the bone disease osteomyelitis, and spent the best part of two years in and out of hospital as she had to learn to walk again.

"I lost my marbles a bit and lost contact with sport. A lot of messy stuff happened that I've dealt with now. It's in its place and I don't feel the need to dwell on it."

But she does confirm that "messy stuff" included dropping out of school, misbehaving and self-harming - all of which added extra bite to her first flush of fame six years ago.

That troubled period also left her with the songs that would form the basis of her first album.

At 14 she was signed to Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller's 19 Management, and barely two years later in the top 20 with her first single, Just A Little Girl.

"I used to have to bite my lip when they went on about Britain's Avril Lavigne - I'd been doing this for years before she came along. But again it's a neat line.

"I was never keen to put my private stuff up for people to consume. I don't want people to live my life - I want them to hear my music.

"I think that's why I dropped out of sight for four years. That age is a confusing enough time anyway, without having the added confusion of the business.

"Nothing really changed for me though, as I was still writing and still couldn't walk down the street without having a gaggle of schoolkids demanding that I sign their faces. That was weird.

"When that cooled down it got easier, although my confidence took a knock. Now I don't really know where it's going to go."

In her first public incarnation, Amy came across as precocious, bratty even. Now she is strangely unsure of herself. There's a humility in her approach and a deep understanding of the situation.

I wonder if she adopts a persona she wants to portray as a way of keeping her real self to herself.

"It's tempting to think you know someone because you hear their music and read a couple of interviews, but it's such a false situation. The person is nervous, worried about how they'll come across, how they'll look in the photograph and whether they'll say the right things.

"The songs on my first album aren't who I am, and while the new songs are more personal, they're inevitably out of date. I'm changing all the time, and always will be."

All of which goes some way to explaining why, in an effort to step away from Amy Studt, she took the name Jane Wails a couple of years ago and toured with indie heroes Razorlight to conquer her stage fright.

"It's funny, but as a child I was a natural performer - I won a teddy bear once from the Echo for best impression of a policeman in a contest at the Winter Gardens!

"But the whole fame thing brought out the stage fright. I felt like I wasn't my own person any more.

"The Razorlight thing was a great experience for me. I remember asking (singer) Johnny Borrell whether he prefered the small dates we were doing or the big arenas, and he said he liked big gigs because they made him feel more powerful.

"Now the classic British thing is to be self-nullifying and taken aback by a response like that, but I thought it was incredibly honest. Why not say it if that's how he felt?"

Back in the here and now, Amy is "champing at the bit" to get back out on the road having been overcome with nerves, shaking and bursting into tears, at a recent industry showcase.

She's pleased she tends to think about things a bit before she speaks or commits herself, although she acknowledges she still tends to get "lost in the moment", which explains her occasional tendency to leave sentences hanging.

"I've no idea how well I'm doing. When I was told about the Polydor thing, I said, Don't be silly.' I'd sold 200,000 albums after all, but you just never know. I don't know where the point is when you know you're doing OK, perhaps I never will."

Perhaps not, but whatever happens there's every reason to think Amy Studt will do OK ...