22 April 2013
My guest this week is Anne Allen. I first became aware of her through our joint membership of www.thesowreychronicle.weebly.com. Check it out – you’ll probably find a few other well-known faces there too.
NED : Anne, your webpage (www.anneallen.co.uk) is headed with the following quotation –
The purpose of a writer is to be read, and the criticism which would destroy the power of pleasing must be blown aside. Samuel Johnson.
Ever since I read it I’ve been dying to know what it means. I have my own interpretation – what’s yours and why do you like it so much?
AA : I’ve understood it to mean that a writer has to write regardless of the potential for negative criticism. In other words, if we worried about not pleasing everyone we wouldn’t write and no-one would be pleased! Most of us have received a ‘bad’ review at some time and it’s painful, but as long as more readers write something positive then we can bounce back and carry on. I think ol’ Johnson had it about right.
NED : You’ve lived in Guernsey, amongst other places, and you’re now close to the sea in Devon. I was brought up in North Devon so I know something of that part of the world. (Herm looks idyllic, by the way). What is there about it that attracts you?
AA : My daughter and two small grandchildren live here! But I’ve always had a ‘thing’ about the sea which arose from the fact that I was born in Rugby, as far from the sea as you could get in England. My father was from Anglesey and we spent my early childhood holidays there, two minutes’ walk from the beach. I was hooked! I’m so glad that my daughter ended up here by the sea. And you’re right about Herm, it’s truly magical.
NED : A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to Susan Louineau who is presently in West Cornwall and I asked her about the literary scene locally. What’s it like where you are? Are there writing groups you can join and if so, how important are they to you?
AA :There are writing groups in my area and poetry is particularly popular. I’ve attended a local arts group evening which offered a mix of poetry readings and live music from local groups who write their own songs. I haven’t joined a writer’s group but have made good contacts with other local writers. Am not really a ‘groupie’ but it’s nice to chat to local writers occasionally.
NED : I imagine it must be a very peaceful place to live and write. How does that affect your writing process? Do you work set hours? Or do you wander along the beach until something comes into your head and then go back home to set it down on paper?
AA : It’s lovely here but can get very busy in the summer so I tend to do my walking out of season. I work when I want to and am not very disciplined, I’m afraid! If the ‘muse’ is with me I’ll keep going for hours, but if not I’ll distract myself with social networking etc. The sea is great for clearing one’s head and as my books are both set on Guernsey it provides the right mood. I return to Guernsey as often as I can for real inspiration and last December I spent a week in a cottage on Herm and boy, was that fantastic to get the creative juices flowing! I wish I could afford to go over every month . . .
NED : Have you had any training as a writer? Do you attend courses and workshops? Or are you wary of them, like me?
AA : I wrote the first draft of Dangerous Waters without any training but I’d always been quite good at writing essays at school and university. Once I started writing ‘properly’ I read loads of ‘how to’ books and became very confused as they tended to contradict each other. I also attended a number of workshops but I’m not sure how helpful they were. Some diktats did stick in my mind, though, and I learnt the importance of ‘show’ don’t ‘tell’. I wouldn’t rush to recommend courses to a newbie writer as I think it’s more important that they focus on grammar and their natural ‘voice’. Mind you, anything seems to go these days . . .
NED : Your debut novel, DANGEROUS WATERS, clearly draws heavily on the history of Guernsey, a place you’re very familiar with. I’m fascinated by how the German Occupation left such a long-lasting mark on the island. Why do you think that is?
AA : Any long-term occupation - and this was five years - is bound to bed into the psyche of the inhabitants. Combined with that the children, together with some mothers and teachers, were evacuated to England and some never saw their parents again. Those who did return found it hard to be part of their family, barely recognizing parents and siblings. I think most of us would find it extremely hard to comprehend something of this magnitude happening in living memory and in Britain!
The physical impact was also great as the Germans built concrete bunkers and set up fortifications around the islands. In both Guernsey and Jersey there are several museums dedicated to the Occupation and schoolchildren are encouraged to visit and learn about the daily lives experienced by their elderly relatives.
NED : You talk about the work it took to bring the novel up to a publishable standard. That can be a daunting task. How did you approach it?
AA : Ahh! With a few bottles of Rioja! Seriously, as well as the odd quaff of wine, I sent my work out to professional editors for critiques after re-writes and edits. This proved to be of enormous benefit as (I hope!) I was pointed in the right direction with regard to cutting out unnecessary prose and fleshing out my characters. I ended up deleting 15,000 words after the first critique alone!
NED : You’re currently writing your second book, FINDING MOTHER. Have you ever tried to trace your own ancestry?
AA : I haven’t but my mother has. She’s used the online software programmes to trace her own branch of the family. My brother’s also done quite a bit of work too so maybe one day I’ll learn that I’m the descendant of aristocrats as I’ve always maintained.
NED : And do you have any family secrets you feel you can share?
AA : Ah well! If there are any then I might just include them in my next book.
NED : Finally – you’re currently recovering from an operation on your hand. When I injured my shoulder, I realized I would never be able to open the bowling for England. What improbable ambition do you now have an excuse for not being able to achieve?
AA : I’ll never play at Wimbledon!
So there you have it – two frustrated sports personalities forced to write for a living! My thanks to Anne who bravely completed her side of the Q&A literally single-handedly.