This week we sit down with Anne Allen. Anne is a retired therapist that is now writing full time. She sat down to talk about her work, inspiration and a little bit about herself. Please enjoy this edition of 20 Questions.
Q1) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
It was more a question of, “I’ve got more free time now, how about trying to write a novel instead of just thinking about it?” This was 10 years ago, after my children had grown up and I was working more part-time than full-time. I had been a psychotherapist for many years while bringing up my children alone and life had got in the way. As a taster to writing, I entered a national (UK) magazine competition requiring a 500 word true-life story and won £500! Quite an incentive to write ‘properly’ ☺
Q2) How long does it typically take you to write a book?
Ahh, depends. The first book, Dangerous Waters, took about 9 months to write the first draft and I thought that was it! How naïve! By the time I had sought professional guidance and re-written, cut and edited, a few years went by. I’ve learnt a lot since and speeded up so aim to write and publish a book each year.
Q3) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
As I’m now retired I can be flexible about when I write, which may not be ideal as it encourages prevarication, the writer’s bête noir. I spend the mornings focusing on social media, emails, promotion and marketing and tend to focus on writing my books in the afternoon and early evening. Unless there’s some social activities afoot, I write seven days a week.
Q4) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t think I have one! I do find it difficult to write anywhere – on the train, bus or in a café for example. I will jot notes but not write the story, needing peace and quiet to concentrate.
Q5) How are your books published?
Having failed over the years to find an agent, I finally decided to self-publish. I chose a service publisher, Matador, the first time, then set up my own imprint, Sarnia Press, from then on. I use a professional cover designer, editor and proof-reader to produce the best books I can.
Q6) Where do you get your ideas for your books?
My books are all set in Guernsey, a small island near the coast of France but part of Britain, where I lived for many happy years. This provides the basic inspiration for the stories which form part of The Guernsey Novels series but are standalone with links to each other. Characters pop up from book to book. I’m basically writing stories about a large ‘family’ and this helps with the ideas. The stories cover such issues as tragic loss, divorce, adoption, mysterious deaths and relationships. I’m probably subconsciously inspired by books I read and ideas will pop into my head without much thought – sometimes! Another huge inspiration is the Occupation of Guernsey during WWII which still impacts on the island today. I always include some reference to that time in my books as it offers a rich source for mystery and secrets. The story I’m working on now, Echoes of Time, is a dual-time story set partly in the 1940s and partly in the modern day and incorporates ghostly elements, a slight change of direction for me!
Q7) If you don’t mind sharing, when did you write your first book and how old were you?
It was 10 years ago and I was heading for my 60s – so not young!
Q8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love reading, watching quality television, socializing with family or friends and going to the theater or cinema. If the weather’s good I also enjoy short walks to the nearby beach – helps to clear my head!
Q9) What is your favorite book?
Tricky to answer that one! I’ve enjoyed so many, but I think my favourite would be “Quincunx” by Charles Palliser. He’s a contemporary writer but the book is written in the style of Trollope/Dickens and is a sprawling saga set in Victorian England. Complex but fascinating!
Q10) What do your family and friends think of your writing?
Let’s say some show more interest than others!
Q11) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
How much hard work is involved! It had sounded so easy to sit down and write a story, but, for me anyway, it’s more complicated and there are times when the words don’t want to come and it all seems a waste of time. And, as an indie, there’s much more involved than the writing and the writing I find easier than the production, marketing and promotion.
Q12) What do you hate most about the writing process?
The stage, usually about half-way, when it’s not as clear what should be happening to keep up the tension. The “saggy” middle syndrome. Once I’m past that, the writing tends to flow better.
Q13) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I’ve published four and in the process of writing book five, due out this summer. My ‘first-born’, Dangerous Waters, will always hold a special place in my heart, even if I’ve written ‘better’. It gave me so much pleasure to finally complete it.
Q14) Do you have any suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
I would suggest reading extensively, and not solely in the genre you’re writing, has the biggest impact on your writing. We can learn so much from others, not necessarily the best-sellers, but those who write with an easy flow of words. Also, sharing your work with others, in a writing group or critique partners, is extremely helpful.
Q15) Do you get feedback from your readers much? How and what kinds of things do they say?
I do get some feedback, sometimes verbal sometimes through my website. It’s usually positive and they say how much they enjoyed the book(s) and look forward to the next. It would be lovely to get more feedback from readers than I do, but it’s a nice feeling when it happens.
Q16) What is your preferred reading audience?
My main demographic is likely to be women over 25. My main characters tend to be in the 30s/ 40s, with minor characters in older age groups. It means the stories can be relevant for most age groups and I’ve also had male readers enjoy my books!
Q17) What do you think makes a good story?
From my viewpoint as a reader, I enjoy books which draw you into a place and/or situation where a problem or mystery needs resolving. I need to relate to the characters and feel I’m drawn into their heads, experiencing their thoughts and emotions. And I like a few twists and turns in the process!
Q18) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Q19) Where can we find your books?
Amazon, as paperbacks and ebooks, and in the UK they can also be ordered from bookshops.
Q20) Will you give us an excerpt from one of your favorite works?
Jeanne stepped out on deck just as the sun broke through the clouds. A warm glow spread across green and gold jewel-like Herm and its big sister, Guernsey, patch-worked with fields and granite buildings.
The salt-laden air enveloped her like a trusty old coat. Breathing it in, she closed her eyes and was a child again, playing on the beach with her parents. The memory was so powerful that tears came and she stumbled towards the railings.
She found herself staring at Herm and was overwhelmed by such a strong feeling of fear that she had to hold onto the rail. Jeanne’s heart began to race, blood pounded in her ears and her breaths came in short, painful gasps. Oh my God, what’s happening to me? After all this time, please, not again! Struggling to breathe she was on the verge of passing out. Letting go of the rail she staggered, crashing into a man walking past.
‘Hey, steady on! Look where you’re going!’ he said, grabbing hold of her to stop them both falling. ‘Overdid the duty-frees, did you?’
Stung by his accusation, she took a deep breath before replying. ‘I’m sorry, I just lost my balance.’ His hands held her arms so hard she imagined the bruises and tried to shake free.
His grip loosened and he guided her back to the rail. She clung on, filling her lungs with sea air.
Jeanne nodded. As the man stepped back she took in, through a still blurred gaze, dark brown hair, deep blue eyes and the muscled arms of a man unlikely to be a pen-pusher. Responding to his warmer tone, she managed a tight smile before straightening up and walking, unsteadily, to the starboard side.
What on earth was that? Is this what I can expect now? Perhaps I shouldn’t have come back. Not that I had a choice…She shuddered as Guernsey came into full view. While the ferry headed towards St Peter Port harbour, it felt as though she was approaching a strange, unknown country rather than the land of her birth. The whole of the northern sea front, from Les Banques into St Peter Port, had been transformed. Towering edifices of granite and glass replaced the old, tired mishmash of warehouses, scruffy hotels and shops. With a gasp, she realised that even the elegant landmark of the Royal Hotel had gone.
About Anne Allen:
Anne’s a late-comer to writing, having only started in her, ahem, middle years, (assuming everyone will live to 100 from now on, yes?). She often had the ‘itch’ to write but was focussed on her career as a psychotherapist and bringing up three children on her own. Then some years ago she was a reluctant entrant (pushed by her mother!) into a writing competition run by Prima magazine. They wanted a True- Life story and she won the first prize of £500 ☺ Deciding that writing wasn’t such a bad idea, she wrote her first novel, Dangerous Waters, a romantic mystery and eventually published it in 2012. Now retired as a therapist, she can devote more time to writing and has since published Finding Mother , Guernsey Retreat and The Family Divided .
A restless soul, she’s moved around quite a bit, as far south to Guernsey and then Spain, learning that the sea is part of her soul. She now lives in Devon to be near her daughter and grandchildren. Happiest in warmer climes, her ideal would be to spend part of the English winter somewhere warm, possibly Spain, to recharge body and soul. So, if and when she writes that bestseller!
Links: Website http://www.anneallen.co.uk
Amazon Author Page: http://Author.to/AnneAllen