What are you currently writing/working on?
My fourth book in The Guernsey Novels series, The Family Divided. Each story is a stand-alone romance/mystery/family drama, but with links to the successive books. Original main characters pop up later so readers get to find out what happens to them over a period of time. I plan to publish The Family Divided by June 2015.
When and how do your characters come to you? Is it in a moment of inspiration, an epiphany? Or do they grow in some murky recess of your mind?
When I start planning a book, the main characters are the starting point. I have a rough idea of the plot line but the characters are what drive the story. They can start partly formed in my mind and develop as I go along– there’s no great eureka moment. I always start with a mini bio for each character and add to it as I get to know them better. It’s like meeting new people in real life – initially you have that first impression of them and then, as you see more of them, you learn their history, foibles etc.
There’s an acceptance that authors often write in traits or characteristics of themselves into their work, is there any part of you in any of your characters?
Ooh, now this is getting personal! I think writers subconsciously include their own traits when writing characters of their own sex, which is why there can be similarities between their characters in all their books. With regard to myself, all my female protagonists are intelligent (!!), love reading, aren’t particularly domesticated, and can be brave when necessary. Oh, and their heart rules their head☺
How do you develop your characters? Do you let them brew in your subconscious, use character interview sheets, or something completely different?
The short bio is the starting point and the characters develop as they encounter various situations. In other words, I don’t necessarily start by thinking “So and so will say or do this,” but let them respond spontaneously. I know it seems weird but the characters do seem to take over and surprise me!
Are you a planner, or free writer?
A little of both. I absolutely need an outline at the beginning and draw a sort of large circle, writing the main stages of the story on it, leaving room in the middle to make notes. This usually gets modified once I’m underway, but still helps me know where I’m going as the end is always at the top, next to the beginning. I do get side-tracked and find myself bringing in unplanned events or situations, which actually make it much more fun. I enjoy the unpredictability of writing a novel – you never know quite what might happen to your characters along the path to The End.
When you are developing a book, what tools or techniques do you use, e.g. timelines, mood boards, character interviews, scraps of notes?
I use timelines to keep track on which day, week, month I’m writing about. All my stories take place over several months and I need to allow for seasonal changes etc. I also write notes and rough outlines for each chapter.
Has your technique changed over time?
Yes. When I started my first book, Dangerous Waters, I knew little of writing a novel and just wrote what came into my head with little planning. Definitely a seat of the pants job! I ended up seeking professional advice and subsequently re-wrote the book a number of times before publishing. I think anyone’s first novel is the biggest learning curve and I would hope my technique has improved by now.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Do you actively look for it?
My initial inspiration is drawn from Guernsey, the setting of my books. I lived there for many happy years and think it has lots of stories to tell. The Channel Islands were the only part of the UK to be occupied by Germany during WWII and this aspect also offers ideas. All my books have a reference to something which happened at that time. I also draw inspiration from old houses and the secrets they hold and from my experience as a psychotherapist.
What kind of an environment do you write in? Day/night/silence/music/desk/sofa etc
I write at my desk in my small study, mostly during the day with the occasional overtime at night if the muse is in full flow. Whether or not I put on background music – always non-vocal – depends on my mood.
Half way into writing my first novel, it’s taking over my brain! What advice can you give me on completing it? Or maybe an easier question. What do you wish you had known about writing a book before you started?
The main point about writing is that it should be enjoyable – if it isn’t, something’s wrong! That’s not to say it’s easy, it isn’t. Writing a book is hard work and our brains need a rest at times. I tend to do something completely non-cerebral, like going for a walk, making fresh soup or bread (my domestic skills are improving slowly ☺), or watching television. The hardest part of writing a book is knowing what to leave in or take out. Which is where an editor comes in. I ended up cutting over 10,000 words from the first draft of Dangerous Waters after a professional critique. Nowadays, I’m much more aware of the problem of ‘padding’ or ‘overwriting’.
The publishing industry is in decline across the board. Do you think things like the Kindle are bridging the gap, is there still the same love for the written word, or is it being diluted by the modern obsession with tech and gadgets?
Tricky one to answer. Mature people who grew up pre-technology innovations, like myself, will probably remain true to the written word. I think ebooks will help to keep younger readers buying books but today’s children are being bombarded with videos and games which require less concentration than books. So the future depends on what happens when these children grow up. I would like to think books will still play a big part in their lives.
50 Shades of Grey author EL James was reported to make around £100k a day at the book’s height, and the upcoming film will make her millions. Do you find it a shame that the most lucrative and famous book franchise of the moment is one so widely derided for its lack of literary value? Or is it just good to have a book going mainstream?
Not having read the books I can’t comment on their literary merit, but do think it’s a shame that “mummy-porn” was as successful as it was. Personally, I loved the Harry Potter books, which are not only well-written, but open up children’s (and adult’s) imaginations in a good way. I’m not convinced the success of 50 Shades has done much for books or writers overall.
If a fascist regime was burning the worlds libraries, what books would you save?
All the old classics, like the Austens, Dickens, Trollopes etc and the vast majority of contemporary books. Most of the books in libraries are worth saving as they all have something to offer society, even contentious ones like 50 Shades. For me personally, I’d be glad of my kindle and digitization ☺
Which publishing route have you taken? Did you always know you were going to go down this route, and if so why?
I have self-published under my own imprint, Sarnia Press, but did originally try the traditional route. For several years I approached agents but kept receiving rejections. A couple of agents did take the trouble to write personal letters of encouragement which soothed my wounded ego a little. Self-publishing wasn’t an option when I wrote my first book in 2006, but by the time I had re-written and edited it over the following years, it was becoming both viable and respectable.
What do you wish you knew about the publishing process before you started?
How complicated and what hard work it is to do solo. I used a publishing company, Troubador, to publish Dangerous Waters as I did not have the confidence or knowledge to do it myself. Troubador is a traditional publisher with a self-publishing imprint, Matador, which offers a service to authors for a price. They are good but expensive and I learnt so much from that experience that I went solo with my subsequent books, employing a professional editor, proofreader and cover designer. It still requires quite an investment but I’ve easily recouped the costs.
What is the best advice you could give to aspiring novelists like me? Or what was the best advice you were ever given?
Write as if you’re writing for yourself, your own sense of satisfaction and achievement. Don’t write with the idea of making much money – very few writers achieve the luxury of being well-paid, full time authors. The market is flooded with millions of books being published annually so the odds are rather stacked against us!
Is fanfic to be welcomed as it broadens interaction and the readers experience or a scourge that devalues the ability of an author?
As I’m not a reader of fanfic I can’t comment, except to say it seems to be a cop-out on the writer’s part if they need to piggy-back on another witer.
I am finding more and more, that writers often have several creative outlets. Do you? Or is writing your one source?
Long before I took up my pen I had to be creative. It was a way for me to express myself and I learnt to mosaic, paint furniture, sculpt, interior design and renovate properties. I no longer practice these forms of creativity, finding my writing is more than enough these days.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
I’ve already been various ‘things’ in my life and feel this is right for me now in my autumn years. But if I’d ever managed to crack drawing or painting…
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Strictly speaking, I never thought that. I wanted to see if I could write a book, which isn’t the same thing. I was encouraged to do this after winning a true-life short story competition in Prima magazine, with the prize of £500 in M&S vouchers. Having enjoyed writing ‘compositions’ at school and essays at university, I’d often toyed with the idea of writing something substantial, but never got around to it. Now, it feels right to be a writer☺
What authors do you admire, and why?
There’s so many! I loved Daphne Du Maurier, Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart and Georgina Heyer when young and have since come to admire Charles Palliser, Robert Goddard, Erica James, CJ Sansome and Barbara Erskine among others. I appreciate good writing and stories offering twists and turns, as well as a ‘proper’ ending. I hate being left in suspense!
To find out more about Anne, her author bio is below:
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, published in 2012. Now retired as a therapist, she has devoted more time to writing, publishing her second novel, Finding Mother, in October 2013 and a third, Guernsey Retreat, in August 2014. A fourth, The Family Divided, is due in 2015.
A restless soul, she’s moved around quite a bit, going 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!
Re-blogged from SachaBlack.co.uk
Anne Allen is the award-winning author of The Guernsey Novels. By profession she was a psychotherapist, however, is now retired from the day job to concentrate on writing. Anne has a restless soul and has lived in many fascinating places, including the beautiful island of Guernsey where she lived for fourteen years.