Anne Allen, 65, from South Devon tells how being widowed when she was 35 and winning a writing competition prompted her to write her first novel.
BY ANNE ALLEN
My book, Dangerous Waters, was published in April 2012 by Matador.
Is this your first book? If not, how many other books have you published?
Yes it is. I’m also writing a second novel, Finding Mother, which I hope to see published in 2013.
What is the book about?
Dangerous Waters is a romantic mystery set on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands situated near the coast of France. The story revolves around Jeanne Le Page, a young woman in her thirties, who returns to Guernsey after an absence of 15 years. She had left in a hurry, feeling distraught after a family tragedy and went to live with an aunt in England. Her return is prompted by her grandmother’s death and the inheritance of her cottage. Jeanne doesn’t plan to stay long, just sell the cottage and leave again. She’s feeling bereft after the end of a long-term relationship and is incapable of making long-term plans.
However, she finds that the cottage holds a long-buried secret going back to the time of the German Occupation in WWII. While Jeanne unearths the details she also begins to learn what really happened to her family. She was involved in the fatal accident but suffered traumatic amnesia and has been suffering frightening flashbacks which get more intense as she arrives in Guernsey. Someone on the island doesn’t want her to remember and she faces danger from an unexpected source, while learning to live and love again.
It was a bit late in the day, actually, as I was about to become a grandmother when my mother ‘pushed’ me into entering a writing competition. Bless her! She knew I’d always talked about writing one day and thought it would be a useful experience, assuming it was a fiction short-story comp. However, the national magazine wanted a true-life story in 500 words based on a significant life event. I still entered as I’d lost my husband to suicide at the age of 35, being left to bring up three small children on my own. I then trained as a psychotherapist to provide both an income and a means to work from home. This formed the basis of my entry. To my surprise I won the competition and it gave me the confidence to start writing the novel which had begun to formulate in my mind. As a result of both my professional and personal experiences, I felt well qualified to write a story covering the subject of love and loss. My training as a hypnotherapist also came in useful while dealing with the issue of amnesia.
I enjoyed many happy years living in Guernsey, where I’d moved a few years after my husband’s death. I’m still in love with the island and chose it as the setting for my novel as a kind of homage. I had had to return to England but managed to leave one son and numerous friends behind to give me a valid reason for frequent returns!
How long did it take to write? Was it difficult?
It took me about six months to write the first draft about six years ago. Being naïve, I thought that was it. Then I sought professional advice and was told I needed to ‘lose’ at least 10,000 words (I ended up cutting out 15000) through extensive re-writing and editing. This took place over the next five years, fitting it around my commitments as a psychotherapist and new, besotted grandmother. I had a couple of professional critiques which really helped. I was also going to workshops and attending evening classes about writing as well as reading loads of ‘How To’ books. I think I ended up pretty confused about the ‘right’ way to write and eventually learnt to trust my own instincts.
For years I sent off submissions to literary agents and actually received a couple of encouraging replies amongst the raft of standard rejection letters. But no-one asked to read the whole MS. Eventually, at the end of 2011, I made the decision to publish with Matador, the well-respected self-publishing arm of Troubador.
Was it hard to get published?
Yes, it’s been a struggle. Which is why I’ve now gone down the independent route. I hear a similar tale from all the authors I’m in touch with through social media. I don’t think it will ever again be easy to be published with a main-stream publisher.
Where is your book is on sale?
The paperback version can be bought from any bookshop, direct from the publisher, Matador, or from online retailers like Amazon or Waterstones. The e-book is available for Kobo, ibook or Nook as well as kindle from Amazon.
Any advice for other book writers?
Be patient and don’t give up if writing is really important to you. It’s also a good idea to set up a blog before your book is ready for publishing – something I didn’t do but has worked very well for others. If you build up a loyal following you have a head start with attracting readers when your book is published. A good web-site will also act as a great advertisement for you and your writing after publication. Mine can be found here – www.dangerouswaters.co.uk.
Build up good connections on social media, I’ve found lots of support and help from fellow writers, particularly on twitter.
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