Name: Merryn Allingham
Where are you from?:
It’s difficult to say! I was born into an army family so I spent my childhood moving around the UK and abroad. That gave me itchy feet, and in my twenties I escaped an unloved secretarial career to work as cabin crew and see the world. The arrival of marriage, children and cats meant a more settled life in the south of England andI’ve lived there ever since. It also gave me the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually teach at university.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve needed to put pen to paper. As a small child, I wrote poems, at grammar school there were short stories that I never dared mention – creative writing was definitely not encouraged. And I kept on writing through the years, but between family, pets and my job as a lecturer, there was little time to do more than dabble. However when the pressures eased, I grabbed the chance to do something I’d always promised myself – to write a novel.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I knew I wanted to write popular fiction but I didn’t have a clue how to begin. For the last twenty five years my background had been academic research and teaching. Then one morning I woke up and the idea was there. I would start where I felt most comfortable – in the Regency with a book along the lines of Georgette Heyer, whom I’d read and reread a hundred times since my teenage years. Under the name of Isabelle Goddard, Ieventually published six Regency romances, but in 2013 I adopted a new writing name – Merryn Allingham – and a new genre.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I would say writing groups – I belong to two local ones. One group meets as a social event and we chat, exchange information and boost flagging spirits. The other is a critique group that works to improve each other’s writing. In both cases, members have become good friends as well as colleagues.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I see a lot of my family, go out with friends for lunch or a film or the theatre. I’m a member of a book club and of course, the two writing groups. I go to several dance exercise classes every week. Oh, and I’m learning Russian!
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’ve just finished Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather – it was a book group choice since we’re doing a season based on Virago titles – and I’m just about to start a friend’s novel, The Secret Samurai by Jill Rutherford. My daughter spent a year teaching in Japan and I know I’m going to find the book interesting.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I’ve recently published my fifth novel under the name of Merryn Allingham. It’s called The Buttonmaker’s Daughterand is set in the summer of 1914. The threat of war in Europe is coming close, and nearer to home there is a bitter feud within the family that reaches crisis point. The daughter of the house, Elizabeth, nurtures dreams of independence that challengeher parents’ wishes for a ‘good marriage’, and her brother, William, is struggling with his own feelings towards his schoolboy friend. Everyone’s life hangs on the brink of change.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The titles of my published books are rarely mine and this is no exception. The book started out as A Dangerous Summer, which indeed it was, but the publishers decided on The Buttonmaker’s Daughter.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
One of the issues raised in The Buttonmaker’s Daughter is how severely limited were the lives of women at the turn of the twentieth century, whether they were servants or mistresses. The period in question is just a century ago, yet it seems like another world.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I write historical fiction so events are bound to be at a distance, but my heroines are always feisty, usually young women fighting to gain the chance to live their lives as they decide. Maybe there’s something of myself in there!
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I love travelling anyway and places I visit often inspire me. The Buttonmaker’s Daughter, for example, sprang from a visit to the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall. Our guide that day had a fund of anecdotes and I foundone particularly poignant. It concerned the ordinary working men whose labour had created these beautiful gardens. The gardens’ heyday was in the late Victorian/Edwardian eras, several owners spending large amounts of time, money and effort in creating a veritable paradise. But in 1914, war came to England and everything changed. One day in the summer of that year, every gardener on the estate downed tools and walked together to Redruth to enlist at the local recruiting centre. Most of the men never returned, perishing in the mud of Flanders. The Day Book that would normally list jobs completed, carried only the datethat day, and was never used again.
It was the image of those men, honourable and courageous, walking together to enlist in what they saw as a just cause, that stayed in my mind, and I knew I had to record that moment in a novel.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
- Don’t constantly self-censor. Relax and let the words flow. Some of what you write you’ll want to delete but a few sentences will be pure gold.
- Read as much as you write. And read widely, not just in your genre.
- Writing can be a lonely business, never more so when rejections start to flow, so you need to believe in yourself. If you look at the biographies of many of today’s most popular novelists, they’ve often been writing for years. Wasn’t it Lee Child who said, It took me ten years to be an overnight success?
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
My website is http://www.merrynallingham.com where you can find full details of all my books and also a fair amount of the historical research I’ve undertaken. And if you’re interested, you can sign up to receive an occasional newsletter.
Merryn Allingham worked for many years as a university lecturer and between job, family and pets, there was little time to write. But when the pressures eased, she grabbed the chance to do something she’d always promised herself – to write a novel. Under the name of Isabelle Goddard, she published six Regency romances, but in 2013 adopted a new writing name and a new genre. The Daisy’s War trilogy, set in India and London during the 1930s and 40s, was the result.
Her latest books explore two pivotal moments in the history of Britain. The Buttonmaker’s Daughter is set in Sussex in the summer of 1914 as the First World War looms ever nearer and its sequel, The Secret of Summerhayes, thirty years later in the summer of 1944 when D Day led to eventual victory in the Second World War.
If you would like to keep in touch with Merryn, sign up for her newsletter at http://www.merrynallingham.com
Amazon UK: http://tinyurl.com/zxm9ku4