Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit the clubhouse is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today I’m welcoming Alison to the clubhouse tearoom for a chat about her books and writing. Let’s order our drinks first.
Thanks for inviting me to join you in the clubhouse. My favourite drink is peppermint tea, although on a wet and windy day I do enjoy a nice big mug of hot chocolate.
I’m all for peppermint tea so I shall join you.
Great! So, what would you like to know?
Let’s start by you Telling us a little about your latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you’ve been mulling over for some time?
My latest novel is called Mine and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a very long time because it’s based on real events in my family in the late 1960s. So it has been half a century in the making, although I only started writing it seriously a few years ago. When these events happened, I was a little girl and I suppose my memories were locked into my ten-year-old self. By writing the story, I was able to start seeing it from an adult’s perspective and gain a better understanding of what happened.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
Quite a few! I recently got the rights back to my first three books, so I’m planning on looking at those and maybe editing them with a view to getting them published again. I’ve also been writing two very different series – one is YA time-travel adventures, the other is contemporary women’s fiction based on a group of friends. I’ve also had an idea for a spin off from Mine that I’m playing around with at the moment, so there’s always plenty to be working on.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter?
Like a lot of authors, I really don’t enjoy writing a synopsis, so I write the story first and then worry about it. I usually start off with a couple of characters and a situation. Then I start asking questions, such as: Who? What? Where? When? Why and How? For example, the idea I’m playing with from Mine involves the heirs to a will. Their legacies aren’t what they expected and one of them is very unhappy about that. I’m wondering how far he will go to reclaim what he thinks was rightfully his. I’m also wondering what sort of secrets the other heir has.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
I think every character I create is inspired by someone. It may be just a look, a gesture or a turn of phrase that I use to give my character authenticity. Or, in the case of the main characters in Mine, the Wickham family are all based on my own relatives.
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
You’d think I wouldn’t need to do much research for a book based on my own family, but actually, I needed to do quite a lot. I was very young at the time, so wasn’t party to a lot of what went on. The people who could tell me what really happened are all dead, so there were a lot of gaps to fill. I started with my own memories and those of family and friends who were around at the time. Then I looked at the newspaper reports of what happened. Finally, I had access to inquest files (not a pleasant experience but invaluable for giving me insights that weren’t available elsewhere). I also realised that I needed to look at the culture of the time because it was very different from today. For example, the stigma of single parenthood and divorce; society’s attitudes towards working women and the divide between the working-class and middle-class. So I suppose the lesson I learned was that if the events I write about in Mine happened today, the outcome would be very different.
Is there anything about you your readers might be surprised to find out?
I actually appear as a character in the book! Also, the first person to read the completed first draft of Mine was the same woman who discovered the first Harry Potter book in a slush pile. She gave me a lot of encouragement to keep going.
Did you uncover things about yourself while writing your book, whether that be a long forgotten memory, a positive experience, etc?
I learned a huge amount. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done because what happened changed so many lives in a dramatic way. But what I’ve taken away from it is that ordinary people can sometimes make decisions that lead them into extraordinary situations. It could happen to anyone. I gained a better understanding of what drove them and why it happened, and realised that no one person was to blame. Writing Mine actually gave me a sense of acceptance and peace that I’ve never had before. It also gave the opportunity to remember some very good times that had been lost in the fog of time, which was a great blessing.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Yes! It’s such a personal story that I did wonder whether I should hide behind a pseudonym but in the end I decided that I couldn’t do that. However, I did change all of the names in the novel – mainly because, although it’s based on real events, the book is my imagining of what happened and no one knows what actually happened. The only parts I can say really did occur are the ones I witnessed and the ones reported in official documents. So I felt it only right to change the names and make it clear that this is a work of fiction.
How did you select the names of the characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing your story?
It was interesting, choosing new names for my characters. The name Jack for my main male character was easy as he was a bit of a Jack the Lad. The main female character is Lily, which I chose because her real name is also a flower. For others, I looked at popular names in the years they were born. One of my cousins wanted to be named after the singer, Patsy Cline, so I granted her wish and she also suggested the name Caroline for me.
I can’t claim to know everything about the characters in Mine when I started writing this book. As I said earlier, my memories are stuck at age ten, so I didn’t have much insight into what motivated the adults around me. My research and writing helped me to put my adult self into their shoes and learn how they might have reacted to the events unfolding around them.
What was your hardest scene to write?
Oh, that’s a difficult one. There were a lot of scenes that were really hard for me – from writing about my own parents having sex (which is wrong for any child to have to imagine, even when you’re a parent yourself!); to a fight scene which was very traumatic for me at the time; to the climax of the story, which I can’t tell you about without giving away the ending. There have been a lot of tears shed as I’ve written this book. I just hope I’ve done the story justice.
Thanks for asking such interesting questions, Paula! I hope I’ve whetted everyone’s appetite for Mine. Here’s the blurb:
“What’s mine, I keep.”
Lily’s dreams of a better life for her family are shattered when her teenage daughter refuses to give up her illegitimate child. It doesn’t help that Lily’s husband, Jack, takes their daughter’s side.
Taking refuge in her work at a law firm in the City, Lily’s growing feelings for her married boss soon provides a dangerous distraction.
Will Lily be able to resist temptation? Or will the decisions made by these ordinary people lead them down an extraordinary path that could destroy them all?
Mine – a powerful story of class, ambition and sexual politics.
Kit de Waal, award-winning author of My Name is Leon said this about Mine:
“A heart breaking account of love and loss told by a great storyteller. Alison takes you into the heart of the tragedy with compassion, wit and even humour. A beautiful story.”
Thank you for joining us today, Alison and good luck with the launch of your book.
It you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.