In this interview series we ask questions to people who are making a difference in our society, it can be big, it can be small, it doesn’t matter, what matters is their contribution. It can be anyone from any walk of life and from any country. Please, do send us suggestions of people whom you think we should interview for this series.
Anne Allen hails from Rugby, a psychotherapist for many years, Anne then gained an honours degree in Humanities from the OU. Anne has now written seven novels, forming The Guernsey Novels series, all standalone stories but linked by place and characters. It has been her homage to the island of happy memories. Her latest book, “The Inheritance”, is a dual-time story featuring Victor Hugo and his exile in Guernsey in the late nineteenth century, when he finished writing Les Misérables.
Following are her responses to our questions.
- Tell us something about yourself?
I was born in Rugby, home of the famous game, in the middle of England, but have always preferred living by the sea. My father was Welsh and originated from the lovely isle of Anglesey where I spent many happy childhood holidays, more or less on the beach. As an adult I was restless, both in career and in place, and after losing my husband while young, I moved my three small children to Scotland and a house on the beach. At that time I was a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist, and perhaps my own experience of tragic loss helped me empathise with clients. It took a while for me to realise I hadn’t come to terms with my loss and I moved back to Rugby to be near my family. I then began a spiritual journey through courses run at Glastonbury and incorporated my new awareness in my work as a therapist. However, I was still restless and a couple of years later made the move to Guernsey with the aim of setting up a residential healing centre with fellow therapist I had met at Glastonbury. Sadly, it proved difficult to finance and instead I practised as a private therapist. We lived as a family for 14 years in Guernsey and as my children left the nest I finally returned, somewhat reluctantly to England.
- What motivated you to write? What sort of books do you like to read? Who are your favourite authors?
I had always had an itch to write but it never seemed the right time, until I was back on my own in England. Having fewer clients, I now had more time and after winning a True-Life story competition run by a national magazine, I started to write my first novel, Dangerous Waters. This turned out to be both my homage to the island I loved, Guernsey, and therapeutic for me, dealing as it was with the theme of love and loss.
Over the years I’ve read books from most genres, but nowadays I enjoy historical fiction such as CJ Sansom’s Tudor novels, mysteries from Robert Goddard, dramas from Erica James and psychological suspense from various writers. And occasionally a light romance!
- How did you transition from a psychotherapist to a full time writer? Was it easy?
The transition was spread over a few years as my client numbers lessened and I realised I enjoyed writing more than being a therapist – not surprising after nearly 30 years! In that respect it was easy, particularly after I moved down to Devon to be near my daughter – and the sea.
- Why did you choose to write on historical themes in your books?
Writing books set in Guernsey it would be hard to ignore the history of the island. I had studied history for my degree and it was natural for me to be intrigued by the island’s rich heritage. The obvious one was the German Occupation of WWII, the impact of which is still very much apparent, both in the psyche of the islanders and the physical environment. I spoke to those who had lived through the trauma of 5 years under German rule and knew I had to reference it in my stories. It played an even bigger part in books 5 and 6, Echoes of Time and The Betrayal which are dual-time books, linking the past with the present. Book 7, The Inheritance, also dual-time, moved to an earlier time with the story of Victor Hugo and his exile in late nineteenth century Guernsey. Such a fascinating person. His life provided masses of interesting material to include in my book.
- You lived in many different places like Spain and Guernsey, how does your experience in these places help you in your literary works?
My stay in Guernsey was clearly the biggest influence on my writing, but I feel my living in disparate places has broadened my awareness of how different peoples’ lives are and this is useful to any writer.
- As an observer of history, what are some of the lessons that we haven’t learned from our past, in your opinion?
Oh, that’s a big question! We do not appear to have learnt, for example, that war and conflict does not resolve problems and in fact makes them worse. And as we now deal with global warming as well as a pandemic, we need to come together in order to find solutions to both, not continue to be insular and only concerned with ‘Self’. It’s unrealistic to expect nations to unite in complete harmony, and it’s never been achieved, but I would like to think we can start on that path and am hopeful the current young people of the world will be more open to change. After all, it’s their world which is at stake.
- Which parts of history fascinates you the most and why? Who are some of the historical figures that you’d like to meet if you had a time machine?
I’ve always been fascinated by the ancient Romans, Egyptians and Greeks. I love their mythology and their ingenuity as shown in their buildings and infrastructure. We went backwards after their civilisations disappeared and only now are we truly emulating them, though in a more progressive form. A time machine would be wonderful! I’d love to meet Victor Hugo since learning so much about him and pick his brains about how to achieve such an incredible output of work. William Shakespeare for the same reason and Queen Elizabeth I as I’m an admirer of how she survived in such turbulent times.
- How has your routine changed in pandemic and how are you coping with it?
My routine has disappeared with the lack of inspiration to write while under this cloud of uncertainty and fear. Living on my own has proved hard with no outside contact with family and friends and I am only now, in this past week or two, beginning to return to a version of normality. The work in progress is taking forever.
- What other interests, hobbies do you have besides writing?
In normal times, I love the theatre, cinema. museums and meeting friends for a drink or meal. I’m a member of a Latin group with the aim of learning Latin, but we cannot meet at the moment. I love to read and that is proving to be a blessing now.
- A final message for our readers?
If you wish to write, then find the time and make it fun. Do not think of it as a way to make money, but as a way to explore your own inner self. Your work may never be published, but you will know you have written something and that in itself is an achievement in these days of videos and gaming. As a former therapist, I would like to suggest people be kinder to themselves and if you are not coping with some aspect of your life, seek help. Talk it over with someone. Do not let unhappiness simmer inside, destroying your peace of mind.