Today, I am delighted to welcome historical writer and friend Merryn Allingham to my blog. Merryn's third book in the 'Daisy's War' Trilogy 'Daisy's Long Road Home' was published on 27th August. I have all of the trilogy on my kindle and, having read the first and loved it, can't wait to read the rest!
Can you remember the moment you knew you wanted to write?
I can’t pinpoint an exact moment. I think I must always have had a need to write. I do remember lying on the floor as a young child, pencil in hand, and writing myself poems. And at grammar school, writing several strange short stories but never daring to mention it – creative writing was definitely not encouraged. Then there were long letters home when I was working as cabin crew (pre internet and mobile phones) and at least two ten-year diaries. So, in some form or other, I’ve harboured the impulse to put pen to paper for most of my life.
What is it that drew you to historical fiction?
Apart from an enjoyment of history, it was probably the sense of escaping to another world that I loved most. A world that might seem familiar, yet in fact was quite unfamiliar. In historical fiction, I get to live in different houses, wear different clothes, meet different people and confront different choices. And I hear characters from the past much more clearly than contemporary voices. For many years, my staple reading was 19th century novels, I wrote my PhD thesis on Thomas Hardy, and when I began teaching, the 19th century was my special period. It’s no wonder that ‘historical’ comes more easily to me!
You grew up in an army family. What was that like?
It was certainly interesting and gave me a far wider experience of the world than many children my age. But at times it could be lonely – being an only child wasn’t helpful - and every few years I had to learn to make a new life for myself. Definitely character building! I changed schools frequently – at one point I attended four different schools in two years - so there were always new friends to make. But on the plus side, I could be seen as unusual, even exotic, by my new schoolmates. I remember someone in the Welsh grammar school I’d just begun to attend, commenting on how well I spoke English – for an Egyptian! (my father had just been posted back to the UK from Egypt). But wherever we ended up, and in whatever house, my mother made it a home for us.
What writers have inspired you?
In the 19th century, Jane Austen for her humour and subtle feminism, George Eliot for having a brain the size of a planet and Thomas Hardy for his storytelling magic. Today, I think Kate Atkinson and Sarah Waters are my pick – they write popular, page turning books, without sacrificing an inch on style. Sheer brilliance.
If you had a time machine, what period in history would you visit?
I’d go back to the Regency, but only if I were a member of the top one hundred familes in the country. I think I could grow used to a Mayfair town house, six balls a night during the London season, and lazy summers spent on my family’s vast estate. Not to mention the flattering outfits I’d be wearing – I’ve always wanted to own a reticule. But it would have to be a visit. I wouldn’t have coped at all well with the constraints women faced at the time and the lack of freedom to forge one’s own path.
What would you say is the biggest pitfall of writing historical fiction?
It will vary, I guess, between writers. I do a lot of reading and research for each book so for me, it could be wanting to tell my readers everything I’ve discovered. When I started the Daisy’s War series, for instance, I gobbled up books on 1930s and 1940s India. The struggle for Indian independence was enthralling, a huge drama played out on a huge stage. But readers rightly want a story and I couldn’t allow my fascination with the period to run away with me. The story always has to be central, and the research simply a way of fleshing out setting and background to create a deeper interest.
Daisy Driscoll is the heroine of your ‘Daisy’s War’ trilogy. Can you describe her in three words and do you see anything of yourself in Daisy?
Brave. Determined. Loyal.
I doubt I’d be as brave as Daisy, faced as she is with making her way through life as a poor orphan, and constantly beset by secrets and danger. But I’m certainly determined and I hope, steadfast. They are probably the qualities I admire most.
When you wrote The Girl from Cobb Street, had you anticipated it would become a trilogy?
Definitely not. The project started with a marriage certificate – my parents’ - which I unearthed from a pile of papers at the back of a cupboard I was clearing. My mother travelled to India in April 1937 and was married in St John’s Afghan Church in what was then, Bombay. Even now India is exotic, hitting you in the face with its difference. But in the 1930s, the journey took three weeks at a time when most people rarely ventured far beyond their homes. I tried to imagine how it must have been for a working class girl who had never been further from London than a day at the Southend seaside, to travel to what was an alien world, thousands of miles away, and marry a man she hadn’t seen for some time - six years in my mother’s case! And so my heroine, Daisy Driscoll, was born, facing the same hazards in her new life as my mother had - and then far more, with a deceitful and desperate husband who threatens her with disaster. And by the end of The Girl from Cobb Street, I knew I couldn’t leave my heroine there. I was certain she was going to have more adventures, and equally certain that eventually she would reach safe harbour – even if it took three books!
The first two books are set in India and London, respectively. Can you tell us a little about the final book in the series?
What next for Merryn Allingham?
The next project will be a two book series – a duology? –this time linked through place rather than a character. The first novel is set in the long, hot summer of 1914 and the second in the summer of 1944. Both were crucial moments in this country’s history. The setting is Summerhayes, a large house and estate that includes an amazing garden, situated somewhere in Sussex. The gardens offer a rare beauty and should be a place of calm and tranquillity, but the estate is riven with conflict – between neighbours, within the family itself, and, of course, there is conflict on a far larger scale with the rumblings of war in Europe growing louder every day. A Dangerous Summer follows the fortunes and misfortunes of the Summer family, particularly my heroine, Elizabeth, from May 1914 to September of the same year, when thousands of men walked into recruitment centres to volunteer, signalling the real start of the bloodiest war ever.
The second book links with the first, through theme and character as well as setting (to say why would give the plot away), but in 1944 Summerhayes is a shadow of its former glory and is being used by the military in the Second World War as a training ground and jumping off point for the invasion of Europe. It’s also the setting for more nefarious deeds. So plenty more drama!
Thank, Merryn for being a lovely guest.
Merryn Allingham worked for many years as a university lecturer and between job, family and pets, there was little time to do more than dabble in writing. But when the pressures eased, she grabbed the chance to do something she’d always promised herself – to write a novel. She’d taught 19th century literature and grown up reading Georgette Heyer, so it seemed natural to gravitate towards the Regency period. That was over five years ago and in that time, she has published six Regency romances under the name of Isabelle Goddard. It has been a splendid apprenticeship but it left her wanting to write on a larger canvas and more mainstream fiction. In 2013, she adopted a new writing name, Merryn Allingham, and a new genre. Daisy’s War, a suspense trilogy, is the result. The books are set in India and wartime London during the 1930s and 1940s and the first in the series, The Girl from Cobb Street, was published in January this year. Books two and three followed in May and August, 2015.
Buy Daisy’s Long Road Home from Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/o9hqneg