A Shining welcome to author Anne Allen. Anne’s debut mystery, Dangerous Waters, is set in Guernsey, an island in the English Channel occupied by the Germans during World War II. According to one reviewer, Guernsey is "so vividly evoked, one feels as if one is walking its byways."
Tell us a little about yourself, Anne. Where are you from?
I was born in Rugby, England, home of Rugby football but I’m a bit of a restless soul so have moved around a lot. I spent a couple of years in Spain and nearly fourteen in Guernsey, the setting for my book Dangerous Waters. I’m now back in England, living in a small seaside town in Devon. I do adore the sea!I agree. Do you set your books/stories in your home town, or do you prefer more exotic locations?
I started writing Dangerous Waters about 6 years ago when I’d been back in the UK a few years. I still missed Guernsey and it seemed the obvious place to be the setting for a book. It’s slightly exotic, being a small, beautiful British island off the coast of France with an unusual history.Your book sounds perfect for armchair travel. How much of your writing is based on people or events familiar to you?
By profession I’m a psychotherapist, bringing me into close contact with hundreds of people over the years. And there’s family and friends! I didn’t consciously choose particular people on whom to base my characters, but probably used an amalgam of different people. No-one has yet said that they recognize themselves or someone they know. The only exception is me –there’s quite a lot of me in Jeanne, the main character – or is that Jeanne in me?! And that has been remarked on by those that know me! In Dangerous Waters there is a sub-plot which concerns the German Occupation in WWII, events with which I’m very familiar from my time in Guernsey. Also, the book focuses on love and loss, issues of which I’ve had both personal and professional experience. But the book is pure fiction, none of the events described actually happened to anyone I know :)What inspired you to write Dangerous Waters?
I had long had an itch to write a book but life had always got in the way. Then, in 2005, I realized I had more free time and the ‘muse’ finally arrived. I was ‘pushed’ by my mother into entering a 500 word competition run by a UK national magazine. She thought it was for fiction but it was actually for a true life story but I still entered and, to my surprise, I won! This gave me the confidence to concentrate on a book. As I’d just finished reading a novel about a small French island I thought about Guernsey. An idea formed in my mind about a house with secrets and a heroine with a tragic past and it evolved from there.Was there much research involved?
Not for the contemporary part of the book. I knew the island so well that I could describe it from memory and my experience as a therapist enabled me to write certain aspects of the story with confidence. I had to research details about the Occupation and this involved talking to people who had lived through it, together with extensive reading of books on the subject. Part of the story concerns the gastronomic heritage of the island and that of mid-nineteenth century France. These I researched in books and online.Is there a message in your story you want readers to grasp?
That people – and women in particular! – are pretty tough and can overcome personal tragedies, if they don’t let themselves dwell in the past. My writing is not ‘heavy’, it’s essentially a story of a young woman’s search for love and finding the answer to a couple of mysteries. Also, that Guernsey is a beautiful island well worth visiting :)Do you listen to music when you write?
Yes, I love ‘easy listening’ music that doesn’t take my focus away from my writing. Some music, in fact, actually inspired me while I was writing a couple of romantic scenes!Which authors do you feel have influenced your writing most?
I’ve been such an avid, eclectic reader that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly. But I’d say Katie Fforde, Mary Higgins Clark, Erica James and Joanna Trollope.Wonderful writers indeed. Name a few titles I’d find if I browsed through your personal home library.
The Key by Simon Toyne, Lustrum by Robert Harris, On the Street Where You Live by Mary Higgins Clark, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve, Recipe for Life by Nicky Pellegrino and The Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson. But there’s hundreds more!If you could go back in time, what author would you most like to invite to share a chat and a bottle of wine?
Mmm. That’s a difficult one – the choice is vast! I think the choice would have to be whittled down to Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer or Daphne Du Maurier. Sooo, I’ll settle for Georgette Heyer – I read all her fun Regency novels as a girl and she sounds like someone you could have a laugh with!What’s next for you?
I’m writing a second novel, Finding Mother, which follows a young woman’s search for her natural mother. Her marriage is on the rocks and she needs to find herself, in the process connecting with both her real mother and grandmother. Both these ladies have secrets from their past which unravel as they spend time with Nicole. The book is set primarily in Guernsey but has excursions to England, Jersey (part of the British Channel Islands) and Spain. Progress is slow at the moment but I’m hoping it will be published next year.We’ll look forward to it. Name a few of your favorite non-writing activities.
I love interior design and have renovated a number of properties over the years, including a Dutch barge which was home for a couple of years recently. I enjoy visiting old houses with beautiful gardens, which are in abundance in England. I’ve turned my hand to sculpture, mosaic and painting furniture – the creative urge seems to be strong! And naturally I love to read :)Naturally! All right, time to read a little of Dangerous Waters.
Jeanne Le Page, gripped by fear and panic, struggles to breathe as the ferry arrives in Guernsey – the island she had fled fifteen years before, traumatised by a family tragedy.
Now she has to return after another death. Her beloved grandmother has bequeathed Jeanne her old cottage. She intends to stay just long enough to sell her inheritance. Deeply unhappy after the recent end of a relationship, she has no desire to pick up her old life in her birthplace.
Jeanne is shocked to find that the cottage holds a secret going back to the German Occupation. She becomes drawn into learning more, delaying her planned departure. At the same time, while unveiling the truth of what happened to her family, she puts herself in mortal danger.
She has to relive the tragedy as the ghosts continue to haunt her. But over time the island works its magic, encouraging her to live and love again…
Jeanne went out on deck as the spring sun broke through the clouds. A warm glow spread over green and gold jewel-like Herm and its larger neighbour, grey and white building encrusted Guernsey. The salt-laden air enveloped her like an old and trusty coat. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and was a child again, playing on the beach with her parents. The image was so powerful that tears formed and she blundered, unseeing, towards the railings. As her vision cleared she found herself staring at Herm and, without warning, was overwhelmed by such a strong feeling of fear that she had to hold onto the rail. Jeanne’s heart began to race, blood pounded in her head and her breathing came in short, painful gasps.
Oh my God, what’s happening to me? After all this time, please, not again!
Struggling to breathe she was on the verge of passing out. Letting go of the rail she stumbled, crashing into a man who was walking past.
‘Hey, steady on! Look where you’re going!’ he said angrily, grabbing hold of her to stop them falling. ‘Overdid the duty frees, did you?’
Stung by his accusation, she took a deep breath before replying. ‘No… no. I…I just lost my balance.’ The man’s hands were gripping her arms so hard that she could already imagine the bruises. ‘Hey, that hurts!’
He loosened his grip and guided her back to the rail where she clung on, filling her lungs with the sea air. ‘Sorry, didn’t mean to hurt you. OK now?’
Jeanne nodded. As the man stepped back she took in, through still blurred eyes; dark brown hair, deep blue eyes and the muscled arms of a man unlikely to be a pen-pusher. Responding to his
slightly warmer tone, she managed a tight smile before straightening up and walking, unsteadily, to the starboard side.
What on earth was that? Is this what I can expect now? Perhaps I shouldn’t have come back though I didn’t have much choice… The thoughts whirled around her pounding head. She shuddered as she leant against the railings and Guernsey came into full view. While the ferry headed towards St Peter Port harbour, she felt as if she were approaching a strange, unknown country rather than the land of her birth. The whole of the northern sea front, from Les Banques into St Peter Port, had been transformed. Towering edifices of granite and glass had replaced the old, tired mish-mash of warehouses, scruffy hotels and shops. With a gasp, she realised that even the elegant landmark of the Royal Hotel had been supplanted.
Wow! What’s happened here? It was if a natural disaster had occurred, flattening the old front and replacing it by buildings more reminiscent of London than of the parochial island she remembered. She’d never have thought that Guernsey would move into the twenty first century with such a bang.
The dramatic transformation which lay before her seemed to Jeanne to be an echo of all the change in her own life and she felt a stranger here. She wished that she had stayed in the familiar, dull Midlands town which had been her home these past fifteen years.
For a moment the urge to remain on the ferry and return to England, without setting foot on the island, was overwhelming. Her face must have mirrored her inner turmoil as a middle-aged lady standing nearby asked, ‘Are you all right, dear? Only you’ve gone very white.’
‘I’m fine, thanks. Just not very good on boats.’
The older lady nodded sympathetically. ‘My Tom gets seasick too. Has to fill himself up with beer or the odd whisky or two before he’ll set foot on a boat. Just as well I can drive or we’d be marooned on the ferry till he’s sobered up!’ She laughed.
Jeanne grinned weakly.
‘Aren’t these waters supposed to be dangerous?’
‘Yes, they can be, if you don’t know where all the rocks are,’ Jeanne replied. Yet again, her heart hammered against her chest and her breathing quickened. She fought down the feelings of panic to add, ‘but these big boats are perfectly safe,’ wondering who she was really trying to reassure.
Jeanne now joined the throng of eager passengers heading towards the car deck, found her car and sat there feeling sick and trapped in the echoing bowel of the ship. She would just do what had to be done here and then go back – but where? Her body arched with pain at the memory of her loss. Going back would be as painful as going on, she realised. The sound of car horns blaring behind her brought her back to the present. She started the engine and joined the queue towards the gangway and whatever lay ahead.
* * * * *About Anne Allen:
Anne Allen lives in Devon, by her beloved sea. She has three children and her daughter and two grandchildren live nearby. She was born in Rugby, to an English mother and Welsh father. As a result she spent many summers with her Welsh grandparents in Anglesey and learnt to love the sea. Her restless spirit has meant a number of moves which included Spain for a couple of years. The longest stay was in Guernsey for nearly fourteen years after falling in love with the island and the people. She contrived to leave one son behind to ensure a valid reason for frequent returns.
By profession Anne is a psychotherapist but has long had creative ‘itches’, learning to mosaic, paint furniture, interior design and sculpt. At the back of her mind the itch to write was always present but seemed too time-consuming for a single mum with a need to earn a living. Now the nest is empty there’s more time to write and a second novel is gestating, but novels take a lot longer than children to be born!