Today I’ve got awesome historical novelist Merryn Allingham on the blog talking about her writing process and sharing her hints and tips! Read on to find about more about her and her novels.
Hi Merryn, tell me a bit about you and your latest work.
I write historical mystery/suspense novels with a dash of romance. My latest book is called A Tale of Two Sisters and will be published by Canelo on 21 March. The novel is set in Constantinople between 1905 and 1907, a time of upheaval in the Ottoman Empire, and concerns two sisters -Lydia Verinder, who has gone missing from her post as governess at the Topkapi Palace and her older sister, Alice, who becomes increasingly worried for Lydia’s safety and goes in search of her.
Alice has been forced to take responsibility for the Verinder household and her feelings for Lydia are decidedly mixed. She admires her sister’s courage and passion, but feels resentful that she has been left caring for their parents. In searching for her sister, Alice is forced to confront difficult emotions. Her journey to Constantinople will bring tragedy, but also reconciliation and love.
Describe yourself in 3 words.
Loyal, determined, creative (I hope!)
What are your top 3 tips for aspiring writers?
- Relax and let the words flow. Some you’ll want to lose, some will be okay and a few will be nuggets of gold.
- Finding your voice is probably the most important thing you can do as a writer. Your background, personality, reading, all play a part, but your voice is yours alone.
- Be disciplined and write as regularly as you can. Be patient, too – getting where you want can take time.
Are you a panster or plotter?
A bit of both. I have to know where I’ll begin the story and also what the ending is likely to be. Maybe a few scenes in the middle, too, but otherwise I let the story unfold and as the characters begin to develop, they most often lead the way.
How do you choose your character names?
When you write historical fiction, your choice is limited to some extent – there aren’t too many Tracys in the 19th century! So a trawl through the census around that year can help. In reality, children were often named after their parents or have the same name as a dead sibling, but that would be confusing and it’s necessary to have new names for every generation. I try hard, too, to have each start with a different letter of the alphabet, and if possible I avoid names that end in ‘s’ because of problems with the possessive. Quite a minefield!
What do you do when you get stuck with your writing?
It doesn’t often happen but when I’m confronted with a particularly knotty problem, I find walking really helpful. It clears my head – literally – and there’s something about the rhythm of walking that gets the brain working again. Sometimes, though, I simply give up for a while and in the middle of the night, wake up and it’s there. I keep a notebook and pen by my bedside for those moments of inspiration!
How long does it take you to write a book?
With the research, I would say roughly nine months.
What’s your main weakness as a writer eg. SPaG, continuity etc?
Curtailing my enthusiasm for what I discover when researching a period or event. I have to be severe with myself and ignore the mad desire to share everything I’ve found out. It’s fiction I’m writing and only a very small part of my research can find its way into a book or readers would simply switch off.
What do you find hardest/easiest about writing?
It’s a real mixed bag. The planning phrase is wonderful. Your brain is on fire with this new idea and you’re moving it around in your mind, adopting, rejecting, bringing in new things. The research, too, is great, delving into a new subject, seeing the project come alive. Then comes the slog – writing 90,000 words plus is hard work. But once you have the story on the page or the screen, you can afford to relax a little. It’s time to edit and it feels good to have something to work on. By the fourth draft, though, perhaps not so good!
What’s been your biggest learning curve?
My day job was teaching in a university and I would say the biggest hurdle I had to overcome was the tendency to analyse my writing and find it wanting. I taught all the great names in literature for over thirty years, so found it very daunting when I began to write. I got there eventually – telling myself I was never going to be Virginia Woolf, but I did have a voice of my own. A breakthrough!
Do you prefer pen and paper, or is everything on the computer?
It’s strange. I write fluently on a computer but still seem to need pen and paper to plan – a rough outline of the story, notes on characters, family trees, possible scenes.
And now for some silly questions just for fun…
Tea or coffee?
Tea – too much coffee and I end up frazzled.
Beer or wine?
Wine. I’ve never managed to acquire a taste for beer.
Chips or curly fries?
I’m not crazy about either.
Puppies or kittens?
Both are beautiful, but my heart would choose kittens. Cats have kept me company all my life and I love them dearly.
Summer or winter?
It has to be summer. I am the coldest person I know and I love the sun.
Separated by time and distance, two sisters seek answers for all they’ve lost
When Alice Verinder’s beloved sister Lydia goes missing, Alice boards the Orient Express bound for Topkapi Palace in Constantinople, determined to find her.
Lydia was governess to the Sultan’s young children and though her letters spoke of exotic delights and welcoming hosts, the reception Alice receives is decidedly cold and answers unforthcoming.
Now, as Alice digs deeper into the secrets of a land foreign to her she has only Englishman Harry Frome to help her. But as their search uncovers unforeseen dangers and exposes an unexpected ardour, is Alice ready for the truths they’ll uncover?
An emotional historical drama perfect for fans of Linda Finlay and Rosie Goodwin
Merryn Allingham was born into an army family and spent her childhood moving around the UK and abroad. Unsurprisingly it gave her itchy feet and in her twenties she escaped from an unloved secretarial career to work as cabin crew and see the world.
Merryn still loves to travel and visit new places, especially those with an interesting history, but the arrival of marriage, children and cats meant a more settled life in the south of England, where she has lived ever since. It also gave her the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually teach at university.
She has written seven historical novels, all mysteries with a helping of suspense and a dash of romance – sometimes set in exotic locations and often against a background of stirring world events.
A Tale of Two Sisters was published yesterday! We hope you have a great publication day, Merryn! Grab a copy here: https://amzn.to/2BNUD0K!