I am absolutely delighted to have had all three of my currently available titles, TORN, LIFE CLASS and FLY OR FALL honoured with a Chill With a Book AWARD. It’s made me think about how and why I began writing. But to attempt to pinpoint why I write the type of women’s fiction I choose to write, would probably need an extended course of psychotherapy.
During the summer of my thirteenth year, I was knocked down by a transit van right outside my home. It was a serious accident - apparently there was a lot of blood - but a police car that happened to be cruising the area came upon the scene just after it happened and called it in; I was carted off to hospital very swiftly. Fortunately, things looked worse than they were, my injuries turned out to be relatively superficial, and I made a swift recovery. Ever after, my family would tease me that it was that knock on my head that ‘turned me on’ to boys. At around that time I did suddenly notice Stuart Ollerenshaw, who lived a few houses up from us, and Richard Early, who lived in the road opposite, but I guess this was actually more to do with the coincidence of my age and my burgeoning hormones.
I’ve always said it was my older sister who planted the idea that you could write the book you wanted to read. She began her own version of a Georgette Heyer style romance when she was fifteen, well before my accident. I naturally thought that anything my big sister did had to be a good thing and, as a voracious reader, I’d already arrived at the conclusion that the very best and most satisfying stories always concluded with the promise of marriage to a handsome hero. So, when I began to write my first book at the age of ten, there was no question about the topic. It had to be a romance. But ... my exposure to romance, and my understanding of it, was necessarily very limited.
It wasn’t just my sister’s influence that started me writing. I think my parents unwittingly shared a lot of the responsibility for my craving. I was not forbidden to read teen comics, but they were very much frowned on. In my parents’ eyes they were tacky, superficial and unworthy of me; and I absorbed these attitudes. Although I did occasionally buy and read teen comics, I did so with a sense of guilt - as if I was somehow letting myself, and them, down. For the most part I tried to rise above the urge. I’m sure I came on like a little prig to my contemporaries at school. Because there was no such thing as Young Adult fiction in those days, I went straight from children’s books like Black Beauty & Heidi (via Georgette Heyer, Daphne du Maurier, Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronté) to the adult fiction on my parents’ book shelves, where I sucked up what romance I could find in Howard Spring, H.E. Bates, Kingsley Amis et al. Otherwise there was television, magazines and pop music to feed my imagination. Or......? I could create my own world of longing glances and fevered kisses.
The heroes of these unending tomes (literally unending - I never finished anything) were leather clad motor-cyclists, injured war hero’s, or musicians - all of whom were angst-ridden survivors of a damaged past. The role of my plucky heroines, unfazed by these physical and mental wounds, temper tantrums, or suicidal tendencies, was to support, nurture and nurse their men-folk. In school break-times I forced my friends to listen to the latest, breathless episode, on which I would have spent far more time and effort than on my homework. But then, as it does, ‘life’ got in the way. In my case this was in the form of art-college, flesh-and-blood boys, finding a job, and eventually getting married. I only resumed writing when I was at home with my baby son.
My earlier tastes still inform my writing in subtle ways. I prefer to write contemporary stories with an edge, about people with faults, failings and emotional baggage. Where’s the fun in creating perfectly well-balanced characters, whose childhoods were happy and secure, and whose benign life experiences have left no scars? I used to describe my books as gritty, but this conveys the wrong impression. I’m not another Martina Cole or Linda La Plante. Despite my teenage tastes, I don’t write about ‘Crims’ and ‘Toms’ and seedy lowlife. I’ve never lived in that world and I don’t know it. I don’t even watch East Enders. But I don’t shy away from issues. I prefer to write as truthfully as I can about real people in a world I recognise, dealing with the stuff we all may have to deal with. A world where we don’t always make the right decisions - where actions have consequences - where we muddle along and sometimes, all we can hope for is the best. What I write is ‘romance for grownups’.
This is not to say there are no happy endings. There may not be a transformation scene, where my beautiful, but innocent and humble heroine’s rags turn into a sparkly crinoline, and she marries her perfect prince. But in my books there is always hope, and a light at the end of the tunnel. There may not be a promise of happy ever after - who can guarantee that in real life? - but there is always a’ happy for now, and who knows...?’
Find my books at: Author.to/GilliAllan