How many of us would love to turn a hobby into work, especially if it means working from home when it’s cold and the roads are icy? The move to professional writer has certainly delighted Annemarie Allan.
Annemarie grew up in and around Edinburgh, leaving, she says, a trail of destruction behind her â€“ 2 houses and 2 schools were knocked down after she left. She had always wanted to write but found that “Life got in the way.” The closest she came was doing a post graduate degree in librarianship and working as a school librarian in Haringey, North London. “That was great because I could read all the books!”
On returning to Edinburgh in 1991, when her mother became ill, she found a post with the Scottish Arts Council keeping people informed of new resources that became available. She freelanced as a local historian and wrote up Prestonpans for the 2000 East Lothian Statistical Account.
Her first love was children’s writing but it took 5 attempts before Hox won the Kelpies Award in 2007 and was published by Floris, although an earlier book, Lord of Aldhammer, was shortlisted for the Saga/HarperCollins Childrenâ€™s Book Award 2006. Hox was also shortlisted for the 2008 Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children’s Books. “I like writing for children,” she says, “because they are such responsive readers you feel obliged to give them a terrific story â€“ or try to. As for the Awards, it doesnâ€™t matter if you win because if you’re shortlisted a lot of children will read your book. In terms of your CV it’s great but people reading your book is the main thing.”
Hox comes from the world of a boy whose parents worked at the Institute for Animal Research. Robbie discovers some unpleasant secrets about a strand of research which involves him directly. While Hox is fantasy (so far), Annemarie’s molecular biologist husband ensured that she didn’t drift too far from the realms of the possible.Â She classifies Hox as a mystery but has written fantasy and would love to see these fantasy novels published too.
“The thing I like about Floris,” she says, “is that they are local and Scottish. That’s very important to me. They really support Scottish writing.
“Being published has changed a number of things for me. My family take my writing seriously for a start, but the real thing is that it’s given me the confidence to call myself a writer. For years I’ve been in a vacuum, despite belonging to a writers’ group. We were very supportive of each other’s work and gave each other a lot of useful input.”
Annemarie now takes a thoroughly professional approach to her writing and would like to see it improve, although she’s not sure in what direction. She likes good imagery and she doesn’t believe that writing for children requires anything different from writing for adults. “Great writing can work at lots of levels. Children shouldn’t be excluded,” she says. “While I’m writing I’m not thinking, this is too complex, or anything. I want them to keep their heads in the story. No one would read it if it were too complex or written as a scientist would write. I don’t think I’ve edited it down. I would be writing the same way if I were writing for adults. And I don’t think you need to worry about vocabulary. You get the sense of the word from the context.”
Annemarie writes very much from the heart “as an expression of myself. Writing takes you out of your own world. It’s a bit scary. There isn’t too thick a wall between keeping going in your imagination and getting run over by the number 23 bus because you’ve lost touch with reality.”
But Annemarie’s world is a very practical, organised one. She hasn’t totally abandoned all that training in librarianship. When sitting down to write she needs a structure to get started but then admits to going back and rearranging it. “You have to have a split brain,” she laughs. “As a writer you spend a lot of time on your own, being creative and being critical, but once you are published, you become this interactive person.”
Annemarie pauses, reflecting briefly on the number of people who read her books that she will never meet and those that she will meet at readings, author talks in schools and promotional tours.
If this is writing, she loves it all. If this is work, she loves it all too.
Annemarie’s latest book, Breaker, is due out this Spring. Find Annemarie Allan’s books on Amazon