Our interview today is with Anne Allen the author of Dangerous Waters: Mystery, Loss, and Love on the Island of Guernsey (4.7 stars on 13 reviews). Before we get to the interview a brief description: ‘Oh my God, what’s happening to me? After all this time, please, not again!’ Jeanne Le Page, gripped by fear and panic, struggles to breathe as the ferry arrives in Guernsey, the island she had fled 15 years before, traumatized by a family tragedy. Now she has to return after her grandmother’s death. Jeanne has inherited her cottage and she plans to sell it before returning to the UK. Deeply unhappy after the recent end of a long-term relationship, she has no desire to pick up her old life on the island. Read more on Amazon.
Author Interview with Anne Allen
What was unique about the setting of the book and how did it enhance or take away from the story?
The setting’s quite unique, being the small British island of Guernsey, situated a few miles off the coast of France. It’s only 7 miles by 5 miles so pretty tiny! Mind you, there are even smaller islands in the Channel Islands and one, Herm, also figures in Dangerous Waters. Here, there are no cars and both residents (about 200) and tourists walk everywhere.
I used to live in Guernsey and fell in love with it. There’s still a piece of my heart left behind (as well as one son and numerous friends!) so that I have good reason to return frequently. My extensive knowledge and love of the island show through in my writing and I’m often receiving comments from local people about how accurate my descriptions are. Those who have never visited say it’s now top of their list of holiday destinations! Another way of looking at it is that part of the story is Guernsey. Dangerous Waters also contains echoes of the German Occupation – something which is unique, in Britain, to the Channel Islands.
Do the characters seem real and believable? Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?
My characters were certainly real to me! I’m sure all writers will say that they live and breathe their main characters right through the writing process. Much like an actor playing a part. I spent most of the time inside the head of my main protagonist, Jeanne Le Page, a young woman in her thirties, the same age of many of the characters. As I’m rather older (ahem!) I pictured what my children would do and say in the various situations that arose. No problem with the more mature characters! By profession I’m a psychotherapist, giving me many opportunities to study the human psyche. It also means I’ve helped many with issues of love and loss and, together with my own personal experiences, that has made it easy for me to relate to my characters and what they face.
I feel that there’s a lot of me in Jeanne – or should that be the other way round?! Either way, I’m aware that we have a strong connection.
How do characters change or evolve throughout the course of the story? What events trigger the changes?
Jeanne has to change, no question! She is too immersed in her own pain initially to think ahead but the support of those around her force her to see her choices. I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling the story, but I can say that Jeanne begins to re-connect with her past; the catalyst being the cottage she inherited from her grandmother and the memories that spill over her. The memories are bitter-sweet, connecting her to those she has lost, but they lead her forward into a brighter future. She comes close to death for a second time and that is another trigger for change as it would be for any of us. A couple of male characters also face their own demons and one, in particular, has to come to terms with a terrible secret. Enough – I want you to read Dangerous Waters to find out more!
Was there a basis for your story? A previous experience? Something else?
The island of Guernsey was the initial inspiration and I wanted to write a romance with a twist – some mystery. The story covers love and loss, which can and does happen to most of us, meaning it’s something everyone relates to. I’ve had some heavy losses myself, having lost my husband while in my thirties and becoming a single parent to three. And my clients’ stories offered more examples of how people overcome tragedy. This was the central theme – that whatever, or whoever, we’ve lost, we can always love and live again. There is a parallel story concerning Jeanne’s grandmother which flags up events from the Occupation which actually occurred. So there’s a mixture of fact and fiction with the characters and their stories being pure fiction of course!
What research did you have to perform to back up your story? Any research which really opened your eyes or gave you new respect for a topic or profession?
For the contemporary part of Dangerous Waters I needed little research. My knowledge of Guernsey and my professional experience both provided all the material I needed. For the Occupation I spoke to local people who had lived through it and also read a number of books on the subject. This certainly gave me new respect for those who had lived through those five years and suffered so much deprivation. But the Guernsey spirit is very strong – like a lot of islanders everywhere – and this helped them to cope as well as they did. There’s another element which needed some research and that’s to do with the gastronomic aspect of the novel. I had to research local recipes which had been handed down through the generations as well as the haute cuisine of mid-nineteenth century France. I’ve included some local recipes at the back of the book for foodies to enjoy.
How do you get past writer’s block or distractions like the internet?
Well, they certainly can have an impact! If it’s just a minor block I might get through it by going off to make a cup of coffee or having a short walk. If it’s something bigger then I leave off writing for a few days and focus on something that doesn’t need too much ‘brain’ work like painting furniture or working in the garden. As an indie author I’m not working to a deadline which really takes the pressure off – but that’s not always a good thing! While I was writing Dangerous Waters I didn’t use the internet as much as I’m doing nowadays and twitter and Facebook weren’t around. They do get in the way now I’m writing my second book, Finding Mother. I cope by writing in longhand initially so that I can stay away from the computer. If the weather’s fine – not a lot in England these days! – I’ll write in my little garden, well away from the PC.
Excerpt from book
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.
Emerging from the White Rock, Jeanne followed the steady stream of cars up St Julian’s Avenue and turned left into Ann’s Place. She smiled on seeing that the Old Government House Hotel was still there and was lucky to find a parking space close by. It was just a short walk to the advocate’s office but she decided that she needed a coffee first. Ideally she would have preferred a couple of vodka shots to calm herself, but didn’t think it would be appropriate to meet her lawyer with glazed eyes and a stagger, especially as she’d already been accused of hitting the duty frees! The thought made her frown as she walked down Smith Street, side-stepping the tourists intent on window shopping.
Jeanne began to feel more at home at the familiar sight of Boots at the bottom of the hill. It was where she and her friends used to meet up before going on the prowl in Town. On her right was a smart and inviting looking café with squashy leather chairs.
She sank, with a contented sigh, into a chair and ordered a cappuccino from the young waitress.
‘Anything to eat with your coffee? We have some scrummy chocolate cake guaranteed not to put on an ounce.’ The girl grinned.
‘Can’t resist!’ Jeanne smiled back, pleased that at least one of the natives seemed friendly.
Sipping her frothy drink, conscious of a milky moustache flecked with chocolate crumbs forming, Jeanne thought about her impending meeting with the advocate. She had been receiving gentle but persistent reminders from Advocate Marquis that there were important legal issues to discuss, not least that of her grandmother’s cottage. Her mind, unbidden, took her back to that awful day five months ago . . . .