Sunday 24 March 2019

A Tale of Two Sisters - Guest Post Merryn Allingham

There are some blog guests I am always very happy to welcome back to Wendy's Writing Now and Merryn Allingham is one of them. She is here today to answer questions about her new release, A Tale of Two Sisters which is published by Canelo.

Can you tell my readers a little more about A Tale of Two Sisters?

It’s 1907 and Lydia Verinder has been in Constantinople for well over a year, working as a governess at Topkapi Palace. When Lydia’s letters home come to an abrupt halt, Alice Verinder is ready to blame her headstrong sister for thoughtlessness - Lydia has always been indulged and Alice’s feelings for her sister are decidedly mixed. She loves Lydia and admires her courage and passion, but feels resentful that since her sister was bundled out of England to escape punishment for a suffragette ‘crime’, she is the one left caring for their parents.

But Lydia’s continued silence is desperately worrying. Why should an English governess working in a securely guarded palace disappear without a word? Fearful of what might have happened, Alice sets out for Turkey alone, lying to her family about her destination. When she reaches Topkapi, she is overwhelmed by it magnificence and by the secrets she suspects the palace is hiding.

Slowly she uncovers the fate of her sister, helped by a young Englishman she meets on the journey. At first, their relationship is prickly, but love grows as together they face the dangers her search provokes. Step by step, Alice penetrates the silence that reigns within the palace but is drawn into a perilous game of power and violence.

What’s the hardest part of writing a novel set in a different century?

I enjoy research which is probably why I’ve gravitated towards historical fiction. Most of my novels are set between the mid-Victorian era and World War Two, and the amount of source material available - letters, diaries, speeches, endless scholarly tomes and novels and films of the period - makes the task relatively easy as well as enjoyable. The internet, too, can be invaluable for checking those tiny details you didn’t know you didn’t know. Where it gets harder is when you’re writing of another country’s past - particularly when you don’t read the language - and you’re forced to lean heavily on other people’s interpretations of events. In the case of this novel, most accounts that I read of Turkish history and specifically the Ottoman Empire, were written by Europeans with an inevitable bias.

How much research do you do before you start the novel?

It varies, but in the case of A Tale of Two Sisters, I read a good deal about the Ottoman Empire in the early years of the twentieth century. It was a time of political upheaval with calls for democracy and lots of different groups vying to overthrow the Sultan. I also read about the empire itself - its history over four hundred years and the way in which Topkapi Palace or indeed any of the Ottoman palaces were organised according to a strictly observed hierarchy. There are several articles on my website - - that look at the role of women within the empire and the way in which the system of slavery worked. You might be quite surprised!

You are with a new publisher. How have you found the transition?

I moved from a large conglomerate publisher to Canelo, a smaller independent firm but one that is growing fast. I’ve found everyone approachable and very friendly. In terms of book production, the editorial advice, copy editing, the jacket cover, have all been excellent. So I’m a happy bunny!

What is the central theme of your novel?

The novel is a mystery and a romance, but at a deeper level it raises questions of identity, of the complexity of family relationships, and the triumph of love against the odds.

Do you have a special time of day when you write?

I tend to do ‘stuff’ in the morning - exercise classes, Italian lessons, meeting friends - so my writing time doesn’t usually start until after lunch. Then I’ll work until six or seven in the evening. I seem to need those morning hours for my brain to get into gear.

Give us an insight into your main character. What is it about them that would make a reader want to go on the journey with them?

In fact, I have two main characters, since the story is told from both sisters’ perspectives. On the surface, Alice is the quintessential daughter of the Edwardian era. She has dutifully run the Verinder household for years and, after her brother’s death and her sister’s escape to Turkey, is left alone to care for ailing parents. Over the years, she has lost sight of the person she used to be, and it takes a desperate situation to help her recover the ‘real’ Alice. For Lydia, too, it’s the threat she faces that makes her realise for the first time how dear her family is to her. Each sister is forced to confront difficult feelings and face catastrophic loss. But both come to know reconciliation and the power of love.

What authors inspire you?

Lots do, but if I had to choose only one it would be Kate Atkinson. I love her style, the way she blends the literary and the popular. She’s also a writer willing to take chances and try different genres. Her first novel won the Orange Prize and a few years later the Jackson Brodie crime series was filmed for prime time television - you can’t get more versatile than that!

Have you any desire to write in a different genre?

I’ve wanted to write crime for a long time. I started out writing pure romance, but saw each book getting darker than the one before, and once I moved into mainstream women’s fiction, there was always a dead body somewhere in the story. But I was told quite firmly by those in the know that the odd body doesn’t make for crime. So this year I’m taking the plunge and publishing my first real crime novel - and with more than one body!

What next for Merryn Allingham?

In July, The Venice Atonement hits the shelves. It’s the first of a crime series set in different locations around the world, some of them definitely exotic. The books feature the same trio of characters - and the development of their relationship is probably as important as the crimes they solve. At the moment, I’m having fun writing number two in the series which is set on a fictional island in the Caribbean. I wonder, what could possibly go wrong?

You can buy A Tale of Two Sisters here: Amazon    

Find out more about Merryn at the links below:

Twitter: @MerrynWrites

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.

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