Annie Murray: “Times of change obviously encourage drama, even if only the drama of having to adjust – though it’s often so much more than that”
Annie Murray, an only child, was born in Wallingford in Berkshire, above an antique shop (many objects Annie saw there have since found their way into her books). Annie writes, “I wrote my first ‘book’ when I was seven, on the office typewriter downstairs”. Annie’s father had been a soldier in North Africa and Italy in World War Two. His enthusiasm for travelling meant that Annie can remember many journeys in the family’s caravan. When Annie was in the UK however she attended boarding school, and then went on to study English Literature at Oxford University. After University, Annie trained to be a journalist and found a job with a charity in Birmingham. Soon after, she got married and had four children. Throughout these early years of motherhood, Annie took part in various writer’s workshops. In 1991 she won a competition sponsored by SHE magazine and Granada TV’s ‘This Morning’. Her first book Birmingham Rose, was published in 1995 and since then Annie has had fourteen other books released with Pan Macmillan. Annie’s most recent book, All the Days of Our Lives, was released May 6th this year, and reached No. 29 on the paperback best-seller chart- bravo Annie!
Thank you so much for agreeing to an interview today, your books don’t ever stay in our warehouses for long so we know how popular with World of Books‘ customers you are!
Q: Despite having been writing for years now, do you still feel surprised when you see one of your books on sale in a bookshop?
– Yes, I must admit I do – surprised and pleased. This is partly because obviously in itself it is quite a strange thing; you sit in your room at home dreaming up a story and then you find it all over the place ‘out there’. That does feel odd. And mostly nice. But I have to admit it’s also because in the early days of my books being published, the distribution of them was not all it might be, so I still find it a positive surprise when they actually turn up in bookshops!
Q: How do you feel when you read a bad review of your work? What is the best way you have found of dealing with it?
– Books such as the ones I write do not get much in the way of reviews – if you mean in the press. They tend to be more descriptive than critical, if they appear at all. Reader reviews seem to fall into various categories. People review because they like the book so they write nice things and a lot of reviews are like that. I do take into account that people who don’t like the books probably just don’t bother to review, so it’s no good imagining that everyone loves them! Some people do seem to get off on writing horrible reviews – though I haven’t suffered with that myself. Others, if they are critical in a thoughtful way – well obviously it’d be nice to hear unadulterated praise! – but I tend to think, fair enough.
Q: Why do you largely choose to write from a female perspective? Do you find writing from a male one more difficult?
– Of course – I’m a female. But I actually like writing from a male perspective, because then it’s someone who’s clearly not me. That’s a bit less easy with a female character. With the regional sagas, conventionally the main character is female – though not always and I have written quite a few men – so that’s the main reason. I suppose since I’m a woman and there are a lot of men about who can write their perspective and better probably, it would seem a bit perverse to take on a male character all or most of the time.
Q: Do you begin writing a story fully prepared for where it may go, or do the characters sweep you along and dictate the ending?
– They don’t dictate it, but I think it would be deadening to write a book if you thought you knew everything from the beginning. It’s more like that old saying about driving in the dark – you can see just enough for the journey ahead and you get through it like that – bit by bit. It’s good to have at least an inkling of where it’s going though.
Q: Do you, like many other authors, find it difficult to remain detached from your characters? During the writing process, how real to they become to you?
– They become real but not in the way that they take over my life. To be honest I think a lot of this depends on your lifestyle. If you are alone a lot when you’re not actually working, there’s much more time to brood on your characters. For me, until very recently, (my youngest is now 18) stopping work has meant a rush into other things, children and all sorts of busyness. So I am not thinking about it all consciously all the time. But a lot goes on under the surface even when you are not necessarily concentrating on it full beam. The more time you spend with characters, also, the more you know them. For example I have recently written a trilogy (see below). As I spent time with the characters over three books I was very sad to have to part with them.
Q: What would you say are the three, most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?
– Interesting question. I’d say seeing other people (so that you don’t get lost in fantasy – either of the sort that you’re writing or the one that makes you think you might be a misunderstood genius!) I have brought up four children so seeing people has never been a problem. The issue has been getting time alone! Secondly, exercise – I run a bit and do yoga. I need the endorphins! Otherwise a coma like state plus writer’s bottom would soon follow. Sleep’s very important too – not just at night. Though it is important to get enough night time sleep I think. Also a quick working nap in the day can help you sort all sorts of things out.
Q: Your newest book, All the Days of Our Lives was released in paperback in May this year. It completes a trilogy that began with A Hopscotch Summer in May 2009, and continued with Soldier Girl, which was released in May 2010. Set in 1946, the novel ends the tale of Katie, Molly and Em; their friendship, their relationships, and their struggle to find their place in peacetime, when war has ended, but society has been irrevocably changed. Why do you choose to set your novels in such a climatic stage in modern history? What do you hope a reader will learn?
– Actually a lot of the Twentieth Century was quite climactic one way or another! People seem to have been either working up to one thing – war obviously being the biggest – or recovering from it afterwards. Times of change obviously encourage drama, even if only the drama of having to adjust – though it’s often so much more than that. I’m not sure if the reader will learn. It depends who they are. Younger people may learn a bit about the history. There are also pockets of experience that not everyone is aware of even if they were alive at the time. For example I have had a few letters saying, I had no idea what had happened to so many of the Poles (in All the Days of Our Lives). I’m a storyteller: I don’t set out to ‘teach’ about things really – but through stories people often do learn some history or about human experience, especially perhaps of the older people round them. That all seems a good thing.
Q: You say on your site, “I remember my Dad teaching me arithmetic under a palm tree on the edge of the Sahara desert”. To what extent have your childhood travels influenced your writing? And have you inherited this love for travel?
– I think travelling has given me quite a broad view of things – that whatever your opinions or beliefs there are always going to be different ones, sometimes very different from your own and that it’s not necessarily about being ‘right’ – it’s just varied. I do like travelling, but having brought up quite a large family there has not been an awful lot of it over the last twenty years. I’m glad to have visited some very different countries in my life, such as India, Iran and Cameroon. These days I’m caught between my curiosity about the world and the sense that we should all restrict ourselves a bit more. We are flying too much- it’s bad for the environment and one way or another we shall have to do less of it. However, I do think it’s important to get out of where you are at least sometimes and see people and places who challenge your point of view and enlarge you.
Q: Why did you choose to set your most recent series in Birmingham? And what is the most fascinating historical story you have heard/read about the city?
– All my published novels are set in and around Birmingham, not just this last few. I began writing them when I was living in the city. It is such an interesting place and at the time, no one else was writing stories of this kind about the experience a lot of people had growing up and working there. It’s very different from where I grew up (Thames Valley) and was an eye-opener to me too.
It’s hard to pin down one story in answer to your question. I find the people who were in Birmingham who were called the Lunar Society in the eighteenth century very interesting – characters like James Watt and Matthew Boulton, just to name two of the most well known – and the great fever of ideas and discoveries that came out of there. It was an amazing time. Much of what I read though are the stories of ordinary, unsung people whose lives are often heroic and heartbreaking. They were some of the ones on the back of whose toil grew the Empire – certainly its manufacturing base. None of this history is ever somehow considered ‘glamorous’ – but then why do things need to be glamorous to be interesting?
Q: And just before you go Annie, here at World of Books.com we are dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public. Any book we can’t sell, we recycle; last year alone we saved 12,500 metric tonnes of waste from going to landfill sites. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, do you believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?
– That makes complete sense – with books and with lots of other things as well! It sounds as if you are doing wonderful work. Thank you for the interview and best wishes.
Fancy reading any of Annie’s books? Pick up a copy of her newest book All the Day of Our Lives today, and visit our site for more!