Allegra Huston has written screenplays, journalism, and one previous book, ‘Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost and Found’. After an early career in UK publishing, including four years as Editorial Director of Weidenfeld & Nicolson, she joined the film company Pathé as development consultant. She wrote and produced the award-winning short film Good Luck, Mr. Gorski, and is on the editorial staff of the international art and culture magazine Garage. She lives in Taos, New Mexico, with her 14-year-old son.
- To readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
I read English at university, then went into publishing. I was an editor at Chatto & Windus and then Weidenfeld & Nicolson, before going to work for a film production and distribution company. That was when I started writing screenplays. I was also writing a few magazine articles here and there, mostly travel. I woke up one morning with the idea to write a piece about how lucky I feel to have two fathers (not two gay fathers – it’s a complicated story…) and that article eventually became my first book, ‘LOVE CHILD: A Memoir of Family Lost and Found’. The nice thing about writing a book, after writing screenplays, is that there’s a comparatively short path to its emergence into the world. But I couldn’t write a second memoir: I’d already told the personal story I wanted to tell. So I started to think about a novel.
- Can you tell us about your new book ‘Say My Name’.
It’s a love story between an older woman and a younger man – she’s 48, he’s 28. But really it’s a story about a woman’s transformation and self-empowerment. I knew I wanted to write a book that would be fun to read, that would be intimate, and that would have the texture of real life: not just a romp. My romantic fantasy, for as long as I can remember, was that a great song would be written for me. So that was the starting point for my story. The man would have to be a musician; he’d have to be in his twenties … And the woman, Eve, was in a life situation very like my own when I began writing.
- What’s your favourite part of the writing process?
Editing, definitely. That’s my comfort zone; I’ve been doing it for thirty years. I find the blank page pretty terrifying still, but I love the feeling when it’s all coming together.
- Who’s your favourite literary hero or heroine?
Ishmael in ‘Moby-Dick’. He’s not really a hero: he’s an adventurer but also an observer, level-headed in the middle of the craziness. I most identify with Anne Elliot in ‘Persuasion’.
- From books to films, what’s been your favourite adaptation?
‘The Year of Living Dangerously’. One of my favourite films of all time. A wonderful book and a brilliant adaptation. Also ‘The English Patient’, I liked the film better than the book, which is rare for me.
- Was there ever a book that you read, that didn’t live up to the hype that surrounded it and left you disappointed?
Absolutely! But writing is so damn difficult, I don’t have any desire to criticise anyone else’s work. That’s why I’ve always said no to reviewing. I love helping someone make their book better, before it’s published. After it’s published, it’s too late to find fault. Just congratulate them for doing it at all.
- If you were starting your writing journey again, would you do anything differently?
I would read something else at university. Anthropology, maybe, or psychology. Having such a developed critical mind doesn’t necessarily help you when you start writing yourself. Very few of us write a finished draft, or anything close to it, straight onto the page; but the critical mind unreasonably expects it.
- If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
I’m assuming that the collected works of Shakespeare are already on any desert island worth its salt. And that you’d ban a manual on how to build a boat out of available materials. I’d bring ‘Moby-Dick’, which I find endlessly fascinating; Ford Madox Ford’s ‘The Good Soldier’, because I’m still trying to figure out quite how he pulled that off; and Julian Jaynes’s ‘The Origin of Consciousness’ and the ‘Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind’. The theory behind it has been disproved, but it’s still one of the most extraordinarily intense, erudite, preconception-shattering books ever written – one of those books that you feel that you’re almost understanding, but then you think you haven’t quite, and have to read it again.
- What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
Writing screenplays teaches you a lot about structure, and about getting meaning into the story that’s not spelled out on the page. I think that’s a very useful discipline for all storytellers. I also love ten-minute writing exercises. They don’t give you enough time to think: it’s improv for writers. And that’s where the sparks, the energy, the originality, come from.
- When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
A mug of tea: tulsi or kukicha.
- And finally Allegra do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website?
‘Say My Name’, my first novel, is published on 27 July. I’m appearing at the Port Eliot Festival in Cornwall on Sunday, 30 July, at 4 pm, in conversation with Rowan Pelling, editor of ‘The Amorist’ and with a special appearance by the brilliant Sarah Gillespie, who wrote the song that’s at the centre of ‘Say My Name’; and on Woman’s Hour on August 1. I’ll be teaching a memoir writing workshop in Deia, Mallorca, October 22-27; details on my website, allegrahuston.com – join us!
You can buy Say My Name from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.