My name is Anne Bennett, which is also the name I write under but I was born, Anne Marie Flanagan. And there are no prizes for guessing where my parents come from. In fact my mother came from Donegal and my father from Fermanagh both in the North of Ireland. That is the area I visited on holiday every year, for the whole summer and the place my parents, particularly my mother, told me about, so many of my characters are placed there or came from there originally.
I was actually born in the inner ring of Birmingham in a back-to-back
house, near the Horse Fair in 1949 like these that opened onto the
communal yard housing the shared miskins for the ashes’ the dustbin
for everything else, the lavatories and the brew house where the
women all did their washing.
So initially I grew up in the very special community that those back to back areas promoted. We lived so close to our neighbours your business was usually everyone else’s business too. In fact if you turned over in bed, your neighbours were usually aware of it. A lot of our lives were lived on the street and while a woman would think nothing of clipping the ear of a cheeky child, they would do anything to help out and all young children felt safe protected by all the mothers We played on the streets or the bombed buildings and I only had to step out of my door to be surrounded by friends.
This is a large slice of life and pace of life that has gone forever and what I try to recapture in my books. I sometime feature Pype Hayes or Erdington, which are areas to the north of the city because that is where we were moved under slum clearance in 1956. However, even when we moved I went to the to the Abbey School in Erdington and continued to be brought up in the rich, Irish culture of my parents and the community through the Catholic Church in both and that’s why many of my books have an Irish, Roman Catholic flavour, some more than others. I actually grew up thinking of myself as an Irish Brummie. And I have since found that there are a lot of us about.
Most Irish people, and those with Irish blood running through their veins, are natural story tellers and so was I from I was quite small, but I always wanted to write it down. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would make my living by writing. Dreams like that were not for working class kids
Although I passed the 11 plus and went to Hodge Hill Grammar School and eventually became a teacher, I did it by a roundabout route, getting further qualifications and going to Bordesley Teacher’s Training College when I was a mature student and also a wife and mother because my parents hadn’t the money to let me stay on at school, never mind support me through College too. I still did it though and taught happily for some years before an injury at work caused damage to my spine in the spring of 1990.
Our home in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham was no longer suitable for us and so we moved to North Wales in July 1993 and, unable to teach any longer as a wheelchair user, I began to write in earnest. Many of the characters and situations were drawn from places I knew, the culture in which I’d been reared, the colourful characters in the neighbourhood and the stories my parents told me, sprinkled with a large dose of imagination. Everyone they say, has a story to tell.
I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) in 1994 as they run a critique service and when they suggested that I send my second submission to Headline, I was astounded, but did as they said. Headline’s response was to give me a two book contract and my first book with them, “A Little Learning” was published in 1997 and I was stunned that it had all seemed to happen so easily.
I had three other books published with Headline too:
In 2001, we parted company and I was offered a contract with Harper Collins. I am now a firmly established Harper Collins author with to date 15 more books written for them. Details elsewhere on the web site Throughout my career as a writer, till 2006 I was confined to a wheelchair as the nerves to my legs were cut off by fibrosis following spinal surgery and I was told that I would never walk again. However, I continued to exercise, firstly by swimming and then by using toning tables to keep up my muscle tone. In August 2006, the scar tissue around my spinal cord inexplicably broke down and I regained the feeling and then use of my legs. This sounds simple, but was quite a lengthy and often very painful process But I can now walk as well as I ever could and I took part in a six kilometre walk in aid of Breast Cancer Research when I had been walking just eleven weeks.
And now I live in a beautiful part of the countryside where it’s a joy to walk and I take advantage of this and go out every morning with my collie dog, Megan, We are out well over an hour and cover five miles with no problems at all and I have a great job writing books for a living. I feel very privileged and I can honestly say life doesn’t really get any better than this.
What Am I Working On?
I am writing a book at the moment, which will be my nineteenth. On reading the synopsis, before I actually began to write it, my editor suggested ‘Another Man’s Child’. I liked it, but it’s really down to the marketing team at Harper Collins to have the final say. That doesn’t usually bother me because I always think that they probably know what sells better than I do. Very occasionally I will insist on a title I have chosen, as I did with Danny Boy, because it was the only title for it, It sold very well and I’m sure the title had something to do with it.
Two years ago I wrote a book called ‘If You Were The Only Girl’. Again it was suggested by my agent backed up by my editor and I didn’t like it one bit. I belong to a really supportive writing group North Wales Novelistas and at our monthly meeting I ran the title past them and not only did they love it, we all sang it with gusto, much to the surprise of the hotel staff. I too grew to love that title and was very glad that I was overruled in that instance.
So titles are very important and so are jacket covers, as one or the other will cause a potential reader to pick your book from the shelves and read the blurb and perhaps go on to buy the book. But the title and cover however attractive do not make a book. A good story is the main thing with strong; believable characters that the reader will care about to keep turning the pages to find out what happens to them. And if I can describe what is in my mind’s eye so well that the reader gets a similar\r picture in their head I feel that is true communication between us.
I had two new books out last year. The first on 22nd May was called ‘A Girl Can Dream’. Meg Hallett’s mother dies in childbirth and, before her death Meg makes her a promise to keep the family together. It proves more difficult than she anticipates for her father turns to drink and then brings home a new wife and eventually when the looming war becomes reality the children are evacuated anyway and Meg joins the Women’s Land Army to do her bit. She meets the farmer’s son, Stephen at the farm she is assigned to . Stephen has joined the army, but is convalescing after an accident at the camp and the two are attracted to one another and Meg agrees to write to Stephen when he returns. Life takes on a more even keel before news reaches Meg that her evacuated siblings have gone missing and no one knows where they are. Meg is worried to death about them and consumed by guilt, feeling she has failed her mother and despite Stephen’s love, she knows her happiness will not be complete until she finds out what has happened to the children.
There was another book out in August and this one was called ‘A Strong Hand To Hold’. This book is different in that it’s what’s called a back list, that is a book written some years before that is re-released. This was published by Headline in 1999 now it has been re-issued through Harper Collins who bought the rights from me. The book has a brand new cover, though the title is the same.
In this book, Jenny in her work as an ARP warden, is the only one small enough to crawl into a tiny space in bombed terrace of houses to reach the child trapped inside. It took me ages to write this passage because I live with the characters so much that as I wrote it I was finding it difficult to breathe and had to keep taking breaks. The child Linda is in thrall to Jenny after this, especially when, as Linda’s family are all wiped out, Jenny takes her into her own home and looks after her. So when years pass and the war continues and Linda, falls in love with a man that Jenny cannot help but hate Linda is prepared to give up her chance of happiness for the sake of Jenny, until fate takes a hand.
This summer I had another book from the back list out and it’s called ’Love Me Tender. For Kathy O’Malley, life has not been easy with her husband, Barry, out of work and with two children to feed. Then when war breaks out in 1939, Barry enlists, , leaving the women to cope as best they can.
The years that follow are full of hardship. After a particularly bad raid, Kathy allows her older children to be evacuated but she misses them and worries about them greatly, and Barry too away fighting. Despite this, she copes with: the black out, rationing and the nightly air raids and, to make the money stretch, she begins to work endless shifts at the local munitions factory.
The strain of it all is beginning to take its toil when she meets Doug, a handsome American GI, and though she feels the attraction, she fights it , Then one night she finds herself alone with him and they make love and he is long gone when Kathy misses a period and she is frantic. But then she receives a telegram informing her that her husband is missing, presumed dead, and she thinks God has punished Barry for her transgression and guilt is too much and she faints clean away and later in hospital miscarries the baby. She is laden with guilt though and it colours everything and she wonders after all they have gone through if they will ever be a proper family again.
How do my stories differ from others of their genre?
I suppose they differ in the way that most of them link Birmingham and Ireland, usually the North, as that is where both of my parents were born, though I was born and raised in Birmingham. Therefore I am an Irish Brummie – they’re plenty of us and I write what they used to call Sagas but now call Historicals, but whatever they are called, the premise in the same in that they are definitely placed in an area and historical period. Mine often have two or sometimes more places of equal importance in the story and my fans seem to like that.
How Does The Writing Process Work?
This varies slightly with the seasons. In the spring, summer and early autumn. I wake early have a shower take the dog for a walk for approx. one and a half hours. Once home I feed her, feed myself go up to my study and weld myself to the chair in front of my computer. When the dark mornings are upon us and I still wake early and shower but as I can’t venture out till eight o’clock or so I will put a couple of hour of work before I walk the dog. Because like all writers I work alone a lot I value my monthly meetings with the North Wales Novelistas, my odd flurries to London to go the author events and meet up with my editor and agent and fellow writers and the time spent giving talks around the country and connecting with my readers, but I never like to be away from my desk for too long.
Why Do I Write?
This is the easiest question in the world to answer because I write because I must. When I was a child I wanted to do two things in my life, one was write and one was teach, not that I ever thought for one moment that I would earn my living by writing. I thought it would be just a hobby. I did eventually get to teach and it was as wonderful as I thought it would be and I felt privileged to take charge of those little minds. However an incident at school damaged my spine and despite two minor and one major operation I ended up in a wheelchair and was there for 16 years.
Because I taught young children, my career came to an abrupt halt and I had to find something to fill the unlimited time I suddenly had on my hands and so I began to write. I first tried chronicling the origin of nursery rhymes, something I’d always had a yen to do. Then I tried books for children followed by short stories and I began my first adult novel when I joined the RNA (Romantic Novelists Association) and found out about their New Writer’s Scheme and its fabulous critique service. They advised me to cur 40,000 words from the second manuscript I sent them and then send it straight to Headline. I did, Headline accepted it. It was called ‘A Little Learning’ and that came out in in 1997 and so although I changed agents and publishing houses four years later in 2001 I’d had a fairly gentle ride into the publishing world and had achieved both my goals in life.
And to put the icing on the cake I began to walk again in 2006, took part in a charity walk six weeks later and walk 5/6 miles with my dog every morning. Life doesn’t get any better.
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