Yesterday I went to hear Annie Murray speak at my local library. Annie writes regional sagas set in Birmingham, each one covering various segments of the 20th century up until the 1980s. I had expected her to be an older lady who had lived in the city all her life, with a family tree connected to the area for generations. How wrong can you be?
Annie is around my own age (which to my daughters does probably mean ‘an older lady’!) and she only lived in Birmingham for around 5 years during the 1980s. But this brief stay in the city was enough to ignite her passion for the city and it’s heritage. She has been producing novels set in the area for 20 years.
Annie describes her books as being like a ‘family album’ – charting the ups and downs of ordinary people. It is people who interest her rather than history and she adds just enough of her research to the books to give a flavour of the time.
“I’m often told how vivid my novels are,” she says, “but local people subconsciously imprint their own memories of the area on to the story – thus adding to what I’ve written without realising it.”
I asked Annie if she plans her books in great detail. “No,” she explains. “I know the beginning, the end and how many years it will span. I write a half page synopsis for my publisher but then my writing is like driving in the dark. My view forward of what’s going to happen is limited like the distance illuminated by a car’s headlights.”
Like most writers, Annie has had to combine her writing with bringing up a family and it’s often put on the back burner as she deals with her other responsibilities. But that doesn’t mean her work is completely stalled. Annie thinks that writers unconsciously dwell on their work all the time and that we should all learn to work with this.
As always, it was inspiring to listen to an author who has ‘made it’ and if Annie can write sagas spanning generations without a detailed plan maybe there’s hope for the rest of us that struggle to outline everything in advance!