I spoke to Allegra Huston about how she came to write her acclaimed memoir Love Child and her latest book, the novel Say My Name, just published in the UK.
Why did you start with a memoir, Allegra?
It was easier. I knew the story. But, really, I didn’t start by thinking “I’m going to write a book, what should I write?” You should also understand that I’m not one of those people who is compelled to write. I always hated writing letters. I never kept a journal or a diary. I just thought it would be nice to write because you could live where you want.
Being serious, writing is what I’m good at. I’d been writing screenplays and magazine articles and had done an article for UK Harper’s Bazaar called “Daddies’ Girl.” It was about how lucky I felt to have had a family situation many people would find unfortunate or tricky. People said that I should turn this into a book. I resisted but then I realised they were right. It occurred to me that I could also make it a book about going in search of my mother.
You should also understand that I’m not one of those people who is compelled to write. I always hated writing letters. I never kept a journal or a diary. I just thought it would be nice to write because you could live where you want.
What about your second book, Say My Name?
I didn’t have a second volume of memoirs in me. I’m not one of those people who has plenty of stories to tell. I started a second book because, even though writing a novel is extremely hard, it’s more immediately satisfying than working on screenplays that can stay in development forever.
The book really moves along.
I like a good storyline but I also want what I read to be well-written. My own tastes are highbrow commercial or, if you like, upper-middle-brow. I wanted to write the kind of book I’d enjoy reading. I started with the storyline – my screenplay training, I guess. I plotted it out. Of course, when I started writing, the story went in directions I didn’t see coming.
How do you see story in relation to memoir?
If you want to connect with a reader, you need to use story. Story structure is super-important. I teach story and I always suggest writers read screenplays.
But when I started writing Love Child, I thought it was all about getting the facts right. I interviewed my stepsister and stepmother but I realised that they couldn’t remember things any better than I could. It was a real problem. I didn’t know what to do.
One day, I sat down and forced myself to write something. I thought: if I can’t write what I can remember, I’ll write what I can’t remember. At some point I realised that just because I was writing a memoir, that didn’t mean I had to have a better memory than anyone else. I could connect with readers who also didn’t remember things that were very important to them. And, much to my surprise, it’s become one of the things people tell me they enjoy most about the book. It enables them to make a human connection with me, quite apart from the facts of my life.
We all feel very alone in our lives. One of the purposes of memoir is throw a rope across the gap between us.
Will you cover this kind of thing in the memoir workshop?
Yes. We’ll look at what memoir is, consider story and explore ways to get started with memoir writing. It’ll be an extremely practical workshop, based on my own experience. One of the reasons I feel that I’m qualified to teach memoir writing is because I had to learn it all for myself, the hard way.
A long time ago, for five days.
I haven’t been to Deia.
How do you imagine Deia to be?
It just feels like we’ve found the right place to do this workshop, and I’m delighted. I’m completely thrilled that the workshop will be in Mallorca. I live in Taos, New Mexico, a part of the USA that has a strong Hispanic connection. Although I’ve only been to Spain a couple of times, I feel very comfortable in a Hispanic setting.
Thank you, Allegra. I’m sure you’ll love Deia.
Find out more about Allegra Huston’s Memoir Writing Workshop here.
I’d thoroughly recommend Allegra Huston’s Love Child and Say My Name.