MINE - Alison Knight: A review
I met Alison for the first time a few weeks ago when I attended the retreat at Northmoor, which she was running along with my her business partner and our mutual friend, Jenny Kane. I spent some time talking to her about an idea I had for a book where the main character wouldn't know who her father was and would spend the book trying to work it out. In the course of this conversation, Alison mentioned that she had a book coming out soon that was based on her own family and involved an illegitimate child. I thought it might link into the themes I was considering and decided that when it was released I would like to read it. Throughout the week, I learned a little of Alison's family history and I've been eagerly waiting for publication date to arrive and for my pre-order to drop onto my kindle.
It arrived yesterday and I started reading it in the evening, finishing it this afternoon. It is described as a family drama set in the 1960s, but it is so much more than this. I was expecting the central theme to be the illegitimate child in the family, but in reality it was Lily's story that took centre stage. By turns it was poignant, funny and heart-breaking. The characters leap off the page and smack you on the nose, making you care about them. None of them are perfect - they each have their flaws, just as any humans do - and yet they are all, in their own way, eminently likeable. They make wrong decisions, they had me pleading with them to choose a different course, but at every step of the way those decisions were understandable under the circumstances.
The ending did, I have to confess, take me completely by surprise. I thought we were going one way and this seemed to make sense in light of the little I knew of Alison's life, but then something entirely different unfolded and this left me in tears. Even had this been pure fiction, I would have been moved, but knowing that this was based on real events in the life of someone I knew and admired, was utterly heart-breaking and left me with such a sense of loss on her behalf.
I read an awful lot of books and many of them are very good, high quality books that I tell people about if I think they'll like the genre. However, there are very few that I tell people they MUST read. This is one of those few. As a work of fiction, it's brilliant. It will break your heart, but I promise it will be worth it.
As a fellow writer and knowing how hard I'd found it to write about things that were personal to me, I had a couple of questions for Alison when I finished it and she kindly agreed to answer them for me.
Me: How difficult was it to separate the real people from the characters when you were writing the book?
Alison: It was very difficult at first. I started writing it with all the real names and with more points of view. After the first draft was complete, I changed the names and eventually decided to cut out a couple of points of view and that helped a bit. But it took a lot of rewriting and editing before I could detach myself from the real people and see them as characters in the story. In some instances, I never have been able to do that, which made it quite traumatic to write.
Me: I understand that writing a story can be cathartic and I understand about wanting to have the story told, but why did you decide to publish it rather than just keeping it for your own family? Was this a difficult decision to make - books are usually reviewed, characters criticised etc and it's hard enough to hear that when the characters are entirely fictional, so it must be more so when they are based in reality?
Alison: I do have mixed feelings about it being published. I worry that people will think I’m exploiting my family. But, over the fifty years since it all happened, I’ve tried to explain to people who didn’t know us then what my family was like. It’s been almost impossible to get people to understand what I wanted them to see – people I loved and who loved me. They would just see the bare facts which don’t really reflect the people involved. Having MINE published is my way of showing rather than telling people. It has been hard but I’m more concerned now about the people who knew my family then – I know from feedback I’ve had already that it’s a hard thing for them to read and remember – but I hope they’ll feel I’ve done the story justice and have treated the people involved (who are no longer here to tell their side of it) with love and respect. I expect I will get some criticism, but so far my readers and reviewers have been very kind, although a lot have said they found it an emotional read. All I can say is that this book is partly my truth of what happened to me and partly my imagining of what was happening around me at that time, because there’s no one else left who can tell that party of the story. That’s why it’s a novel and not a memoir.
MINE is available here via Amazon
More information about Alison and the rest of her work can be found here - http://www.alisonroseknight.com
My last word is to say that if you're only going to read one book between now and the end of the year - make it this one!