Thursday, 24 September 2015


To celebrate the launch of LIFE CLASS in its new clothes - new publisher, new cover - I reflect on how I came up with a couple of the characters.  

To celebrate the launch of LIFE CLASS in its new clothes - new publisher, new cover - I reflect on how I came up with a couple of the characters.  

At the time I was developing the story of LIFE CLASS, I had - and still have - a friend who did a very interesting (occasionally, even amusing) job.  If I gave the heroine of my story a job like my friend’s, she would be coming into contact with people - maybe people she knew - at very vulnerable, embarrassing and possibly life-changing moments. More than that, she might make perfectly reasonable assumptions about those people, assumptions which could colour her view of them and give her an ethical dilemma.  This was the crucial seed which turned on the ‘what if’ part of my brain.  Although the personality, biography and appearance of my heroine, Dory, is nothing like my friend’s, I gave Dory the same job, a lab technician at a sexual health clinic.

So I had my heroine, but I then I needed a hero. I had another friend who, at the time, worked as an admin assistant to a man who designed and sold fountains. It struck me that designing fountains was an unusual and interesting job. But I was thinking in terms of the artistic and creative aspects.  My friend put me right. Her boss was an engineer not an artist. He dealt more in the science of hydraulics and water flow. But the spark had been lit.

Other students at the sculpture workshop

The career which would fit the story better than "engineer" was "sculptor". In fact, when I thought about it, why bother with fountains at all? Fountains added an unnecessary complication. After all, a figurative sculptor is someone who himself needs to study the human form, but in a class set-up he would be more likely to be the teacher than a student. 

My hand, modelling the clay figure

Fortunately I knew two sculptors with whom I could do research. I could talk to them about their craft, their attitudes to their work and how they went about getting commissions, but more than that, I wanted to know how it felt to sculpt. I had dabbled in the past with clay, but wanted a more in-depth experience. So I signed on for a two day work shop with one of the sculptors I knew, Elisabeth Hadley.

I knew I had my bare bones. All I needed to do was begin adding flesh. There were still two more characters to find - LIFE CLASS was always going to be a story about four people - but their emergence into my imagination is another story.

About art, life, love and learning lessons, LIFE CLASS follows four members of an art class, who meet once a week to draw the human figure. All have failed to achieve what they thought they wanted in life. They each come to realise that it’s not just the naked model they need to study and understand. Their stories are very different, but they all have secrets they hide from the world and from themselves. By uncovering and coming to terms with the past, maybe they can move on to an unimagined future.

Dory says she works in the sex trade, the clean-up end. She deals with the damage sex can cause. Her job has given her a jaundiced view of men, an attitude confirmed by the disintegration of her own relationships. The time seems right to pursue what she really wants in life, if she can work out what that is. She moves back from London to the country town where she grew up and where her sister still lives, yet she remains undecided whether to make it a permanent move. She’s always been clear eyed realist  ̶  love doesn’t figure in her view of the future – and yet she finds herself chasing a dream. 

Stefan is a single-minded loner, whose overriding ambition is to make a living from his sculpture. So how the hell did he find himself facing a class of adults who want their old teacher back? If he can sell the big old house he’s inherited, he’ll be able to concentrate on his work and maybe give up the part-time teaching job. Love is an emotion he long ago closed off  ̶  it only leads to regret and shame  ̶  but it creeps up on him from more than one direction. Is it time to admit that letting others into his life is not defeat? 

Fran ̶ Dory’s older sister ̶ is a wife and a stay-at-home mother without enough to keep her occupied. Her husband’s early retirement plans throw her into a panic. She sees her life narrowing into staid middle-age. On a collision course with her mid-life crisis, Fran craves the romance and excitement of her youth. An on-line flirtation with an old boyfriend becomes scarily obsessive, putting everything she really loves at risk.  

Dominic is a damaged child. He has lived his life knowing all about sex but nothing about love. If he can only find his mother perhaps he can make sense of his past. But perhaps it is a doomed quest and it’s time to look to the future? If he can grow up enough to accept the help and love that is now being offered to him, he has the chance to transform his life. 

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Guest blog: Merryn Allingham - 'Daisy's Long Road Home'


That decided her. Grayson had been adamant she must say nothing that could precipitate the danger he feared. But she wouldn’t be saying anything. She wouldn’t be involved in any confrontation. In the strictest sense, she wouldn’t be going against his wishes. If she crept to the room while the palace slept, no one need ever know. She could make a brief search and return before anyone was

She slipped noiselessly out of bed and dressed in the clothes she’d worn the previous day. Grayson was still sleeping soundly when she let herself out of the suite and tiptoed into the corridor. Despite the brave words to herself, her fingers were tightly crossed that she could find her way back to the study and without meeting a fellow night wanderer. It turned out to be a more difficult journey than she’d anticipated. On several occasions, she turned in the wrong direction and found herself looking at a blank wall or down an unfamiliar corridor, and all
the time her heart was in her mouth at every creak of a wooden door or sigh of the palace walls. But eventually she stood outside the room she sought. Its door was no
longer ajar and that halted her. She could have no idea what, or even who, was behind its blank facade. She breathed deep and gathered her courage. She needed all of it to turn the door handle.

There was nobody. For a moment, she was overwhelmed with relief and had to grasp the back of the nearest chair to steady herself. She waited until her breathing had settled before she gave the room a swift scan. She must be quick, she couldn’t afford to linger. Grayson would be awake in less than an hour and ready to leave on his own adventure. She made for the desk. It was the most obvious place to look, but a cursory glance at the papers strewn across its surface, made plain there was little to interest her here. She bent down to the drawers on one side of the desk, methodically flicking through their contents and making sure she replaced everything as she found it. One side completed, but again nothing of interest. On to the drawers on the far side. She found them locked and her pulse beat a little quicker.

This could be it. Inside could be the letters she sought, the diary, the journal, anything that Karan had written in his time in Brighton. She tugged at each of the three compartments in turn, hoping the locks were too old to withstand an assault, and forgetting in her furious concentration that she’d intended to leave no trace of her visit. The drawers remained obstinately shut. Frustration made her careless and she shuffled the papers here and daisy’s long road home there on the desktop, looking for anything that might be strong enough to break the locks. A tray of pens, a sheaf of blotting paper and a paper knife, were all she found. Nothing she could use.

But perhaps, after all, it wasn’t the desk she should focus on. The bookcases that lined every wall might hold what she wanted. She walked slowly from one set of shelves to another, searching first the lower tiers and making sure she felt behind each row of books, then when that proved unsuccessful, dragging a chair to each bookcase in turn and clambering to the very top shelves. Still nothing. It had to be the desk. She bounced back across the room.

There was a madness in her now; the more frustrated she became, the more she believed there was something in this room, something locked in this desk, something that Talin Verghese did not want to be seen. If so, it had to concern his
dead son, and she had to get those drawers open. She went back to the desk and picked up the paper knife. It looked a feeble tool, but it was the only thing possible. She bent over the top drawer and had begun prodding and poking the lock with the knife, when a voice from the doorway made her heart jump in fright.

‘Are you quite mad?’

It was Grayson. Thank heaven for that at least.

‘I have to get these last three drawers open,’ was her sole explanation.

‘What are you thinking of? This is a private office, and if I’m not mistaken the Rajah’s personal domain. And you’re burgling it?’

‘It looks bad, I know.

‘Looks bad!’ Grayson’s expression was explosive. ‘It looks bloody lethal—for us. Now come back to the room, for God’s sake.’

‘I can’t. I have to open these drawers.’ Her whole life, it seemed, depended on opening them. It was stupid, but if she had been drowning and the drawers were weighing her to the ocean floor, she would have clung to them still.

Grayson took only an instant to decide. He strode over to the desk and took the paper knife from her hand. In three swift clicks, he’d opened three drawers.
She gaped at him.

‘What did you expect?’ His anger hadn’t abated. ‘That I couldn’t open locked drawers? Now get on with it.’

She scrambled through their contents as quickly as she could, but finished desolate. ‘There’s nothing.’

‘How surprising. Now let’s get the hell out of this place.’

‘Excuse, sahib, memsahib.’ A servant had slipped from behind one of the pillars lining the corridor and was watching them from the open door. Grayson slammed the drawers shut, his face the picture of chagrin.

‘We couldn’t sleep,’ he lied blatantly, ‘and decided to explore a little and then became lost.’

‘Of course, sahib. Please to come with me. I will escort you to your suite.’

In single file, they trooped back to the apartment, their feet as heavy as their hearts. As soon as the door had closed on their escort, Grayson turned to her in a fury.

‘You realise what you’ve done, don’t you? Compromised the whole
expedition. How could you?’

Despite his anger, she stood her ground. ‘I had to get into that room and this was my only chance. I can’t speak to Verghese. I can’t speak to his advisers or his servants. You’ve laid the law down on that. So how else can I get to what I need?’

‘What I need,’ he mimicked. ‘It’s always what you need, isn’t it? Everyone and everything else can go to hell.’

‘That’s not true. How can you, of all people, say that?’
She turned away from him and walked to the closed windows, her arms folded across her chest as though to keep the hurt she felt enclosed within.

‘I owe you my life, Daisy. Don’t you think I don’t remember that every single day? You’re brave, you’re determined, you’re loyal—up to a point. But if push comes
to shove, it’s what you want that will count. And with this obsession of yours, push does come to shove fairly frequently, doesn’t it? And this time, we’re talking a matter of life and death.’

‘It’s not like that,’ she said desperately. ‘You don’t understand.’

‘I never do, according to you. But what I do understand is that you’re prepared to act as selfishly as you choose. So selfishly that you’ll endanger not just your own life
but others’ too.’

She had never seen him so furious. His jaw was rigid and in the muted light his blue eyes were the darkest navy, glinting and angry. She was forced to concede then that she had done a very stupid thing and the fight went out of her.

‘I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry. I was so sure that I would find something.’

She must have been in the grip of madness, she thought, to think she could rifle the Rajah’s sanctuary and not be discovered. Even to think she could uncover any kind of clue.

‘But you didn’t find anything, did you? And just suppose you had.’ His voice was quiet but brittle. ‘Is that more important than finding Javinder, than saving Javinder?’

‘No,’ she mumbled miserably.

‘That’s what it amounts to, doesn’t it? You’ve put your own concerns before a young man’s safety and, to add insult to injury, you found nothing.’

She had found nothing and her heart ached for it.

‘I’m going back to bed.’ He began untying the robe he’d worn. ‘There’s little point in doing much else. Whatever plan I had is in tatters. From now on, they’ll be watching us every minute of the day and night.’

And without as much as a glance at her, he stalked into the adjoining room, leaving her staring at the closed door. The servants wouldn’t be gossiping after all, she thought forlornly. She was filled with sorrow, her legs weak, her feet shuffling into the bedroom they’d shared just an hour ago. The outline of his body was still there in the sheets, the pillows that had nursed his head still dented. The most

abject misery gripped her. It was as though the ribbon of her life had unspooled and, in that instant, been wiped blank. The quest, the obsession—and Grayson was right, the need to discover her history had become an obsession— had died an abrupt death. Why had she thought it so very important?

Buy now from Amazon UK:

Visit Merryn at