Meet The Artist: Lesley Allen

Lesley Allen is a 57 year old author from Bangor. As well as her love for writing, Lesley is also a freelance festival programmer, event manager, and press officer, predominantly for The Open House Festival. Lesley’s debut novel, The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir was published in 2016 by Bonnier, and was recently bought and produced by Audible. Lesley is currently working on her second book with support from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

How did you get started in the industry?

I’ve been writing in one form or another pretty much my whole life. As a child, I was always happy when I had a book or a notepad and pencil in my hand. If I wasn’t reading, I was writing, and if I wasn’t writing I was reading. I did a degree in Drama and English – more reading, more writing; stumbled into a career in PR and copywriting – more reading, more writing. In my early thirties, I became a freelance copywriter, which meant lots and lots and lots of writing, which was great – but, in my heart what I really wanted to write was fiction.

I wanted to ditch the ‘copy’ part of my job title and focus on the writer. But for far too long I just didn’t have the guts to do anything about it. As I approached my 40th birthday, I read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, and it triggered a visceral reaction. I wanted to write books that made other readers feel the way that book made me feel. So, I joined a creative writing group, and the relief I felt by the end of the first hour almost made me weep. A couple of years later I started working on a story that would eventually become my debut novel. A couple of years after that I was signed by The Feldstein Literary Agency. Fast forward several not-quite-straightforward years, including a publishing deal that went AWOL, and I finally became a published author.


What genre / style do you create in?

When you don’t write genre fiction (e.g. crime, fantasy, romance, horror) your work can be hard to pigeonhole – which I think is a good thing. When my novel was first being pitched, lots of publishers really liked it, but didn’t know where to ‘place’ the book on their lists. It seemed to fall between adult and young adult, which I didn’t see as a problem, as many of the books I’ve loved over the years had a similar structure. Now that it’s published, for marketing purposes it sits in the contemporary literary fiction category.

My writing is fairly dark, but humour and hope are always important. Biddy deals with bullying, loneliness and social outcasts, and the one I’m currently writing focuses on grief, suicide and family secrets. They also both have protagonists who flit between childhood and adulthood. These are the stories I’m most drawn to myself. Some of my favourite books include The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, When God Was a Rabbit by Sara Winman, and After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell, and my own writing and storytelling has definitely been influenced by these awesome authors.

What would you be best known for?

Well I’m certainly not a well known author, but I guess it would be for writing The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir. Actually, Biddy has a fair few fans herself, and is probably better known than I am.

What would you consider your biggest achievement?

It’s got to be finally getting my book published in my fifties, after years of disappointment and perseverance. From getting the call to tell me I had a deal, to holding my book in my hands for the first time, to seeing it on the shelf of an actual book shop, there were so many standout pinch-me moments in the process. The book wouldn’t be considered a commercial success, but it is beloved by readers. I have over 500 ratings on Goodreads, and more than 130 on Amazon, the majority of which are 5*, and reading the reviews often moves me to tears. Affecting a reader in the way Alice Sebold’s words affected me all those years ago is the best reward of all.

And the cherry on top of the icing is the news that the book is currently being adapted for screen by respected NI director and producer, Joe McStravick. I’m a fan of Joe’s work and have complete faith in him. It’s early days, but I can barely contain my excitement. The thought of seeing my Biddy on the big screen is beyond insane and is keeping my spirits high during this really tough time. 

What would you consider to be the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your industry?

I know it sounds like an enormous cliché, but never give up. I received a publishing deal for Biddy back in 2008, but it fell through at the eleventh hour. I felt heartbroken and humiliated and thought I’d never write again. But deep down I knew the book was good enough to be published, and with the support of my wonderful agent Susan Feldstein, picked myself up and got back in the saddle. And thank God I did.

What has been your biggest challenge to date?

Apart from the long struggle to get Biddy published, I’d say battling the double whammy of chronic procrastination disorder and imposter syndrome – both of which challenge me on a daily basis.

Tell us a little about your personal life, are you married, kids, hobbies etc?

I’m divorced with a 22 year old daughter, Aimee. When there isn’t a pandemic disrupting all our lives, Aimee lives in London, but she’s been at home with me since the start of lockdown (a silver lining). Aimee is an actor and is due to start an MA in Acting at Mountview Drama School in October, so she’ll be heading back again soon. She’s amazing and ridiculously talented (mum-pride aside, she really is) and my dream is to write something for the screen that she will star in. Mind you, she’s a really good writer herself, so she’ll probably beat me to it.

Tell us about your most recent work?

I’m working on my second novel, The Possibilities of Elizabeth. It’s narrated by Elizabeth Rose, a young woman who lies in a coma after an accident which may or may not have been an attempt to end her own life. It’s been a long time in the making! I’m an interminably slow writer as I revise as I go along, but I do feel I’m finally on the home straight.

What would you like us to tell people about?

The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir was recently released on Audible, beautifully narrated by Bríd Brennan. I’ve been a fan of Bríd’s since the ‘Billy Plays’ back in the 80s (showing my age here) and loved her narration of Milkman, so when I heard she was voicing the audiobook of Biddy, I almost cried. I really did cry when I listened to her read my words for the first time. She nails every character without exception and gets to the true heart of the book. I’d really recommend a listen – even if it wasn’t my book!

What would your advice be to young people hoping to pursue the same industry?

First and foremost, I’d recommend joining a writers group, or taking a creative writing class. It doesn’t need to be highbrow, or serious – just a gathering of like-minded people with whom you can comfortably share your work. The second thing is that sharing word – for me getting honest feedback was a vital part of my early writing steps. Of course, there’s no point in sharing for feedback if you’re not prepared to listen to criticism – so grow a thick skin. And keep going – no matter how long it takes. If you ever reach the point when you think it’s never going to happen (and you will, time and time again) try, if you can, to remember this thing you read once about a girl (okay, a middle-aged woman) who finally got her book published after several years, ninety plus rejections, and a withdrawn deal. It CAN happen. I’m the proof of the sticky pudding.

Oh, and read! Then read some more. And never stop.


Anything else you want to tell people about yourself or your work?

You can buy The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir on Amazon and some book shops, and download the audio version from Audible.

The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir on Amazon >>

Listen on audio here >>


Who do you look up to and why?

Jane Austen – for writing all those exquisite, timeless, genius novels without a computer.


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