About Charlotte Vale Allen
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About Charlotte Vale-Allen

Charlotte Vale-Allen On Writing

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Daddy's Girl

Island Nation Press

Katharine Marlowe

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Charlotte Vale-Allen was born in Toronto and lived in England from 1961 to 1964 where she worked as a television actress and singer. She returned to Toronto briefly, performing as a singer and in cabaret revues until she emigrated to the United States in 1966.

Shortly after her marriage to Walter Allen in 1970 she began writing and sold her first novel Love Life in 1974. Prior to this book's publication she contracted to do a series of paperback originals for Warner Books, with the result that in 1976 three of her books appeared in print.

Her autobiography, the acclaimed Daddy's Girl, was actually the first book she wrote but in 1971 it was deemed too controversial by the editors who read it. It wasn't until 1980, after she'd gained success as a novelist, that the groundbreaking book was finally published.

One of Canada's most successful novelists, with over seven million copies sold of her 30+ novels, Ms. Allen's books have been published in all English-speaking countries, in Braille, and have been translated into more than 20 languages.

In her writing she tries to deal with issues confronting women, being informative while at the same time offering a measure of optimism. "My strongest ability as a writer is to make women real, to take you inside their heads and let you know how they feel, and to make you care about them."

A film buff and an amateur photographer, Allen enjoys foreign travel. She finds cooking and needlework therapeutic, and is a compulsive player of computer Solitaire. The mother of an adult daughter, since 1970 she has made her home in Connecticut.

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Charlotte Vale-Allen once told CA that although her books are about women, they are not just for women but "for everyone. I like to include issues of both social and emotional significance." After having written a number of successful novels, she published Daddy's Girl, an autobiographical work in which she comes to grips with a childhood made almost intolerable by her sexually abusive father. It is, writes Marilyn Murray Willison in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "the harrowing tale of a childhood spent amidst a bitter, exploited mother and a manipulative and selfish father. Charlotte and her two older brothers were victims trapped by circumstance, but Charlotte bore the added indignity of being forced to suffer through her father's incestuous demands." Library Journal reviewer Janet Husband saysDaddy's Girl is "altogether a powerful story, told with the considerable skill and restraint necessary to keep the facts from seeming sensational or maudlin." And Eleanor Wachtel, in a Books in Canada article, states that Allen "writes effectively. . . . She has written a genuinely troubling book, annoying, uncomfortable, and compelling."

Intertwined with the childhood recollections in Daddy's Girl are what Willison calls "verbal snapshots" of the author's struggle to free herself from her past. She had been conditioned to think of herself as ugly and unlovable, and thus "learning to love herself (much less a man) became a full- time assignment" during her adulthood. Writes Willison: "One finishes the book thinking that if it weren't for the kind and understanding attention of a high-school teacher (as well as the earlier ministrations of an aunt and uncle) the author would surely not be with us today." In addition to these early positive influences, Allen was aided by two friends, Norman and Lola, who helped her to face her distasteful childhood and rebuild her life. As a result, she is able to write about her past with complete candor. As she says in Daddy's Girl: "It's impossible to forget what happened. I can't use Liquid Paper on 10 years of my life [from the ages of seven to seventeen] and put a nice, thick white coat over it the way I do typing errors."

At one time in her life, Allen did try to forget by changing her name when she began to pursue a new life away from her family. Since then, she has turned her painful past into positive social action. She travels throughout North America "lecturing to professionals about how to deal with sexually abused children," reports Sybil Steinberg inPublishers Weekly. Mary Lassance Parthun remarks in the TorontoGlobe and Mail, "A significant aspect of public education is the dissemination of information about social, psychological and medical problems through popular novels favored by women. Charlotte Vale-Allen is a notable practitioner of this important social function. Her work is approved by human service professionals because she takes on the tough problems (incest, for example) and handles them in a tasteful and nonexploitative manner." In Pieces of Dreams, for example, a woman who was once abandoned by her mother later meets the challenge of facial disfigurement prolonged by an inept surgeon. The victim of a sexual kidnapping ordeal gives her perspective on the experience in the novelIllusions. "I think I'm uniquely qualified to write about certain areas of female experience," Allen told Steinberg. "When you get into abusive situations, you have to find a way to explain what happened. So I've narrated this whole entrapment scenario, and then I tell what happens afterwards. And believe me, when you read the ending of this book the hair all over your body will stand on end. In fact, it's the only time I couldn't wait to finish writing a book, it upset me so much." Not all of Allen's novels are as "upsetting." Reviewers callDream Train a romance because the major challenge to heroine Joanna James is to choose between two suitors who are equally sincere and attractive. Particularly well-written, says Times Literary Supplement reviewer Roz Kaveney, is the scene in which Joanna "is given good advice by an older woman, one of her companions on the train to Venice," a scene which stresses "the theme of female friendships: as important to women's lives as any relationships, sexual or other, with men."

The capacity of women to survive and overcome adversity has continued to inspire Allen. In Painted Lives, an aging widow named Mattie Sylvester uncovers her past as the partner of an ambitious and unscrupulous artist. Surrounded by a staff with troubles of their own, Mattie reveals the sacrifices she made in 1920s New York after giving in to her passion for painter Gideon Sylvester. "Allen's energy and enthusiasm are much in evidence in the animated Mattie and she is at her most compelling with simple, quiet narratives," writes Quill & Quire reviewer Jean Sheppard.

Equally dynamic, but in a much more destructive vein, is Maggie Parker, one of the heroines of Leftover Dreams. Deserted by her husband, Maggie vents her bitterness and rage on her two young daughters, Faye and Louise, who are forced to seek help from a gentle grandmother and, eventually, each other. When Faye dies after a rape and a bungled abortion, Louise tries to outrun her past, only to find that she must face it in order to achieve happiness. In a Chicago Tribune Books review ofLeftover Dreams, Joyce Slater commends Allen for her "smooth prose style" and "intuitive understanding of family dynamics," adding that with its "vibrant characters," the novel is "not nearly as grim as it might sound."

Allen has never shied from topical issues in her fiction. Her characters may be victims of child or spouse abuse, but they are survivors as well, using their wits and strength to defy their tormentors. Such is the theme of Dreaming in Color, the tale of one battered woman's recovery with the help of a well-to-do Connecticut family. Bobby escapes the brutal treatment of her husband Joe by taking a job as a caretaker for a stroke victim. As she and her daughter Penny find healing and solace in the home of Alma Ogilvie, they confront not only their own demons but those of the household as well. A Kirkus Reviews contributor notes that the story is "a cautionary tale, but with a cheerful domestic overcast as a victim is given back her life." In addition, Allen's book includes a list of real organizations dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence--testament once again to her conviction that women can find help from one another and empowerment in themselves.

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