Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost And Found

April 29, 2010 1:11:40 PM PDT
(PRESS RELEASE) At four, Allegra Huston was a precocious, "proper little English girl," growing up in a comfortable London home with her adored Mum, her older siblings Anjelica and Tony and Nurse, her Irish nanny. This seemingly idyllic life- even without the requisite daddy--was shattered by the death of her mother in an automobile accident. From that day until late adolescence, the orphaned daughter became an involuntary nomad, shuttled across a continent and a country as a temporary guest in other people's homes.Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost and Found is Allegra's poignant chronicle of her radically altered young life and her struggle to recover the essence of a mother whose reality faded by the day. That longed-for mother, the extraordinarily beautiful Ricki Soma, had been a celebrated dancer with the New York City Ballet and at her death was the estranged fourth wife of the brilliant, eccentric filmmaker John Huston.

After her mother's death, Allegra was led into a hotel room and introduced to Huston with the words, "This is your father." She was whisked away to St. Clerans, Huston's magnificent estate in Ireland--where, during his infrequent visits, she dared do little more than watch him paint. After three years, she was sent to the Long Island home of her maternal grandparents, and then, a year later, on to the posh enclaves of Southern California where she took up temporary residence with--among others--her father's soon-to-be-divorced fifth wife, Cici; the legendary Helena Kallianiotes, who launched the roller-skating craze of '80s' Hollywood with Allegra at her side; her glamorous sister, Anjelica, already a famous actress and live-in partner of the larger-than-life Jack Nicholson; and, following their breakup, a wretched stay with an unhappy Anjelica in the ocean-front Malibu digs of Ryan O'Neal.

As she writes, about her "exile" from St. Cleran's, "I wasn't unhappy with the change. Other people had been found to look after me, and nobody seemed to think I would have any feelings about it at all--so, conveniently, I didn't."

At the age of twelve Allegra weathered yet another blow, when her stepmother revealed that her biological father was not John Huston but a titled British historian, John Julius Norwich. Like Ricki, he had been married to someone else at the time of their love affair. She met her father during an awkward visit. The revelation put even more pressure on Allegra.

"My family bonds were like wires stretched around the curved surface of the earth, pulled so very tight they were liable to snap--and me with them," Allegra writes. "John Julius was yet another claim on me?another hook in my flesh."

That unwelcome bond would, in time, become close and enduring, as John Julius welcomed her into her new family. He gave Allegra another gift: a massive pack of letters that her mother had written to him. Allegra describes the joy and anguish of reading them: feeling again, and more bitterly, the pain of her loss, yet finally hearing the voice of the mother she had yearned to know for so many years. In her letters--full of passion, sweetness, and quiet rage--Ricki reveals her passionate love for John Julius, her exasperated affection for Huston and their tempestuous relationship, and above all, her happiness at the fact of Allegra's appearance in her life.

Allegra weaves the romantic struggle of her mother's short life into her own story, a parallel though different search for love. She shares with readers her efforts to forge an identity that can encompass both these powerful, famous fathers. When people asked casual questions about her family, she was hamstrung. "Whatever I said, I felt I was lying," Allegra says.

For many years, until the heart-wrenching last months of Huston's life, Allegra says she "lived in two different families as two separate selves." She developed her own shorthand for referring to them: John Julius Norwich was her father, John Huston was her dad.

For all her childhood loneliness, Allegra ends her extraordinary memoir on a note of triumph: the joyous gathering of all her siblings, and her father too, for the unusual and entertaining christening of her son in the Rio Grande. "I didn't have to do anything, be anything in particular: just me, just there, a daughter and a sister, and now a mother too," she writes.

For more information, visit www.allegrahuston.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Allegra Huston is the author of the critically acclaimed Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost and Found, published in the US and the UK in April 2009. It appeared on the bestseller lists of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Denver Post. It has been released in paperback this year, and subsequently in the Spanish language.

Allegra is also co-director, with the poet James Nave, of Imaginative Storm Writing Workshops, founded in 2004. They conduct a four-day Imaginative Storm in Taos, New Mexico, every summer, and further workshops in many places around the globe (including Asheville, Thailand, the Philippines, and Paris). Their Imaginative Storm workshop has also become a fundamental part of the screenwriting course at the National University of Ireland, Galway. In addition, she regularly teaches week-long screenwriting courses for the Arvon Foundation in the UK.

Allegra began her career in publishing in 1985, after gaining a First Class degree in English Language and Literature from Oxford University in England. First at Chatto and Windus and then at Weidenfeld and Nicolson (where she was Editorial Director 1990-94), she worked with authors including the Booker Prize winner Alan Hollinghurst, Iris Murdoch, Edna O'Brien, Jane Goodall, Robert Conquest, and Paul Johnson. More recently, as a freelance editor, she has worked with authors including the legendary financier Sir James Goldsmith, the biographer Barbara Leaming, and the Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Her journalism has appeared in the UK in The Times, the Tatler, and the Independent on Sunday--a short history of Bob Dylan's "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" for their series Lives of the Great Songs, subsequently published in book form--in French Vogue, and in the US in People, Mothering (a history of midwifery in New Mexico which now appears on the website of the state historian), the Santa Fean, and American Vogue, which published an extract of Love Child (also serialized in the UK's Sunday Times).

As a screenwriter, Allegra has had her work bought by Elton John's Rocket Pictures and by NBC Television.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Thursday, April 29
At 1 pm
The Book Stall
811 Elm Street
Winnetka, IL 60093
847-446-8880
www.thebookstall.com

At 7:30 pm
Women and Children First
5233 N Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60640
773.769.9299
www.womenandchildrenfirst.com.

Friday, April 30
From 9am-1pm Workshop
TT Patton
123 E Station Street
Barrington, IL 60010
www.ttpatton.com.

Saturday, May 1
9am-12 pm Workshop
Infinity Foundation
1282 Old Skokie Road
Workshop
Highland Park, IL 60035

Q: What were the reactions of your family members when you told them you were writing a memoir about your childhood?
My sister Artemis, and my stepmother Cici, were two of the people who urged me to write a book even before I began it. John Julius was totally supportive. I was most worried about Anjelica, because the time I spent with her was one of the most difficult times in her life. I wouldn't have blamed her for trying to dissuade me, but she didn't. When I told her I was writing the book, there was a slight pause on the other end of the phone and then she said, "Be kind." That was easy, because I never wanted to be anything else. I always felt that everyone tried to do their best by me, even if it didn't always work out too well--so I wasn't afraid there would be a conflict between kindness and honesty.

Q: You've had a long and varied career in publishing--from being an editor at a publishing house in London to a freelance journalist to founder of the Writing Salon in Taos, NM. What is it like to be on the other side of the page? How has teaching affected your own writing?
It's much harder to be on the other side of the page! When I'm the editor, I find it easy to see what isn't working, and I know it's not my job to solve the problem, but only to point it out to the author and come up with some suggestions, which may be entirely wrong. As a writer, my first challenge is to see what's not working. I remember the first time I knew what I'd written was bad: it was a script, and I was stuck on page 43. I spent two days avoiding reading it over, then I finally sat down and thought, "This is crap! That's terrible!" But to my amazement, it didn't feel like bad news: I felt energized instead of despairing, and for some reason it was almost funny. I realized how relieved I was that I could see the flaws in what I'd written--because that meant I had a chance of making the script better, and maybe actually making it good.

As a teacher, I see my most important task as releasing writers from the need to judge themselves all the time. It's important to be able to see your work dispassionately--but also to be able to suspend judgment at the moment of writing, and just let whatever comes out flow onto the page. The best moments in writing are when you surprise yourself. The more improvising we do in the Writing Salon, the better writers we become - and inevitably every single person blows everyone else away at least once during the few days we're together. I've learned more myself from facilitating the Writing Salons than in the decades I spent as an editor. If it hadn't been for the Writing Salon, and the sense of improvisation and play that I learned from my co-director, James Navé, I would never have been able to write LOVE CHILD.


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