I’m absolutely delighted to welcome author Gilli Allan today. Gilli and I share a couple of things in common. We’re both members of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association, and we both have recent releases with UK publisher Accent Press. Gilli is also one of the friendliest and most supportive authors I know. It’s been great getting to know Gilli better today through my blog. Hope you enjoy her visit as much as I did.
Welcome to Yorkshire, Gilli, on this blustery June day!
Where do you live, Gilli? Ever since we moved here, I’ve always enjoyed answering this question with: “I live in the Cotswolds”. In most people’s imagination, this reply evokes honey coloured cottages and a soft, rolling, agricultural landscape. It also suggests somewhere posh. After all, we’ve our fair share of royals, as well as David Cameron living here! But…. The Cotswold hills are an extensive geological feature. They lie mainly in Gloucestershire, but they also extend east into Oxfordshire; in the north they include a small corner of Warwickshire and in the south part of Wiltshire and N E Somerset. The archetypal Cotswold image is typical of the area north of Cheltenham around Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold, Broadway and Morton-in-Marsh.
Further south, the stone is greyer and, in the Stroud area where I live, there’s remaining evidence of a more industrial history. It is still agricultural here, but there are old mills along the valleys where wool was processed and woven. The river Frome used to run red with the dye from the manufacture of cloth for British army uniforms.
I live high up in a village which straggles down alongside a small valley. Our house (an extended cottage) backs onto the small farm which occupies the top half of this valley. The field beyond our garden wall sometimes accommodates Red Poll cattle, and sometimes it’s empty apart from the occasional visits from deer, rabbits and pheasant.
That sounds a lovely place, and an idyllic English landscape.
Where is your favourite place in the world? Apart from my own home you mean? I love where I live, but when we first started house hunting here, neither my husband nor I had ever even set foot in Gloucestershire, and it took me quite a long time to feel settled and really happy. We originally lived in suburban Surrey, but out of the blue my husband was offered a job here. It was a big upheaval, but we jointly made the life changing decision to accept the job and make the move.
My other favourite place is where my sister now lives, in East Sussex. Entirely coincidentally, she was buying a new place at the same time as we were moving house. She worked in London and had just moved in with her partner. She wanted to invest the proceeds from her own flat sale in a property in the country – a place for them to escape to at the weekends. She bought a cottage in a charming village. As she and her partner are also our best friends, we are always delighted to go down there for a visit.
Another favourite place is Cornwall. As a child I spent many happy family holidays there in various locations around the county, typically staying on farms. I absolutely adore the coastal landscape.
And then there’s this little place on Paxos…. No, I’ll stop there!
I love Cornwall, but I have to admit (being a northerner) that East Sussex isn’t a place I know well at all. And I know Greece even less – but would love to visit both places.
Being a writer is a great job. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? I have to say that I wasn’t very good at and didn’t enjoy most of the jobs I did! I left art school but failed, surprisingly, to walk into highly paid employment in the art world! My older sister worked for John Lewis in Oxford Street, and I’d worked in shops – Etams in my home town as a Saturday girl and Dickens & Jones in London’s Regent Street in the summer vacation – so working in a department store seemed the obvious interim alternative even though I was shy, and didn’t like dealing with the general public.
This ‘interim’ went on for far longer than I liked. I tried different stores and different departments, hoping to find something that was more to my taste (I needed to face the fact I might never break into art) eventually training as a beauty consultant. Working for Revlon made me realise that the only person’s face I am really interested in is my own, and we parted company after a year. Out of work and not very confident that I’d get a good reference from Revlon, I then took the worst job of my life.
I joined a company based at a top hotel in London. I can’t even recall the name of it now. I was one of a team of girls bussed out to various tourist hotspots in central London. Our job was to approach North American (not Canadian, not German, not South African) holiday makers, preferably couples – a man and a woman. They had to be younger than retirement age, but not students. They had to be in work. They could be black, but they definitely should not be a mixed pair – by which I mean, one member white, the other black. Our job was first to identify a likely “unit”, approach them, chat to them, ascertain that they fulfilled the above criteria, then offer a free sightseeing tour of London, a tour which would be followed by free lunch at the hotel.
There was a catch, of course. Once these poor individuals had been rounded up and corralled back at the hotel, they were captive. There they were subjected to a high-power sales pitch. The ultimate object of which was to sell real estate plots in the Everglades. I think time-shares are sold in a similar manner, the theory being that when people are on holiday they are already relaxed and prepared to spend money. Consequently they’re far more susceptible to this kind of sales pitch. None of the girls were involved in the selling, but even so…. Why I took the job I can’t imagine – it was only paid for a few weeks, after which it was commission only. What you earned was dependent on how many “units” (qualifying couples) you inveigled onto the coach! But I was still shy and unselfconfident. I’m amazed that I deluded myself into thinking I could brazenly approach unsuspecting tourists, having first made all those calculations about whether they were suitable (I wasn’t even sure if some of the restrictions weren’t actually illegal) and then cross-question them about their age and employment status! In the few weeks I worked for this company I only ever got about 3 units onto the coach, one of which was retired and therefore didn’t count towards my commission. I spent much of my time weeping in cafés. And then I walked out.
Within a couple of weeks, and through a fluke and a coincidence, I found my job as a junior illustrator at an advertising design studio. Phew!
That sounds one of the worst jobs anyone’s ever mentioned here. I can’t believe companies are still getting away with this sort of discrimination and stereotyping, and no doubt paying their staff an absolute pittance. Thank goodness you managed to move on!
What book do you wish you’d written? This is an impossible question. The answer is fluid and changes from day to day.
What’s your favourite song? I love all those old Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers movies. In large part I think it’s nostalgia for childhood – I recall Sunday afternoons, sitting on the carpet in the lounge, entranced by the impossibly glamorous, black and white, art deco world they danced through. And part of my enthusiasm for those films is because of the fabulous songbook of that era – Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, the Gershwins et al. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but I think it’s a toss-up between ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’ by Irving Berlin and ‘Just the Way You Look Tonight’ by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields.
I absolutely loved those Fred Astaire movies on a Sunday afternoon. The songs, the costumes, the brilliant dancing and the romance. I could watch them for hours!
If you could meet anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you say to them? Again, an impossible question, but on this occasion I’m going to plump for Richard III. One of the most thrilling TV programmes I’ve ever seen was the search for his remains. I’d already planned to watch it and it would have been EVEN MORE thrilling if the BBC hadn’t broken the news on the morning of the same day that a skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park was confirmed as likely to be the remains of Richard.
I’ve been very interested in the history of that period since reading Josephine Tey’s The ‘Daughter of Time’, and for many years was convinced that poor old Richard had been shamefully vilified by Shakespeare, just to cosy up to the Tudors. Since those days I’ve read other books which cast the blame for the disappearance and certain death of the princes in The Tower back at Richard’s door. Now, I’m not sure who did it. So the question I would want to ask him … obviously … is “Did you or didn’t you?”.
I also think Richard III was vilified. (I Love Josephine Tey’s book and I have a separate post about the novel and about Richard III here if it’s of interest.)
What’s your happiest childhood memory? I’m ashamed to admit that when I think about my childhood, the memories which stand out as particularly vivid and happy, were occasions when I was being made a fuss of, for one reason or another. The first memory of this kind was when I had my adenoids out. I think I was about 7. It was a fairly unpleasant experience. I was on my own in hospital on the day of the operation. I was wheeled to what felt like a large wooden shed, where people their faces half covered in white, stared down at me. Someone placed a big rubber mask over my face. I still recall the sight of this thing descending and the unpleasant smell. But afterwards, when I arrived home, there were loads and loads of presents waiting for me. I was overwhelmed. It wasn’t my birthday or Christmas! Looking back, I know the gifts I was so delighted with were cheap little trifles from Woolworths but at that moment, I felt like the most important and lucky and loved person in the world.
The second occasion was following an accident. When I was 12 I was knocked down by a van outside our house. I was in hospital – in an adult women’s ward – for a fortnight, a week up the critical end, and a week down the malingerers end where (in my memory) the conversation amongst the middle-aged patients revolved solely around wind and constipation. The family already had a holiday scheduled, and within days of coming out of hospital we travelled down to Cornwall. My parents had bought a special reclining beach chair for me, with its own detachable parasol, with grey and pink roses on the canopy. The rest of the family just sat on towels. I felt like the Queen of Sheba during that holiday. Best of all, my sister – five years my senior, she had teased and persecuted me for as long as I could remember – suddenly seemed to realise what she’d nearly lost. That was the beginning of a new and very close relationship between us.
It’s an ill wind and all that…….
Those are great memories. Life-changing times, and also times when you feel closest to the people who love you most.
If you had to marry a fictional character, from film, television, or books, who would it be? Another poser. If you’d just said which actor, I could come up with a few names of actors I think are attractive. But a character? Well, I suppose I could pick out Poldark, Aragorn, Jean Valjean, but they either have feet of clay (can be a bit sombre and gloomy and single-minded) and / or they live in brutal, impoverished or scary times. Would I really want to marry any of them?
When I was young, I always fell for the rake. The tall, dark, arrogant, swaggering hero, who, in real life I’d find insufferable. I recall reading Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion and being deeply disappointed that Kitty didn’t, in the end, choose Jack. Jack is what a hero should be I thought, drawing a veil over his obvious drawbacks. Instead Kitty chose Freddy, her gentle, kind, funny, daft, but warm-hearted and loyal friend. The older I get, the more important I think it is to marry a friend.
Very wise and true words!
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you? Never give up. Be stubborn and persistent. If you believe in yourself – in the words of the late great Curtis Mayfield – just keep on keeping on!
And finally, please tell us about your latest book, where we can find it, and where we can find your blog/website
FLY OR FALL, was written over a number of years. I started and stopped and started again. One of the reasons I stopped writing it was because my life had suddenly been thrown into chaos by two events which mirrored plot points in my developing story. My mother died and my husband was head hunted – instigating the move of house described in my second answer. It was a weird and disturbing experience and Fly or Fall was put on the shelf. Thankfully I took it off the shelf a few years ago and the rest is history!
Eleanor – known as Nell – thinks of herself as a wimp. Even though her life has not been easy, she clings to the safety of the familiar. Married young and dependent on her teacher husband’s wage, Nell has stayed at home, in Battersea, with her children and her increasingly invalid mother. Following the death of her mother the family’s fortunes suddenly change. Trevor, is wildly enthusiastic about their ‘move up in the world’; he plans to give up teaching and move house away from London. Nell, however, is gripped by a nebulous fear of some unknown disaster waiting to trip them all up, but her husband, steamrollers her objections.
Now in her early thirties, and living in an unfamiliar landscape away from old friends, Nell feels cast adrift. She is increasingly aware that Trevor is no longer the man she married, and their young teenage twins, Jonathan and Juliet, are grumpy and difficult. The women she meets, Felicity and Katherine, seem shallow and promiscuous. The new house is unwelcoming and needs modernisation; she’s thrust into a continuing chaos of rubble and renovation. Patrick, one of the men working for the building firm, is infamous as a local Lothario, but he doesn’t make a pass at her. At first she’s grateful – she’s not that kind of woman – but her feelings towards him grow increasingly confused and ambivalent.
When Nell takes a bar job at the local sports club, she is exposed to an overheated atmosphere of flirtation and gossip. Influenced by her new friends and the world in which she now moves, she begins to blossom and to take pleasure in the possibilities which seem to be opening up for her. She meets and forms a deeper friendship with the quirky, new-age Elizabeth, a very different character to her other friends. As Nell begins to enjoy herself and to become enthusiastic about her life, it seems her husband is on a downward trajectory, on the opposite end of a cosmic seesaw. When she is pursued by a beautiful and enigmatic young man, called Angel, she is tempted into behaviour she would never previously have imagined herself capable. The earthquake, felt as a tremor of apprehension at the start of the story, rumbles through her life and the lives of those around her. When the dust settles nothing is as she previously understood it.
FLY OR FALL follows the dismantling of all of Nell’s certainties, her preconceptions and her moral code. Unwelcome truths about her friends, her husband, her teenage children and even herself are revealed. Relationships are not what they seem. The hostility between brothers is exposed and finally explained. And the love that blossoms unexpectedly from the wreckage of her life is doomed, as she acknowledges the hair’s breadth between wishful thinking, self-deception and lies. By the conclusion of FLY OR FALL everything has altered for Nell, the woman who doesn’t like change. But she has rebuilt herself as a different person, a braver person, and she has embarked with optimism on a totally transformed life, a life that offers the chance of love.
To connect to me:
FLY OR FALL- Universal link or Amazon UK link
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Thanks so much for your thoughtful and revealing answers, Gilli. It was really good to get to know you better through my interview, and to find out the background to your novel. Wishing you all the best with your release of Fly or Fall.
If you’ve enjoyed Gilli’s interview, or have any questions or comments at all, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you!