“Art” Imitating Life
The initial concept for Fly or Fall came to me many years ago. At the time I was living in a suburban town in Surrey. We were within the M25, but on the edge of open countryside. We lived in a very nice house, we were close to friends and family and my son was happily settled at a local infant school. My husband was in a good job and I was a published novelist. My first book, Just Before Dawn, was out in the world and my second, Desires & Dreams, was in pre-publication. Life was near enough perfect.
I was then, and still am, a seat-of-the-pants writer and the most difficult part of the writing process for me, is simply to begin. But I do know that once I have put “pen to paper” the story will emerge, element by element, slotting together like a giant jigsaw puzzle that’s lost its lid. At the time I knew I needed to get on with my next novel but, beyond the initial starting point of characters and a scenario in which to place them, I had very little in the way of plot. I had begun to think about a woman who clings to the familiar. Her invalid mother dies and she is forced by circumstance to move house from London to an area where she knows no one. I began, in fits and starts, to write the opening chapters of a book which as yet had no title. Then my mother died and my husband was head-hunted. I stopped writing.
At the time I thought it was a temporary pause. My life had suddenly been turned upside down and I needed to catch my breath. The totally unexpected and early death of my very much loved mother was enough to cope with, but it was surreal to find myself faced with exactly the same dilemma I had given to my heroine. The new job was in Gloucestershire – a county where neither my husband nor I had ever set foot, let alone had friends in or family connections to. But it was an extremely good and well paid opportunity. I had a portable career and a bit of me had always wanted to live in the ‘real’ country. In just over two months, during which we did some serious long-distance (pre-internet) house-hunting, we’d not only found a cottage in the Cotswolds, but had actually moved in.
Even though I’d supported our move in theory and I was now in an unarguably beautiful and sought-after part of the country, I found myself living through many of the emotions I had only previously imagined for my heroine. I felt dislocated and depressed, and guilty too, for not taking greater pleasure in my good fortune. Looking back I was probably still grieving. And then the third blow hit me on the head. My publisher went out of business. The temporary pause in writing the book lengthened into years.
I’m happy to say that my mood picked up and I gradually put down roots and began to write again, but the book which I’d been writing before my world changed, remained on the shelf. I was more interested in new projects, and although I did pick it up and tinker with it from time to time over the intervening years, the original impetus was lost. I wrote TORN, and then went on to write, LIFE CLASS, and despite failing to find a new mainstream publisher, both are now available as E-books and in paperback. It wasn’t until around a year ago that I picked up the shelved book again. I reread it and could see a way I could update and complete it.
Now called FLY or FALL The book begins in 2006. Eleanor (known as Nell) dislikes change. She is naturally cautious and has always been risk averse. She married young when she became pregnant with twins, thwarting her educational ambitions. Nell has always lived in the same house in Battersea. After she marries and has her twin babies, her life is additionally constrained when she becomes the carer for her increasingly invalid mother. After her mother dies, Nell and her husband, Trevor Hardcastle, receive an ‘out-of-the-blue’ offer for the house which she has now inherited. But she doesn’t want to move; she has the superstitious fear that it will prove to be the catalyst for some unimagined disaster. But in response to her husband’s impassioned advocacy she gives in and they move away from London, away from her friends and her safety net, to a totally new environment.
Nell finds herself in an unfamiliar and unremarkable town, amongst women who have a totally different view of the world to her own. She finds them materialistic and superficial. The fact they are married seems no bar to them having adventures and revelling in the fact. The house that the family have moved to needs a lot of work to modernise it. One of the men, working for the building firm they engage to do the majority of the work, is infamous as a local Lothario. It’s the very last thing Nell wants, or so she tells herself, but gradually she becomes more and more troubled by this. Why doesn’t Patrick Lynch make a pass at her?
Throughout the drama, the ongoing ‘improvements’ to Nell’s new house can be seen as a metaphor. Against the low-key backdrop of the developing financial crisis, which comes to a head in 2008, the story follows the dismantling of all of Nell’s certainties, her preconceptions and her moral code. Unwelcome truths about her friends, her children, her husband and herself are gradually revealed. Ultimately Fly or Fall is a love story, and by the end, where I bring the book up-to-date, Nell has completely rebuilt herself as a different person, a braver person, and she has embarked on a totally transformed life.
Fly or Fall will be e- published in August. Its publication in paperback will follow in the autumn.
My blog: http://gilliallan.blogspot.com/
FaceBook Author page: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/gilli.allan.1
TORN: She may escape her old life but will she ever escape herself? UK E-Book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/TORN-ebook/dp/B004UVR81Y
UK Paperback: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Torn-Gilli-Allan/dp/1477517014
LIFE CLASS: A story about art, life, love and learning lessons. UK E-Book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007XWFURQ UK Paperback: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Class-Gilli-Allan/dp/1481943138Life Class
(For US substitute ‘dot com’ for ‘dot co dot UK’)
Gilli Allan started to write in childhood – a hobby pursued throughout her teenage. Writing was only abandoned when she left home and real life supplanted the fiction. Gilli did not go to Oxford or Cambridge but, after just enough exam passes to squeak in, she attended Croydon College of Art.
She did not work on any of the broadsheets or in television, but has done a variety of less prestigious jobs. She was a shop assistant in several West End department stores, selling wigs, shoes, children’s fashions and accessories. She has also been a beauty consultant, a bar-maid and did a job with no title which involved spotting American tourists in London and persuading them to go on a coach tour that culminated in a free lunch at the Hilton. There they had to endure a high-pressure pitch selling real-estate in Florida! Gilli worked longest and most happily in her dream job as an illustrator in advertising.
It was only when she was at home with her young son, and wanted to find something to do that would enable her to stay there, that the idea of writing seriously, with a view to getting published, occurred to her. Her first two finished novels, Just Before Dawn and Desires & Dreams, were immediately accepted by a mainstream publisher. But the publisher ceased to trade and after a period in the wilderness, Gilli went independent and published TORN and LIFE CLASS first as e-books and subsequently in paperback format.
Gilli has been a school governor, a contributor to local newspapers, and a driving force behind the establishment of a community shop in her village. Still a keen artist, Gilli designs Christmas cards and accepts commissions. She regularly attends a life-class near her home in Gloucestershire, where she lives with her husband, Geoff, and son, Tom.