Welcome to my blog. I am not a very regular blogger, but I try to keep this site updated with news and information. If there's none of the above I may just share my random ruminations.

Monday, June 2, 2014

My Visit to The Hay Literary Festival





I have thought of myself as a writer since..... 
Well, it’s been a long time since 'Just Before Dawn' was published. The prospect that I would  one day go to the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival as a featured author was a fervent ambition. I was still deluded enough to believe that it was within the bounds of possibility.

But it was our son’s literary efforts, not mine, that took me there.  




On the first Saturday of the Hay Festival, Thomas J T Williams was billed to appear on the Starlight Stage to speak to an audience of parents and children about his book, 'The Tale of King Harald’. The book details the life and exploits of Harald ‘Hardrada’ (hard ruler) Sigurdsson, the Viking King defeated by our own King Harold Godwinson, at Stamford Bridge in 1066, just before the Norman Invasion. 
The night before we were due to go, the weather forecast could not have been much worse.  I abandoned my initial intention to wear high-heeled ankle boots for flat shoes. Wellingtons would have been more appropriate - that’s what the experienced were wearing on their feet.  But then, why wouldn’t an open air festival, situated in a field, and housed in tents, not be subject to the conditions so often seen at Glastonbury? This is England, after all.
We’d been forward thinking enough to make for the wet weather car park, but it was overflowing and we had to park in the driveway leading to it.  We didn’t get out of paying the £5 charge though.  Then the interminable wait for the shuttle bus. After 20 minutes standing in a long queue, the rain pounding down on our umbrellas, vehicles splashing tidal waves of muddy rainwater up our legs as they passed, we first began to wonder if there was only one shuttle bus. And then we began to wonder what on earth we were doing here! 
When the bus eventually arrived it
was too small to take us all.  Fortunately shuttle buses then 
turned up mob-handed. Hay is a small town, with narrow streets.  The journey was tortuous and slow. Eventually we arrived at the site and, thankfully, there were walkways laid out across the sodden ground to the various tents, but by now they too were wet, muddy and slimy. 

We knew we had to make our way to the box office where our tickets were being held for us. But the tickets weren't all that was waiting for us and the day suddenly became radiant again.  Our son, Tom, and daughter-in-law, Zee, were there and the tickets, which we’d expected to pay for, were complementary. Not only that, seats in the front row of the sell-out event, had been reserved for us. We were so proud to be there, enhanced by my own claim to be taking part in the event. I was not just Tom's mum, I was the illustrator of his book. (To find out how and why see the previous post on How the Vikings Invaded my Life.)

Our son has performed in front of audiences since he was a teenager. But the only time we’d seen him was at his school, where he and his friends had improvised some surreal sketches for an end of year show. Through university and later, he played and sang in several heavy metal bands which gigged around the country and abroad. And since those days he has become a regular speaker at conferences, on subjects connected to the early Medieval period, the focus of his PhD. But we had never seen him perform and didn’t know what to expect, until the first Saturday of the Hay Festival. 
Had I been an X Factor judge I would have said “He owned the stage”! As the project curator of the Vikings-Life and Legend exhibition at the British Museum, Tom needed to balance his talk between his own book, and Vikings in general, and he did so brilliantly, even though I am hardly an objective commentator. Throughout he used images from the exhibition, plus illustrations from the book to make his points. The audience was largely children, but he didn't talk down to them and neither did he talk over their heads. He was witty and informative and answered the clamour of questions with grace and good humour. Afterwards, in the book tent, we had a queue of people who wanted their books signed. It was great fun.

But that wasn’t the end of feeling like a real celebrity.  We lunched for free in the “authors” tent where we hobnobbed (or, more accurately, spotted)  Peter Snow, and then Jennifer Saunders and Ade Edmondson (who, by the way, were wearing wellingtons).







It was a long drive home to London for Tom and Zee, so we went our separate ways shortly after lunch.  As my husband and I crossed the river Severn, on our way home, the sun came out.  We didn’t need it.  We already had a warm glow.



Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How The Vikings Invaded My Life

Many years ago I worked as an illustrator in advertising. Over the years I’ve continued to design our annual family Christmas cards and have taken on a few small private jobs; but, to all intents and purposes, I gave up commercial art when I was first published as a novelist.

Christmas following the election of the coalition Government
copyright Gilli Allan

Scroll forward many years to January 2013, when my son, Tom Williams, started a contract with the British Museum, as Project Curator for the ‘Vikings - Life and Legend’ exhibition, scheduled to open in the spring of 2014.  My husband, Geoff Williams, and I were thrilled.  It was a great opportunity for our son and I had no inkling at that time that the ‘Vikings’ would involve me in any way, other than as Tom’s supporter and cheer-leader. 

It wasn’t long, however, before Tom conceived the idea that the British Museum should produce a children’s book to accompany the exhibition, which he would write. He proposed to base a story on the life of Harald ‘Hardrada’ Sigurdsson, the Viking king who was beaten and killed by our own King Harold Godwinson at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, just before the battle of Hastings. Tom asked me if I was interested in illustrating the book. His vision was an ornamented ‘arts and crafts’ style, in black and white, with borders and decorative panels.  How could I say no? For one thing I wanted to support my son in this venture. His idea was far more likely to be given a hearing if he already had an illustrator on board. It was also a wonderful and totally unexpected opportunity for me, and the style of illustration he envisaged was one I was comfortable with.  I might be scared stiff, having never done any book illustration, but I sensed it was a once in a lifetime chance which, if it came to fruition, I would forever regret turning down.

I managed to push the idea to the back of my mind; it was still a purely theoretical concept, but when Tom pitched the idea to the British Museum in the early summer of 2013, they were immediately interested. What had I let myself in for? Time went by and it was the end of August before the decision was made to give Tom and me the go ahead to produce a sample first chapter.  At this point there were no still guarantees but, if the project was agreed, the timetable was looking increasingly tight. The deadline was the end of October. 

Tom sent me the opening passage of chapter one, with the brief for an illuminated capital letter, two illustrations and a panel. Instead of allowing myself to worry about whether or not I was capable of doing it, I just launched myself into the job. There wasn’t time to fret and to get tense.

"Long ago, in the days when dragons could still be found, there lived a Viking king. He was fierce and warlike, brave and strong, cunning and cruel. He was called Harald Hard-ruler, and his name was feared wherever it was heard. But it was not always so….

This tale begins when Harald was still a boy. Fifteen years old, he had awoken alone, deep in the dark forest, and wounded near to death. The forest was full of terrors: there were wolves and bears, and more dreadful things too it was said. Harald had listened as a child to the stories told by the skalds, the poets who recited ancient tales in the halls of wealthy chiefs. They sung of dreadful magics and the wakeful dead, of giants and trolls and foul dwellers in inky bogs.

Harald had never thought much about such things. But now, as he looked into the black spaces between the trunks of the silent trees, wounded and afraid, those tales came back to him and filled him up with fear. He reached for the cross around his neck and wondered whether God would protect him, the God his half-brother had fought and died for."

When the commissioning editors at British Museum
Press approved the project, I was thrilled ... 
and terrified. We had the go-ahead, but they didn’t
want the kind of stylised and decorative illustrations
that I felt most comfortable with. I was also informed
that I couldn’t just make things up! Although my
drawing of the rock and the crow was liked, 
(see right margin illustration) the short, wide-bladed 
sword and rustic shield I'd dreamt up were completely
wrong, apparently. Artistic license could only be 
stretched so far. Any Viking artefact about which there
is existing information, or of which there are examples
in the exhibition, had to be depicted as accurately as
possible. 

And British Museum Press required far more images
than I’d envisaged providing. I signed a contract to 
produce an illuminated capital, as well as four 
illustrations, including at least one full-colour plate,
for each chapter of a five chapter book, to be called
'THE TALE OF KING HARALD - The Last Viking
Adventure'.  

From then on a huge number of emails flew back 
and forth between my son and I.  Mine with pleas for 
information “What did eleventh century Novgorod look
like?” or “what did Vikings wear on their feet?” and his
with many references attached. I used loads of ink
printing them all out. 






Until all of this happened I knew nothing about Harald Hardradaother than that his life intersected with English history at Stamford Bridge, in 1066. 
His exploits appear in the Icelandic Sagas and, although some of the more extraordinary detail may be fanciful, the majority of this story is based on historicafact. Independent evidence confirms the vast range of his travels through Europe and into the Middle East, his battles, his influence and his ruthlessness. He wasn't awarded the nickname Hard Ruler - for nothing.  


Never did I expect that at this time in my life I’d be illustrating an elaborate map detailing Harald’s travels, Viking long-ships, eleventh century Constantinople, the aftermath of battle, and a burning village not to mention a polar bear arriving at the court of King Harald (and many more in a similar vein).  

As it turned out, it was easy working with Tom, as we are so in tune and know immediately what the other means. This was essential, as we did not see one another, face to face, throughout the whole project. Thank goodness for the Internet. Doing the illustrations in batches, chapter by chapter, and getting them agreed before knowing what was next, meant I was never overawed by the amount of work still ahead of me.  This approach also meant that British Museum Press could see that the project was on track, and when Tom had not finished writing the book by the end of October (the day job - curating a block-buster exhibition - was making huge demands on his time) the deadline was extended.  It was all wrapped up by the middle of December.

One of the very welcome bonuses of the whole project was that it gave me the idea for our 2013 Christmas card!

The Vikings DID NOT wear horned helmets
copy-right Gilli Allan 

‘THE TALE OF KING HARALD - The last Viking Adventure’ was published in March. 

The book contains not only the story of King Harald Sigurdsson and his adventures. There are factual sections interleaved between the chapters, which describe the culture, beliefs, achievements and conquests of the Vikings, with very accurate drawings of the artefacts, weapons and jewellery seen in the exhibition. Also written by Tom Williams, these passages were illustrated in-house, by William Webb.

The British Museum's  'Vikings - Life and Legend' exhibition  finishes on June 22.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Truly Madly Deeply


It was Katie Fforde who badgered me into writing a short story and submitting it for possible inclusion in the 2014 RNA anthology - Truly, Madly, Deeply.  
In fact, “Why don’t you try writing a short story?”, had been a constant refrain over the years, as rejection after rejection landed on my doormat, and Katie’s shoulder became increasingly soggy. 
But I’m nothing if not stubborn, and I did not want to write short stories!  I don’t believe I have the right instincts; I prefer the large canvas that offers the space and time to ramble and to find my story.  

And then.... On our drive back to Gloucestershire from an RNA conference in Caerleon (which very nearly involved a diversion via Port Talbot because we were too busy chatting), the gauntlet was more forcefully laid down. Holiday Romance was the result.

I was amazed and thrilled to have Holiday Romance accepted for the anthology. The fact that my story is not in the paperback, but only appears among the bonus eleven in the extended, digital version, did not blunt my delight.  How could I be anything but delighted? After all, Holiday Romance is the first short story I’ve written since I was a sixteen year old school girl. 








http://www.amazon.co.uk/Truly-Madly-Deeply-Adele-Parks-ebook/dp/B00FBFJX52/



My story - Holiday Romance - is also available in one of the shorter digital versions. Part 9.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Truly-Madly-Deeply-Part-Catherine-ebook/dp/B00I5R06MW/

All you need is LOVE
Published 21st February 2014, RRP £7.99
Truly, Madly, Deeply, published by Mills & Boon, in association with the Romantic Novelists’ Association, is packed with brand new stories from the UK’s best-loved writers.
Truly Madly Deeply is a charming and compulsive read for women of all ages. From wedding days to special anniversaries, steamy one-night encounters to everlasting love, it takes readers on an exciting romantic adventure where love really is all you need.
The collection brings together 24 specially-selected short stories from best-selling authors including Adele Parks, Katie Fforde, Carole Matthews and Miranda Dickinson, as well as a selection of rising stars of contemporary women’s fiction.  
Truly, Madly, Deeply, available in paperback and eBook, is the ultimate collection of romantic shorts, making it a perfect indulgent treat this Mother’s Day.
Mills & Boon will also be publishing the stories in Truly Madly Deeply as eBook bundles. These will comprise three to four stories each and will include an additional ten exclusive stories. Available from spring 2014 at Millsandboon.co.uk and all good eBook retailers, they make the perfect bite-sized romantic treat.
Truly Madly Deeply is published on 21st February and will be available in all good paperback and eBook retailers RRP £7.99, and at www.millsandboon.co.uk




Sunday, January 12, 2014

MY WRITING PROCESS

My Writing Process

On the shelf above the computer, something to keep me motivated and inspired



My thanks to Jenny Harper for inviting me to take part in the ‘My Writing Process’ blog tour. I will be trying to answer the following 4 questions: What am I working on? How does my work differ from others of its genre? Why do I write what I do? How does my writing process work?  
On the 20th January, 3 other writers will be taking on the challenge and offering their own take on the same questions. Details at the bottom of this post.   
 At first sight of the questions, I admit I almost turned down the opportunity. I know I won’t be able to give concise or comprehensive answers.  So I will probably veer away from the point and try to distract you. Marks out of ten for how well you think I’ve done. 

Here we go:

1)  What am I working on?

If only I knew.  For me, plots reveal themselves gradually, while I am actually in the process of writing a book. (The resolution to TORN came to me in a sudden flash, when I was within two chapters of the end.) Before I start I will have established the main characters, but only up to a point. I’ll have their sketchy back-stories, as well as the initial scenario in which they come together, but that’s all.  The only book I planned has never been published. Typically, I have to commit to writing a book while I still have only the faintest notion of where it’s going and how it’s all going to turn out.
This little trot around the houses is a diversion. I am not going to give you an overview of the untitled book I am due to start writing any minute, because I can’t. All I can tell you is that I am planning to write a culture clash novel.  In brief, Academia meets TOWIE or perhaps Time Team meets EducatingRita

2)  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It’s hard to be objective about your own work, isn’t it? Had I done Eng Lit at A level or University, I might be better able to deconstruct my books.  All I know is that the style of my writing IS different from that of other writers of ‘relationship/romantic’ fiction. I wish it wasn’t. I have always wanted to find another author I can compare myself to. It would have made life easier over the years.  Any suggestions welcome!  
It is far simpler to tell you what my stories are not. They’re not comedies, though they have their light-hearted and humorous moments. They’re not chick-lit, although they are contemporary and typically about characters in their thirties. They’re not sagas; they don’t have large casts of characters, although family dynamics and parenthood often inform the plot.  And they are not ‘romance’ in a conventional sense, though I think they are ultimately, deeply romantic.  But I have taken on this challenge so I’ve got to try and describe what they ARE!
I’ve sometimes called my books ‘love stories for grown-ups’.  They face up to the complexities, messiness and absurdities in modern relationships.  Everybody has hopes, fears and disappointments. Everybody has a past, many have baggage.  I write about believable and complex people with flaws, preoccupations, problems and difficult relationships, who have to negotiate their way through a recognisable and sometimes uncomfortable world.  Life isn’t a fairy tale and love has consequences. 
I am grateful to Lynnette Sofras (Manic Scribbler) for the following quote from her review of LIFE CLASS.
 “What makes Gilli Allan's stories unique is their sense of honesty, of gritty realism mixed with a little twist of magic. They take me out of my comfort zone and make me face up to aspects of life it's usually easier to ignore.” 

3)  Why do I write what I do?

This is probably the hardest of all the questions to answer. There are writers who can turn their hand to any genre with equal enthusiasm and success.  But most of us, I suspect, have a particular bee in our bonnet that drives us to write what we write. Can you imagine KatieFforde suddenly inspired to write sci fi, or Anna Jacobs to write blood and guts urban thrillers?  But recognising this truth does not help me isolate why we are impelled to set off in the individual direction we choose.
Though I loved the Brontës, Austen and Heyer I’ve never felt the urge to write historicals. Though I now read thrillers and murder mysteries, I’ve not been tempted to delve into forensics or police procedures.  I used to enjoy J G Ballard’s early science fiction, but I’ve never been inspired to create my own dystopia. Mervyn Peake’s ‘Gormenghast’ trilogy is a favourite all-time read, but his fantasy world is so perfectly realised, anything I could dream up would only ever be a pale imitation.
When I was young it was the damaged hero who engaged me most powerfully. At some point, in every favourite TV programme or novel, the hero would be wounded. The handsome prince, the cowboy, the ‘Red Indian’ brave, the knight in armour brought low by their injuries, was a very intense and moving image for the pre-pubescent Gilli. 
The heroine’s role in the story was always to minister to his wounds and ultimately to ‘save’ him.  When I started to write my own stories, they centred on wounded war heroes, leather-clad motor-cyclists injured in horrific accidents and drug-addicted pop-stars. As I grew older, I no longer needed a physically damaged hero; psychological torture was sufficient (which possibly explains my love for Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, first read when I was fifteen). 

Even though the books I’ve written as an adult far more closely reflect episodes I’ve witnessed, my own reflections on life and  personal experience (none more so than in FLY OR FALL), I can perceive this dark thread still running through the weave of my stories. I’m not interested in the good, the successful and the deserving.  My characters, male and female, need to be flawed, carrying with them the damage and burdens of past mistakes. And before the end of the story I’ll give them a bit more of the same. I’ve obviously got a sadistic streak!

4)   How does my writing process work?

My work place
At last an easy-peasy question!  Two word answer. It doesn’t.
Perhaps I should explain.  I have no routine. No discipline.  I write when I am in the mood, until......
Beginning a new book is ghastly. There is always something else that is more urgent. Emails need answering, there’s shopping, ironing, cooking or gardening to do.  For me, being a ‘seat of the pants’ style of writer, the opening chapters of a new book compare unfavourably to a weary trudge through an impenetrable forest, in deep fog, with a sucking bog underfoot, but that is until.......
.......the story begins to come alive.  Once that has happened, writing down the story which is now unfolding rapidly in my imagination is totally compulsive. It is all I want to do. I have to find some routine and discipline for the rest of my life, otherwise there’d be nothing to eat and we’d be living in squalor.
I was once told that to be a writer you have to have an obsessive personality. I’m not sure if it’s true of everyone, but it’s certainly true of me. 

I am grateful to Jenny Harper for this opportunity to waffle on about myself. I pass on the baton to three very different writers. Jo Lambert, Sandra Nachlinger and JennyTwist who will be answering the 4 questions in their own way, on the 20th of January.

Jo Lambert

Born and raised in rural Wiltshire, Jo has always been a country girl at heart.  Currently she lives on the eastern edge of Bath in a beautiful village set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Here she has the best of both worlds - there is the city with its fabulous history and architecture and then there is her village where within minutes she can be walking in open countryside with fabulous views.  Landscape does inspire Jo and she tends to set her novels in villages, although her books are in no way cosy reads.  As a child she loved books and always wanted to write.  She started at an early age but only settled down to writing commercially ten years ago. 
Jo is married, owns one small grey female feline called Mollie (although Jo rather thinks Mollie owns her!) and lives with her husband and Bridget his other woman, a 47 year old white MG Midget - a fairly happy ménage a trois!

Sandra Nachlinger 

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Sandra has been writing one thing or another since childhood. She still has diaries from her school days, one of which inspired her first book I.O.U. SEX
Besides Dallas, Sandra has lived in Irving and Beaumont, Texas; Miami, Florida; and now Washington State. She loves to travel and keep journals (written and photographic) of each trip. The most exciting and memorable place she’s been was the walk from Leon to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, with her daughter-in-law and her mother. A once-in-a-lifetime experience she will treasure always.
When not writing, Sandra  likes to make quilts, sew, garden, take photos, lunch with friends, do crafty things with her glue gun, and (like Granny in her upcoming release, BLUEBONNETS FOR ELLY) spend as much time as possible with her granddaughter.

Jenny Twist

Jenny Twist was born in York and brought up in the West Yorkshire mill town of Heckmondwike, the eldest grandchild of a huge extended family. 
She left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant (she was The Lovely Tanya), she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford. She stayed in Oxford working as a recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married her husband, Vic. In 2001 they retired and moved to Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat.
Besides writing, she enjoys reading, knitting and attempting to do fiendishly difficult logic puzzles. She has written two novels -  Domingo’s Angel – a love story set in Franco’s Spain and harking back to the Spanish Civil War and beyond -  and  All in the Mind – a contemporary novel about an old woman who mysteriously begins to get younger.
She has also written an anthology of short stories - Take One At Bedtime – and co-written the anthology  Bedtime Shadows – with the inimitable Tara Fox Hall.  She has contributed short stories to many other anthologies, of which two – Doppelganger  and Uncle Vernon have recently been released as short ebooks.
Her first self-published ebook, Away With the Fairies was released in September 2012. Her second, Mantequero, was originally published in Winter Wonders by Whimsical Publishing and has just been released as a short ebook.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

RESULTS

Well, that was fun. I have now selected a winner from those who commented with the right answer.
Of course it was Bugs Bunny. And Lori's was the first name to come out of the hat. 
Congratulations Lori Crane Hess.

 Please send your email address to gilliallan@btinternet.com and I'll send you an e-version of FLY OR FALL. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Halloween giveaway blog-hop is nearly here!!!!



Yes! The time has come to start sculpting scary pumpkin faces, lay in a stock of sweets and practise a scary cackle for Thursday, and that knock on the door by a gaggle of hungry 'trick or treaters'.

I'm doing all the above, but as an added extra this time, I've banded together with several other writers, and am taking part in a Halloween blog-hop organised by the estimable Francine Howarth. We are offering books as prizes in return for a correct answer to a question.

I have to confess straight away, that my newly published book, FLY OR FALL, has no link whatsoever to Halloween. There are no pumpkins, ghosts or witches. It's a grown up love story that has just garnered its first review. I'm thrilled to say it's a *Five Star* !

Click on the Hallowe'en link at the top to join the party, visit the other authors who are taking part, and answer the various questions.  Everyone is different.

Scroll down to the previous post to read the prologue to FLY OR FALL, then answer this question:  In the prologue to FLY OR FALL, the television is on. The antics of which cartoon character (the name please) trigger in Nell the sense that the ground is falling away beneath her feet?

Answers in the comment section. The winner of FLY OR FALL will be announced on Saturday November 2.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Halloween Giveaway Blog-Hop

When I was a child  'All Hallow's Eve' was not a big deal. I knew about it; I'd look out of the window on the evening of the 31st and experience a little shiver at the thought of ghosts rising out of their graves, but the idea wasn't taken seriously.  Halloween wasn't celebrated.  In the UK (in my day) the nearest we got was Guy Fawkes Night, on November the 5th.  My parents would conflate certain aspects of the typical Halloween celebrations by encouraging us to hollow out a swede, carve a face into it, and put a night-light inside. (And believe me, making a swede into a scary face is a whole lot more difficult than doing so with a pumpkin, but in the process, apart from sore palms and fingers, I can report that I discovered a liking for raw swede.)

I loved Guy Fawkes Night. Many of my most treasured childhood memories revolve around this event. It was such a novelty to be out at night in the cold and dark, watching the Catherine wheels and Roman candles, and rockets shooting into the sky from the end of the garden. With our woolly mittens on, we tried to eat potato skins filled with a cheesy baked potato mash and we scalded our tongues drinking soup from earthenware mugs. I still love fireworks and those smoky autumnal smells - the burning wood and leaves from the bonfire, mixed with the gunpowder from fireworks and the sharp metallic scent of sparklers (not to mention roasting swede!) - still vividly evoke the excitement I felt as a child.

I am taking part in a Halloween Giveaway Blog Hop, organised by Francine Howarth at  http://tgunwriter.blogspot.co.uk/.  Several writers are involved and we are all offering books as prizes. If you want to take part visit Francine's website, or simply answer the question below and you've a chance to win an e-copy of my recently released book - FLY OR FALL.

Q. In the prologue to FLY OR FALL, the television is on. The antics of which cartoon character (the name please) trigger in Nell the sense that the ground is falling away beneath her feet?

Answers in the comment section. The winner will be announced on Saturday November 2.

FLY or FALL
                                                     
                                              Prologue

2006

The cartoon rabbit ran straight off the edge of the cliff. He hung, oblivious to his predicament, feet pedalling the empty air. There was a snigger, halfway between laughter and derision, from the twins.

Perhaps belief is everything, I thought. If you believe you’re still on the same level, that life hasn’t changed, you won’t see the void which has opened beneath your feet. And if you don’t see it, you don’t fall. Inevitably the rabbit did stop running, did look down. I felt with him the nightmare lurch of panic, the sudden plunge downwards as he dropped out of frame. The result was explosive. As the dust cleared a precisely incised, rabbit shaped crater was revealed at the foot of the cliff.


‘I still can’t believe the amount of money....’ I murmured, with a dazed shake of my head.

‘So? What’s your problem? Any normal person would be jumping for joy.’ We were speaking quietly; the twins had yet to be told their father wanted to move, let alone that, without even putting the house on the market, we’d received an eye-watering offer for it.

‘I’m not arguing,’ I defended myself half-heartedly. ‘But I suppose I’ve always thought the amount it might sell for was academic. We have to live somewhere. Your job’s here, our friends are here, the kids go to school here. Why sell?’

‘We’ve been through this. There’s nothing to keep us, not really. Why stay in Battersea when we could live in the country? Clean air, green fields, a house with a proper garden and a driveway ... maybe even a garage ... to park the car off-road?’

I hadn’t reacted the way he’d wanted and expected, and I could hardly explain why to myself let alone to him. Why did I have such a sense of foreboding? If I agreed to sell and move out of London, our lives would change in countless superficial and practical ways but, to use Trevor’s words, they’d be changes which most normal people would regard as improvements to the style and quality of life. To him it was a no-brainer. Why stay in a property worth so much money when we could sell it and move somewhere better but cheaper in the country. Deflated by my reaction to his plans he had to work hard to keep his irritation in check.

‘But it’s such an unremarkable house.’

‘For God’s sake, Nell. Where have you been? You’ve heard about the property boom?’

‘But it’s smaller than the others in the terrace, with a much smaller garden. I never in a million years thought.... Anyway, what about your job?’

He sighed deeply. ‘I’m a teacher, I can get a job anywhere.’

‘Are you sure about that?’

‘I’m not dragging us off to the depths of the country on a wing and a prayer. I’ll make sure I’ve something to go to. I may quit teaching altogether.’

‘But you love teaching?’

‘I used to,’ he retorted darkly. I felt I was being drawn into an Alice in Wonderland world where all my certainties were being turned upside down. ‘Look, the whys and wherefores are not important … the important thing is this.’ He waved the formal offer at me. His taut, flushed face betrayed his excitement, as he contemplated a very different future to the one I’d envisaged.

‘I don’t want … we don’t need so much money. Wealth can be very corrupting.’

He sighed again. ‘Of course it seems a lot to us because we’ve been scraping along for years. It’s only recently things have eased up a bit. But we’ll still need a house to live in.’ His tabby, greying beard received another vigorous raking. ‘We’ll only have the balance to play with.’

‘I know that.’

‘Sure, our lives are going to change. But we are who we are. It is possible to be comfortably off, to have a few hundred thousand in an investment account, without abandoning your ideals. Unless you truly believe our principles are so flaky? The kind you adopt when you’re poor then slough off like a snake’s skin as soon as your circumstances improve?’

‘No one really knows how they’ll respond to temptation until they’re exposed to it. It’s a leap into the dark. Perhaps I am going to develop a taste for furs and diamonds and love-affairs. And you? Fast cars and bimbos?’

‘Do try to keep a sense of proportion. It’s not that kind of dosh.’

‘I am joking.’ But as I said the words I knew I wasn’t joking, not really. I had cloaked my real misgivings in the facile.

‘Anyway, how come you get to have love-affairs and I get the bimbos?’ he added, with a rueful smile. ‘Sounds a bit discriminatory to me.’

‘What is the male equivalent of a bimbo? A gigolo? A toy boy? Chance would be a fine thing.’

Much of the discussion so far had been conducted in this half-joking, half-serious vein. My insides still bubbled with a mixture of shocked surprise and apprehension, bordering on hysteria; I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. For me it was still too soon to properly and calmly evaluate what all this would really mean to us. At length he spoke again.

‘You think I don’t understand, but I do.’ His tone was now conciliatory, bordering on the condescending. I remained silent, repressing the urge to flash back, ‘Good for you.’

‘I know all this has been a shock. I know the last few months since Beryl died, have been hard on you. Losing your surviving parent has got to change your perspective on life and the way you live it. Even when she had long ceased to be the mother you knew. We always knew you’d inherit the house. The probate will soon be sorted and we ... you’ll get the title deeds. What the house is worth is the only new element for you.’

But not for him? Had he been comparing house prices for years? Weighing up what my mother’s death could mean for us? I sensed a ‘But’ coming, possibly an ultimatum. Did he want to secure my compliance here and now? Yet, as he proceeded, I saw apprehension in his eyes.

‘Seriously, Nell, it’s down to you. If you really don’t want to sell the house and realise some of the profits by moving out and down-pricing, then I can’t force you.’

I glanced away from his intent stare, back towards the TV, which now flickered in the corner without its cynical audience of two. Since I’d last looked, Bugs Bunny had not only survived his fall but had triumphed over his pursuers, in the interim mysteriously achieving a lifestyle of wealth and opulence. As the title music swelled the final frame revealed him lying back complacently against a pile of harem cushions, a jewelled turban balanced between his ears, the inevitable carrot held pinched in his fingers like a cigar.

‘Beats me why you can’t just accept it and rejoice?’ Trevor persisted doggedly. ‘Our ship’s come in. It’s our turn.’

He made my misgivings seem increasingly nebulous and perverse. How could I continue to resist? One moment I’d felt like I was at the edge of a precipice, facing a leap into the unknown, yet still clinging to the possibility of retreat. Now I realised the world had shifted on its axis; there could be no going back. The secure ground had vanished from beneath my feet. I had only two options left – to fall or to fly.