Thursday, April 18, 2013
I am absolutely delighted to be part of The Contemporary Book Fair, the brain child of Francine Howarth. It lasts from the 19th - 22nd of April, and gives all those contemporary novelists taking part the opportunity to showcase their books.
I am grateful to Francine for the chance to preview a new book I have coming out in a couple of months. It is still in pre-production, so I don’t have a definite date yet. But I can tell you a little bit about it, post the opening chapters, and give you an idea of the book jacket designs I am playing around with.
To visit the The Contemporary Book Fair and all the other wonderful authors taking part in the blog-hop, either click on the small Book Fair Logo at the top of the page or follow this link:
My new book is called Fly or Fall. It is about a woman, Eleanor (known as Nell), who dislikes change and has always been risk-averse. She became pregnant with twins and married young, giving up on her ambition to go to university. When the story opens, her invalid mother has not long died. This circumstance, combined with her husband’s advocacy, conspire to force a move away from London, away from her friends and her safety net.
Nell finds herself in a strange new environment, among women who have an opposite view of life to her own. She finds them materialistic and superficial. The fact they are married seems no deterrent to their having adventures and revelling in the fact.The house which Nell and her husband, Trevor, have moved into needs a lot of refurbishment. One of the men working for the building firm they engage to do the work (on and off, over a two year period), is infamous as a local Lothario. Although Nell doesn’t want to emulate her friends’ behaviour she is obscurely troubled that this man does not make a pass at her.
Throughout the drama, the ongoing ‘improvements’ to Nell’s new house can be viewed as a metaphor. Against the low-key backdrop of the financial crisis, which culminated 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. By the end, when the story is brought bang up to date, Nell has rebuilt herself as a different person, a braver person, and she has embarked on a totally transformed life.
The book begins like this:
Fly or Fall
The cartoon rabbit ran straight off the edge of the cliff. He hung, apparently oblivious to his predicament, feet pedalling the empty air. There was a snigger, halfway between laughter and derision, from our twelve year old 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.
‘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...?’
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 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 block, 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 to 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 that parent 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.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Well, no, actually. Maybe I’ve been lucky. Although I have to confess I don’t have hundreds, the reviews I do get are usually flattering. But I can assure you they are not from personal friends or relations. Some are from acquaintances - people I have got to know through the on-line writing community - but does that make them invalid? I hope not. I’d far rather people were honest than praised me to the skies, just because they know me! I often say that I don’t write conventional romance. Real life is messy and unpredictable. I prefer not to prettify or to gloss over the realities of starting a relationship. So I know everyone won’t like or ‘get’ my books. But I am tremendously grateful when people do and then go to the trouble of telling me (and the reading public) so I’d love to share with you some reviews received this year.
Sometimes you read a book and the characters stay with you no matter how many books you read in its wake. Torn is such a book. I found myself liking and disliking Jess by turn as Allan's strong prose and authentic dialogue guides the reader through the ups and downs of this complex woman as she goes through a rite of passage to discover what it really is she values in life. At times you want to shout at her for the decisions she makes - just as sometimes we want to shout at ourselves for our weaknesses and rash choices. I warmed to both male protagonists, as wonderfully different as they were, and loved the whole feel and colour of the novel. It's a while since I finished yet I can still picture the rural scenes, which transported me from the busy city in which I was reading at the time. Thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking as well as a welcome escape into the country!
Thoroughly enjoyed this. It's a well written book with a gutsy storyline that keeps you guessing all the way through, makes you constantly change your opinions of the characters along the way and the rural setting sets the scene beautifully. The issues that the author covers are dealt with in a pretty true-to-life manner, with sensitivity where needed and it invoked a myriad of feelings whilst I read. Jess is a great character; she is strong yet weak, kind yet a little selfish. Some of the comments her 3 year old son comes out with bring lovely light moments where I laughed out loud. I found Dan easy to love and felt quite protective over him, and whilst it took me a good while to warm to James (he suffers from foot-in-mouth), I eventually did. I was literally torn over who Jess should choose. Can definitely recommend adding this your reading collection.
A touching sensitively written story while dealing with sensitive issues and ways people can find themselves in. Definitely worth a read.
Christmas was still a fortnight away. Although my mother-in -law was due to arrive on the 20th, in our minds Christmas proper would not commence until the arrival of our son and daughter-in-law on the 27th. Not only were they planning to spend longer than usual with us, we had the imminent commencement of his new job to celebrate. On the 7th of January he was starting at the British Museum as research curator for the 2014 Viking Exhibition. Even so, I had to have everything prepared before the arrival of my first guest, so as soon as I was able to I had to pull myself together. Between trips upstairs to make sure my patient was all right I was wrapping presents, preparing food, doing housework and putting up decorations. Within a few days my husband had recovered and, together, we managed to get everything ready before our first visitor’s arrival.
However, it seems that the Norovirus is a very tenacious and long-lived bug. All went well until Boxing Day, when mother-in-law began vomiting. She had obviously picked up the bug from one of us. Thankfully, given the severity of her illness, our other visitors had not yet set out. We phoned our son and told him not to come. I will draw a veil over the next few days but the washing machine was in almost constant use, and I had to make several trips to the supermarket and chemist for extra cleaning products and strong disinfectant. My mother in law was in bed for a week.
All this is just to explain why, after three further postponements (I will spare you the reasons why), we have just celebrated Christmas with our son and his wife. A jolly good time was had by all.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
As there is no such thing as a Work In Progress in my world at the moment, I immediately decided to put my own spin on the challenge. I am currently preparing an e-book for publication in paperback in the New Year, so I have decided to give you an excerpt from that book, LIFE CLASS. It didn't take me long to identify and select a passage in which there is a lot of looking going on - but it's a variety of looking that is making my heroine extremely uncomfortable. Before I unveil the excerpt I'll first give an overview of the whole book.
LIFE CLASS is about art, life, love and learning lessons. The class meets once a week to draw the human figure. The story follows four of its members - from the respectable to the transgressive - who have all failed to achieve what they thought they wanted in life. They come to realise that it’s not just the naked model they need to study and understand. Their stories are very different, but they all have secrets they hide from the world and from themselves. By uncovering and coming to terms with the past, maybe they can move on to an unimagined future.
Dory says she works in the sex trade, the clean-up end. She deals with the damage sex can cause. Her job has given her a jaundiced view of men, an attitude confirmed by the disintegration of her own relationship. The time seems right to pursue what she really wants in life, if she can work out what that is. Love doesn’t figure in her view of the future - she’s always been a clear-eyed realist - yet her search for somewhere to put down roots turns into a chase after a dream.
Stefan is a single-minded loner. His only ambition is to make a living from his sculpture. So how the hell did he find himself facing a class of adults who want their old teacher back? Although love is an emotion he long ago closed of - it only leads to regret and shame - it creeps up on him from more than one direction. Is it time to admit that letting others into his life is not defeat?
Fran - Dory’s older sister - is a wife and a stay-at-home mother without enough to keep her occupied. On a collision course with her mid-life crisis, Fran craves the romance and excitement of her youth. An on-line flirtation with an old boyfriend becomes scarily obsessive, putting everything she really loves at risk.
Dominic is a damaged child. He has lived his life knowing all about sex but nothing about love. If he can only find his mother perhaps he can make sense of his past. But perhaps it is a doomed quest and it’s time to look to the future? By accepting the help and love that’s on offer here and now, he has a chance to transform his life.
Ultimately, LIFE CLASS is about love in its many guises.
Introduction to the excerpt:
Dory has lived in London since starting work in the path lab of the hospital, where she met her partner. Together they set up a private STI clinic. But the relationship has broken down and she has returned to her home town in the West country, where her sister, Fran, still lives. Fran has always been the bossy one in the family. It was her idea to enrol her sister in the life class that she herself attends.
Dory hasn’t done any art since school, and she has never drawn a naked model. Dory arrives for her first lesson late and flustered. The class has already commenced. The students are grouped around the model - a naked male model.
LIFE CLASS - CHAPTER THREE
Had it moved? Dory frowned, looked back at her drawing. Hard to be sure. But the more she studied it the more positive she became. Back to square one. She rubbed out her first sketchy attempt to reproduce this area of the figure. Pencil poised she raised her eyes again and this time she saw the movement – the slight pulse and thickening – as it shifted a few millimetres. Well aware that it was a part of the body that men – poor things – had no conscious control over, Dory was still surprised. Had she thought about it in advance she’d have assumed that posing naked in front of a room full of strangers would have a depressing effect on the male genitalia.
Not that she was bothered; she’d probably seen more cocks than most of the people here had eaten hot dinners, so why should this one’s twitchings give her problems? It was what men did with it that caused the trouble. She just happened to be one of the professionals who had to deal with the fall-out. But men, sex and the day-job were off the agenda today. In her personal life, it could be that men and sex were off the agenda full-time. She gave herself a mental shake. Get on with what you’re here for.
Now, glancing at his face, Dory saw the model was looking at her. No. Not just looking, staring. Look at the rest of the figure, she told herself. Her gaze swept over his reclining form, identifying the patterns and shapes; her hand tentatively followed across the paper, attempting to reproduce the angle of the head, the slope of the shoulder, the splay of hand on thigh. It was then she noticed his reproductive paraphernalia was on the move again. Drawing from life was hard enough without this added distraction.
Dory had known she’d find the class challenging. The reality was even harder than she’d suspected and the model was in on the conspiracy to defeat her. She wished she could have caught her sister’s eye to share the joke, but even if they’d had an unobstructed view of one another, Fran was behind the model. Dory looked around; no one else had her grandstand view. The tutor was standing at an easel just a metre or so away, dark brows drawn together as he worked on his own drawing. Not much tutoring going on, Dory reflected. From his angle, even if unaware of the life model’s disconcerting stare, he must have noticed the waxing and waning of his genitalia. But what could he have done about it?
Typical of her to have been the sole latecomer, and then to find her new drawing-pad so tightly sealed in its crisp plastic wrapping that it gave new meaning to the word ‘rustle’ as she tried to extract it. Typical too that she should find herself in this full-frontal position. All the other students – some standing at easels, others, like her, straddled over low benches, called donkeys – had arranged themselves in a semi-circle behind or to the sides of the mattress on which the model reclined. She’d only had a moment, after making her apologetic late entrance, to exchange a quick smile of recognition with Fran, before a man quit his own easel and, with an audible sigh, approached her. For a split second she felt she recognised him, but immediately discounted the idea. There was no one amongst her acquaintance with shaggy dark hair like that, no one with a close-cropped dark beard.
After pointedly looking at his watch the man moved his own easel to one side then dragged one of the low benches forward to take its place. ‘Use this donkey,’ he’d said, giving her no alternative. ‘Here’s a board. You’ve got paper? I’ve asked everyone for an accurate drawing. Pencil.’
Thankful to be able to settle quickly, with minimal added disruption to the rest of the class, she was not about to object to her view of the model, even if she’d known it would give her extra problems. ‘Don’t get bogged down with detail.’ Again the tutor checked his watch. ‘Forty minutes left.’ With no time to feel intimidated, she just had to put pencil to that first virgin sheet of paper and start.
Apart from her sister there was no one in the class she knew. She was on her own in this private struggle. Story of my life at the moment, she reflected, wondering why she was even doing this. She had recently made a resolution not to allow others to organise her life for her and yet here she was doing something her sister had pushed her into. Typical of Fran to come up with an idea that she thought was a good one then steamroller it through.........
Last but not least, I'm supposed to tag 5 more ‘ziggy zig zag’ writers and let them know they've been tagged so that they too can share their current work in progress with the rest of the blogging community! I've chosen a group of writers who are very different from me and from one another. I know they'll all bring something special to "I've got the LOOK"!
Carol E Wyer
Monday, October 29, 2012
Now, I understand that receiving bad reviews is a rite of passage, that making your book free is laying you open to this likelihood, and you have to take it on the chin.
So instead of creeping away wounded, I've decided to share it with the world. But I've added another favourable review to counter-balance my 'stinker'.
Reader and Writer says:
Someone who gave this 5 stars mentioned the 'brutal language' at the beginning as setting the tone for the rest of the book, and I agree, it certainly does, but not in a good way. I'm no prude, far from it, but it annoys me when writers think the only way to create gritty characters and hard-bitten plots is to pepper their writing with expletives and ugliness. To me it just underlines the lack of creativity and ingenuity in the writing. Use swear words by all means, but understand they have far greater impact when used sparingly and appropriately.
The opening page is one big cliche - someone waking up with a hangover, regretting the night before, etc etc - is so, so unoriginal, neither do I want to be told about vomit. We know it happens. If you must describe a hangover, find something different to say about it. That's what creative writing means, for goodness sake.
Really sorry, some might enjoy this but it's not for me.
Fair enough. Horses for courses. But what does someone else have to say?
But on a deeper level, TORN is about the effects of abuse, the lurching starts and stops, the choices of an abused woman who in many ways is broken as she searches for a new life and a proper home for her child, stumbling along the way.
Listen to the rhythm of Ms. Allan's prose as Jess speaks:
"'Tonight marks a fresh start. A new life. And I'm determined to get it right this time.' With the words-and all the underlying unspoken implications-she felt the up-swell of elation, the utter conviction that re-making her life would be easy."
Jess's quest is more than she bargained for, however, and she falls into the arms of one man, only to fall into the arms of another.
TORN chronicles Jess's coming of age, if you will, her growth as a person, and the novel's scenes--those with her friends and with her child, Rory, who during the course of the narrative, has milestones of his own--include her romantic relationships with men in quite detailed and beautifully written prose. In fact, the sex scenes are masterfully written. A tightly-written novel, all the scenes, including those in the bedroom, have a purpose: they move the story along and illuminate the characters, especially Jess.
Ms. Allan has created a very complex character in Jess, totally believable, one who surprised and, at times, angered this reader, and the novel centers around her growth. And the minor characters, Danny, James, Rory, Sean have their own special voice. For those who want a compelling romance a finely written story told with rich prose, TORN by British author, Gilli Allan, is a must read.
Saturday, September 22, 2012
What's new? Well, apart from holidaying in lovely Cornwall a couple of weeks ago and being blessed with a spell of rare and gorgeous weather, and even more recently spending a few days in equally sunny Cambridge (which is also very lovely in its own right), I have just accepted the Next Big Thing challenge. But true to my very awkward nature, I have decided to cheat a little with the spirit of the question.
Yes, mine is ‘a big thing’, and it is what’s happening ‘next’, but it's more of a revival than something new. My third book is about to be published in paperback, with Create Space. As I have designed a completely new cover for this edition, I have decided to re-launch the e-version of the book with the same, new, front cover image. This all happens on September 22nd. So, in answer to the questions....
1: What is the title of your book?
TORN (first published as an e-book, May 2011).
2: Where did the idea come from for the book?
Torn grew from a momentary glimpse. I was the passenger on a car journey to Somerset. We passed a turning on the left - a narrow lane sloping steeply down to the huddled centre of a village. Though the road we travelled along was by no means a new road, it was apparent it had been built to by-pass the village.
As all this registered, the thought which sprang to mind was: "I bet those villagers were pleased to have the main road re-routed." But it was swiftly followed by the qualification: "Though I doubt the people who lived up here were so impressed!" I went on to reflect that real life is almost always a compromise between competing demands. Things are never black or white, with right or wrong answers. Although a disputed bypass was the initial ‘jumping off’ point for TORN, it was only one of many threads in the final story.
3: What genre does your book fall under?
Though I understand the need for labels, that doesn’t make it any easier to answer this question. I write contemporary women’s fiction but if you want to narrow me down any more than that, I'm afraid I am unable to identify a sub-genre. So I’ve invented my own - Reality Romance.
4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is a really difficult question because I have such a strong visual image of my characters. No actor I can think of perfectly matches the picture in my mind’s eye.
But the best I can come up with are as follows:
Timothy Dalton, in his prime - at around the age of 35 - to play the part of widower James Warwick. James gave up his career in advertising to take on his late in-laws' farm. Danny is his farm worker.
Emma Watson is still too young, is probably too tall and has the wrong colour eyes, she will play Jess. Single mother, Jessica Avery, is in her early thirties. She's left her 'ex' and moved to the country to find peace and a simple life, and to concentrate on being a mother. But an abusive relationship isn't the only element of her past she's trying to escape.
5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
She may have escaped her past but can she ever escape herself?
[Jess believes she has put her old life behind her. In the country it will be easy to live a ‘good life’. But in the face of temptation old habits die hard and she is torn - between the suitable man and the unsuitable boy.]
6: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
After the demise of my first publisher I struggled for many years to find another or, failing that, to find an agent. I gave up in 2011.
So TORN is self-published, as an e-book http://www.amazon.co.uk/TORN-ebook/dp/B004UVR81Y and now as a paperback http://www.amazon.co.uk/Torn-Gilli-Allan/dp/1477517014#reader_B004U36DIG
7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Approximately a year.
8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I have no idea. I leave comparisons to my readers.
9: Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Inspiration is a strange beast - who knows what is going on in the subconscious? I have various answers to the “Are your stories autobiographical?” question. There are always a few autobiographical elements in my books. These may be tiny, hardly more than flicker, or they may be large, but that doesn’t make my stories autobiography. When writing fiction, the real is made unreal, not because you are trying to disguise something, but because the people, places and incidents from true life won’t fit the story you’re making up. They have to be re-imagined.
Hands up - there have been a couple of incidents in my life which have directly inspired a whole book, but usually I am already in the midst of the process when a memory springs up, and I think “Oh yes, I could use that.”
So, if you really want to know, I did draw on memories of an old boy friend when writing TORN. I also used a remembered incident I witnessed in Streatham High Road. Beyond that I am unwilling to go.....
10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
TORN faces up to the complexities, messiness and absurdities in modern relationships. Life is not a fairy tale; it can be confusing and difficult. Sex is not always awesome, it can be awkward, embarrassing and it has consequences. You don't always fall for Mr Right, even if he falls for you. And realising you're in love is not always good news. It can make the future look daunting.
In a week’s time, on Wednesday 26th September, five writers will tell you about their own ‘Next Big Thing’.
Margaret James www.margaretjamesblog.blogspot.com
Paula Martin http://paulamartinpotpourri.blogspot.co.uk/
Kit Domino http://kitdomino.wordpress.com/
Suzy Turner http://suzyturner.blogspot.co.uk/
Bea Davenport http://www.blog.beadavenport.com/#home