Life is not a fairy tale…..
When I was a child I was entranced by the idea of magic. I believed in fairies (and Father Christmas) for far longer than is reasonable or rational. I talked to the fairies in the garden and they answered me. I admit I never actually saw one, but I suspected – because pansies have faces – that they lived in the pansies. So I talked to the pansies and they’d nod or shake their heads. Proof. And as I got older, even though I kind of knew it was all nonsense, I stubbornly clung to the faith, more because I wanted it to be true than really believing in it.
And, of course, my favourite reading was fairy stories. I can still recall the smell and feel of those books. I had a volume of Hans Anderson’s fairy stories – a Collins classic, with the dark green plasticised cover. And I had a volume of the collected stories of the Brothers Grimm. This was a heavy, old hardback, with thick, deckle edged pages the colour of weak tea, and I suspect the famously ‘grim’ stories had been heavily expurgated, to make them more suitable for young minds. I don’t recall ever being frightened or disturbed, but I do recall being disappointed about the way many of these classic tales (Anderson’s and Grimm’s) concluded.
I was always making up stories, peopled typically with knights and ladies, princes and princesses, and fairies of course. But I didn’t write anything down until I was nearing the end of primary school, and even then it was my big sister who gave me the idea. She was writing a Regency romance, and it suddenly struck me that writing it yourself was the perfect way to make a story turn out the way it should. This is how I caught the writing bug.
Throughout my teenage years I wrote ‘books’. I never finished anything. But what interests me now, looking back, is why I was I writing the kind of story I was writing. I read Georgette Heyer, Daphne DuMaurier, even Jane Austen. Young Adult didn’t exist as a genre in those days and – other than adult fiction, which I moved onto fairly swiftly – historical romance was all that seemed to exist for teenage girls. But unlike my sister, I wasn’t interested in writing in that style. I was far more strongly drawn to write darker tales, set in the present, of self-destructive bad boys, rescued and redeemed by the love of a girl who sees the good in him. I suppose I was influenced by pop music, films, TV and teen comics (although these were disapproved of in our house and I rarely read them).
In some ways, I think I still write in the same vein. I am no longer romantically drawn to the haggard hero, at deaths door, either through his consumption of drugs or drink, or as a result of a horrific motorbike accident due to speeding. (This was never due to weakness or degeneracy, by the way. He would have been lured into these self-destructive behaviours to “forget” some tragedy in his life.) But even though I’ve left these poor emaciated and emotionally damaged wraiths behind, I still prefer to write contemporary stories about people with faults and failings and emotional baggage. I write stories with an edge about real contemporary life.
I used to describe my books as gritty, but came to realise this conveys the wrong impression. I’m not Martina Cole. Despite my teenage tastes, I don’t write about ‘Crims’ and ‘Toms’ and seedy lowlife. I’ve never lived in that world and I don’t know it. I don’t even watch East Enders. But I don’t shy away from issues. I prefer to write as truthfully as I can about real people in a world I recognise, dealing with the stuff we all may have to deal with. A world where people don’t always make the right decisions – where actions have consequences – where we muddle along and sometimes, all we can hope for is the best. What I write is ‘romance for grownups’. This is not to say there are no happy endings. There may not be a transformation scene, where the beautiful, but innocent and humble heroine is given the sparkly crinoline and marries her handsome, rich and perfect prince. But in my books there is hope, and a light at the end of the tunnel. There may not be a promise of happy ever after – who can guarantee that in real life – but, by the book’s conclusion, my heroine is always a good deal happier than she was!
FLY or FALL
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.
Gilli Allan started to write in childhood, a hobby only abandoned when real life supplanted the fiction. Gilli didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge but, after just enough exam passes to squeak in, she attended Croydon Art College.
She didn’t work on any of the broadsheets, in publishing or television. Instead she was a shop assistant, a beauty consultant and a barmaid before landing her dream job as an illustrator in advertising. It was only when she was at home with her young son that Gilli began writing seriously. Her first two novels were quickly published, but when her publisher ceased to trade, Gilli went independent.
Over the years, Gilli has been a school governor, a contributor to local newspapers, and a driving force behind the community shop in her Gloucestershire village. Still a keen artist, she designs Christmas cards and has begun book illustration. Gilli is particularly delighted to have recently gained a new mainstream publisher – Accent Press. FLY OR FALL is the second book to be published in the three book deal. The first was TORN, published in 2014, and LIFE CLASS is coming out later this year.
To connect to me:
TORN: MyBook.to/gilliallansTORN (universal or http://www.amazon.co.uk/Torn-Gilli-Allan-ebook/dp/B00R1FQ1QE)