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, March 26, 2018

LIFE BITING BACK - the genesis of FLY OR FALL

Maybe I should write a book about winning the lottery!


“Where do you get your ideas from?” is a frequent question posed to writers. For me the simple answer is: I make stuff up. And then I ask myself : But what if...?
It’s more complicated than that, of course. Imagination on its own is never enough. My own experience informs and deepens my writing, and provides me with ideas and directions, but the finished story is never a word-for-word account of the life I’ve lived.
But when the stuff you did make up begins happening in ‘real life’, perhaps that’s when you should start to worry!

Fairy Dance - Arthur Rackham
I was a fey, day-dreamy
I loved dressing-up. Me as a 'gypsy'
child. I resisted letting go of fairy tales, Santa Claus and magic. Eventually I had to grow up - probably far later than many of my peers - but oddly, when I did, I felt I’d taken a longer step forward than they had. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the teenage comics and romances my friends read, but I wasn’t an uncritical sponge. I took them with a large pinch of salt.


Perhaps I’m too much of a cynic, but the endlessly regurgitated tale of the hard-done-by heroine, whose extraordinary beauty goes unnoticed - even by herself - until the rich, handsome, toned, maybe a touch arrogant but otherwise impressive (and universally admired) hero, comes along and notices her, seemed a bit soppy to me. I was more drawn to the quirky hero's of the Edwardian writer, Ethel M Dell. Or - more worryingly - the old-lady-murdering hero of Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment - Rodion Raskolnikov!

It's a good thing that these days there is far more variety in contemporary women’s fiction, but the parameters were far more rigid when I first seriously attempted to write a love story. To have any chance of my book being published I knew I should try to write a typical category romance. Knowing what you should do and accomplishing it, are two very different things, however. Once I’d begun ‘Just Before Dawn’ it took off, following its own, unconventional trajectory. I knew it wasn’t keeping within the rules but I was too excited following a story which seemed to know better than I did, where it was going.

Re-published in paperback
My own design
Having almost immediately found a publisher for it, and feeling undeservedly complacent, I made no attempt to keep my second book - ‘Desires & Dreams’ - within the supposedly acceptable ‘romance’ guidelines. I was aware I’d been lucky, but not sufficiently aware just how lucky. In retrospect I can more clearly see how much of a fluke it was to have so quickly found a newly established publisher whose mission statement fitted what I was writing so perfectly. The publisher's demise hardly more than five years after their launch is an indication of just how difficult it was then to buck the system.

Re-published in paperback
My own design










From then on, I struggled to find another publisher, in part perhaps because I was continuing to write stories which confronted the realities of contemporary life, good and bad, without flinching or looking away. Stories in which flawed characters face life’s inevitable hurdles - love, death, marriage, sex, parenthood, infidelity – not always doing the right thing but ultimately finding a way through the maze to peace and a credible, happy-for-now, ending.



My original cover -
before the book was re-published
by Accent Press
My original cover -
before the book was re-published
 by Accent Press















Eventually abandoning my quest to find a publisher, I went independent and self-published TORN and LIFE CLASS. After receiving good reviews, I wished I had another book to bring out. Wait a minute! I did have another book! I’d begun it years before, it was the next book I planned to offer my original publisher. But at a stressful time of my life I'd abandoned it, even before my publisher folded.
My original cover -
before the book was re-published
 by Accent Press
The initial concept for FLY OR FALL came to me four years after we’d moved-house from South London into Surrey, a move instigated by me.  But what if I hadn't wanted to move.......?

What if a woman who dislikes change is persuaded - against her will - to move-house from Battersea in London to an area where she knows no one? And what if her mother has just died?  And what if the new house is old-fashioned and run down and in need of major modernisation....?

I'd had some experience of having work done on the house, but nothing too disruptive, and there'd been no untoward incidents to base a story around. It was then I had a very surprising conversation with a woman I knew slightly. I’d never been propositioned by a worker in my home but for her flirting (and, I inferred, much more) with builders, was a commonplace and welcome add-on to home improvements!  Dragging my eyebrows down from my hairline, I latched onto another idea.  Like me, my heroine, Nell, is not that kind of woman! She is very unlikely to respond positively to a pass from a stranger. But what if I put her in a house full of builders, and the man with the reputation as a local womaniser fails to make a pass at her? Would she feel relief or resentment?

At that time in my life I was working in the bar of a sports club for a few evenings a week. It struck me that my heroine might take a similar job which could expose her to an entirely different world to the one she’d left behind in ‘right on’, ‘politically correct’ Battersea. I still had no overall story, but all of these thoughts were rumbling around in my head in a lumpy, unconnected way, and I was laboriously writing them down, hoping that something would begin to gel.


Irene Allan - 1922-1986
Suddenly, everything in my life was turned upside down by the totally unexpected and early death of my much-loved mother. Despite this disturbing coincidence with my heroine’s life, I continued writing. It was an escape from the grief.  But very soon afterwards, my husband was head-hunted. The job was many miles away in Gloucestershire, and I found myself faced with the self same dilemma I’d confronted my heroine with!  I was in shock.  What was going on?  Instead of writing a story using my own life as a resource, my life had begun to mirror the story I was writing!  I was happy in Surrey.  My son was at school and I was putting down roots, forming a network, and I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to move ever again, let alone to a county neither my husband nor I had ever even set foot in. But it was a good opportunity and we made the joint decision to go for it.

I found myself living through many of the life events and emotions I’d only previously imagined, including the major  upheaval of building, electrical and plumbing work!  The unfinished untitled manuscript was put away.  So it was, that many years later, only when I wanted to add to the body of work I was independently publishing,  I decided to have another look at this book.  I immediately saw that it had potential; better still, the intervening years had healed the rawness of the bereavement and dislocation I’d felt, and I was able to look back on that period of my life more dispassionately.  My well of experience had, by this time, deepened considerably, giving me far more to draw on. And the perfect title jumped out at me. I updated and finished FLY OR FALL.

All three books are now available from Accent Press.

To find out more about FLY OR FALL, go to Books in my Handbag
A character interview with Patrick Lynch
A character interview with Elizabeth Whitgift
A character interview with Eleanor (Nell) Hardcastle



2 comments:

Jane Risdon said...

Fabulous and so interesting Gilli. We have all been there I think and it rings so true because of that. Wishing you much success with your writing. I saw Arthur Rackham and just wanted to say we have about 15 first editions of his prints. My husband loves them and we went mad in an art shop one day, as you do!! Have a wonderful writing future. xx

Gilli Allan said...

Thank you, Jane. I can always rely on you for a supportive comment. I am SO JEALOUS of your Arthur Rackham prints. A favourite illustrator of mine since childhood - his intricate, but slightly spine chilling depictions of a magical mythical world are endlessly fascinating. Gillix