The Talbots are wealthy. But their wealth is from ‘trade’. With neither ancient lineage nor title, they struggle for entrance into elite Regency society. Finally, aided by an impecunious viscount, they gain access to the drawing rooms of England’s most illustrious houses.
Once established in le bon ton, Mrs Talbot intends her daughter Jocelyn to marry well, to eliminate the stain of the family’s ignoble beginnings. But the young men Jocelyn meets are vacuous, seeing Jocelyn as merely a brood mare with a great deal of money. Only Lieutenant Barnaby Willow sees the real Jocelyn, but he must go to Europe to fight the French. The hypocrisy of fashionable society repulses Jocelyn—beneath the courtly manners and studied elegance she finds tittle-tattle, deceit, dissipation and vice.
Jocelyn stumbles upon and then is embroiled in a sordid scandal which will mean utter disgrace for the Talbot family. Humiliated and dishonoured, she is sent to a remote house hidden in a hollow of the Yorkshire moors. There, separated from family, friends and any hope of hearing about the lieutenant’s fate, she must build her own life—and her own social order—anew.
Do you automatically buy every book by your favorite author(s)?
My favourite authors are people like Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, so yes, I have complete collections of their novels. My husband and I enjoy browsing in antique shops and we have been lucky enough to pick up some really nicely bound, old sets of their complete works.
Of more modern writers, no, I wouldn’t say I automatically buy their books. I read the blurb and the (O! So Important) reviews of other readers to help me decide, as—like me—one writer can write many different genres. However there are one or two authors, discovered quite recently, that I think I can be pretty sure of. John Boyne is one. Laurel Savile is another, Hannah Kent a third.
If someone would ask you to be their ghost writer, would you consider/accept it?
No, in the same way that I would not agree to be a surrogate mother for someone else’s baby. I’m not saying it’s wrong, just that it takes a certain kind of writer and that writer is not me. Having laboured over a book’s creation, brought characters to life and agonised over every clause, I couldn’t then hand it over for someone else to introduce to the world. Perhaps I’m the jealous type, but my books are mine and I want to have my name on them.
Do you write every day?
Ideally, yes. My most recent book, The House in the Hollow, was written during lock down. We were supposed to move house on 19th March and had everything packed into boxes, but then lock down happened on 16th and we had to shelve all our plans. I went up to my study and started to write. I wrote seven days a week for thirteen weeks. What else was there to do? In real life, I manage two or three days a week. I have four grandchildren and I love to spend time with them. We have a large garden to tend and two dogs to walk. I have a husband whose company I enjoy. But on the days that I am working I treat it like a job, arriving at my desk at a reasonable time (even though I may sometimes not be dressed!) and writing until five. I think you have to be disciplined like that if you’re serious about writing.
Which genre(s) take(s) up the most space in your bookcase(s)?
Apart from the nineteenth century classics I mentioned before I have a good collection of literary fiction, women’s fiction and also many of the books I had as a child. The bottom shelf is given over to gardening books.
Do you read when you are busy writing a new book?
Yes, but I never read anything that is similar to the book I am writing. As I wrote The House in the Hollow I avoided historical novels, especially those set during the Regency. I
read non-fiction for information about the period or the subject of the book I’m writing. I am careful to read excellently written books while I write, to encourage me to make my writing the best it can be.
Would you take a different pen name for each genre you write? Why or why not?
I have considered this in the past, because I do write in a variety of genres. I’ve written three Jane Austen-inspired books, The Highbury Trilogy, set in the village where Emma Woodhouse lives. On a different note altogether I have written several contemporary novels that deal with extra-ordinary aspects of ordinary life. The Hoarder’s Widow, for example, explores the phenomena of hoarding, which is an illness akin to OCD and is often triggered by trauma in childhood. Tall Chimneys and The House in the Hollow are historical romances. It isn’t certain that readers of one genre will like the others and I did wonder about using a different name. But in the end I decided to stick with one. I think if I ever wrote fantasy or erotica—something completely different—I might use a new name.
Do strangers sometimes stop you on the street to talk about your book(s) they have bought/read?
Oh! I can dream! I’m not a ‘famous’ author! Occasionally I get emails via my website at http://www.allie-cresswell.com from readers who have loved a book. I’m always thrilled by those.
What do you like most about book tours?
It’s tricky, as a writer, to let people know about your books without seeming to boast. It isn’t something I talk about much as I don’t want to bore people or for them to feel that they have to pretend to be interested. On the other hand, I love writing and I enjoy talking about the process of writing. Book tours give me a chance to do just that. They are a platform. I can clamber up—with as much dignity as possible—and show people what I do, up here, in my attic, for hours and days and weeks. I’m proud of my books.
Do you have a certain plan in your head about how the story should go and do you stick to it?
This is an interesting question. I usually have the germ of an idea; a situation, a snippet of dialogue overheard in a café, for example. Then my mind starts to work on it. What happened before? Why did he say that? I often find that a story’s mood will overtake me before any specifics come to mind. The mood of The House in the Hollow is remote and desolate. The house is old and hidden from view, the moor stretches around it; there is isolation and the utter absence of civilisation, of the strict rules that governed society in the 1800s. Then I contrasted that with fashionable Regency society—bright chatter, elegant drawing rooms, obsequious staff—an environment where it would be difficult to be alone and where behaviour is rigorously prescribed. The story melded itself out of the
contrast between these two things. It develops organically. I never know the end from the beginning. The story and the characters decide that for themselves. I will often find myself saying, ‘Oh! That’s a surprise!’ when things take a turn I have not expected.
Do you have (a) pet(s)?
Yes, two cockapoos—a hybrid of a cocker spaniel and a poodle—called Moppet and Dilly, and eight hens.
Thank you, Allie Cresswell
About the author
Allie Cresswell was born in Stockport, UK and began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a pencil.
She did a BA in English Literature at Birmingham University and an MA at Queen Mary College, London.
She has been a print-buyer, a pub landlady, a book-keeper, run a B & B and a group of boutique holiday cottages. Nowadays Allie writes full time having retired from teaching literature to lifelong learners.
She has two grown-up children, two granddaughters, two grandsons and two cockapoos but just one husband – Tim. They live in Cumbria, NW England.
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