Orphaned Jane seems likely to be brought up in parochial Highbury until adoption by her papa’s old friend Colonel Campbell opens to her all the excitement and opportunities of London. The velvet path of her early years is finite, however and tarnished by the knowledge that she must earn her own independence one day.
Frank Weston is also transplanted from Highbury, adopted as heir to the wealthy Churchills and taken to their drear and inhospitable Yorkshire estate. The glimmer of the prize which will one day be his is all but obliterated by the stony path he must walk to claim it.
Their paths meet at Weymouth and readers of Emma will be familiar with the finale of Jane and Frank’s story. Dear Jane pulls back the veil which Jane Austen drew over their early lives, their meeting in Weymouth and the agony of their secret engagement.
1. When and where do you prefer to write?
I treat my writing as a job and so try to be pretty disciplined about it. I attempt to be at my desk by 10.30am and to write until about 4.30pm. This is something I rarely achieve, however! There are constant interruptions, shopping to do, dogs to walk and grandchildren who need cuddles.
I am lucky to have a room in our house which is dedicated to my writing. My lovely husband Tim sent me away to stay with a friend a year or so ago so that he could decorate and furnish it for me. It is a real haven, with shelves full of books, a comfortable chair for reading and a desk which looks out over the garden.
Having said that I have written in coffee shops, on aeroplanes, in airports and in hotel rooms. As long as I have my laptop I can write pretty well anywhere. I do prefer quiet, though.
2. Do you have a certain ritual?
I begin each day’s writing by reading over, correcting and improving what I wrote the day before. That’s all.
3. Is there a drink of some food that keeps you company while you write?
Tea arrives from time to time, which is always welcome, but I rarely eat while I am writing; it is too distracting. If I am going to have a snack I prefer to have it away from the computer
4. What is your favourite book?
My favourite amongst the ones I have written? Hard to say – they are all my precious children. I think I am proudest of the Lost Boys Quartet, which is the most literary – and, incidentally, the least successful – of my books. I worked so hard on the prose, and getting the palimpsest (over-layering) of the four stories just right was technically very challenging. Tall Chimneys is my golden girl, easily the most popular book I have written. The Highbury books have satisfied an urge I have had for many years; Jane Fairfax, the heroine of the sub-plot of Jane Austen’s Emma, has always intrigued me.
5. Do you consider writing a different genre in the future?
In fact my books already cover different genres. Tall Chimneys and the Highbury books are historical, The Hoarder’s Widow, Relative Strangers and Tiger in a Cage are contemporary fiction. Game Show is a hard-hitting psychological novel. Lost Boys is literary fiction. I write the stories that come to me – their genre is accidental. But, in point of fact, I am considering writing a ghost story in the future.
6. Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?
Not on actual people, but on personality traits, ticks and mannerisms that I observe amongst people I know, yes, and people’s situations are always intriguing. The Hoarder’s Widow was inspired by a lady who lived with a hoarder. The Highbury books are based on characters I know well – Jane Austen’s, from her fourth novel, Emma. I had to reproduce those as faithfully as I could, their appearance, modes of speech and personalities, but I couldn’t just clone them. I had to add something, illuminate something that Miss Austen had left veiled or unexplored.
7. Do you take a notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?
No, but I advise all young writers to do it, to encourage them to write from life as well as from their imaginations. My handwriting is so atrocious that I struggle to interpret my own shopping lists. Any notes I made whilst out and about would likely be illegible. But I do take inspiration from things I see and hear, especially in coffee shops, where I shamelessly listen in on other people’s conversations!
8. Which genre do you not like at all?
I don’t think there is any genre I would not read. In reading and reviewing other writers’ books I have been introduced to books I would never have picked up on my own. Whether I have enjoyed them or not is another question. I would not voluntarily read horror books or erotica.
9. If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?
Someone who let me have my own way on everything! I don’t think I’d be a good writing partner for anyone. In fact I don’t know how other writers manage to write co-operatively. Writing is such a personal, instinctive, almost spiritual process. You get lost in it. The stories come from somewhere so visceral that to have to stop and discuss every sentence with someone would be torture.
10. If you should travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you chose and why?
Oh that’s a good question! I’m tempted to name somewhere exotic – the Maldives, for example, just because it would be wonderful to spend time there. But to gather material for a book I’d have to stay somewhere closer to my own culture, definitely somewhere where there was no language barrier. Perhaps a small town in America or New Zealand, where I could stay for a year incognito, get to know the locals and write a story about them before disappearing without a trace.
Thank you, Allie Cresswell and Rachel’s Random Resources.
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.
Dear Jane is her ninth novel.
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