Today it’s my pleasure to welcome author Allie Cresswell. Allie writes contemporary and historical fiction
Allie studied English and Drama at Birmingham University and did an MA at Queen Mary College, London. She’s been a pub land-lady, a print-buyer, a book-keeper and the proprietor of a holiday cottage business. Allie is currently working on her eleventh novel.
Allie has two children, two granddaughters, two grandsons, two cockapoos but just one husband, Tim. They live in Cumbria, NW England.
Over to Allie
Which 5 pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
This is tricky, because, although I like music, I am not a real devotee. I’d rather read a book than listen to music, would rather go to the theatre or the cinema than a concert, any day. My choices are not going to be highbrow, but here goes.
Shall We Dance? From The King and I. Mum used to sing this to me as she waltzed me round the kitchen, and I did it to my kids in turn.
Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Staton – 1976 was a seminal year for me. I turned 16, there was an amazingly hot summer, I was allowed to hang out with my friends more and beginning to think about University. It felt like life was beginning. The lyrics contain good advice I went on not to take.
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant by Billy Joel. I loved the perkiness of this tune, and didn’t cotton on until later how sad the lyrics were. I have a happy memory of singing this at the top of my voice on the back of a speedboat.
Broken Strings by James Morrison. Oh, just so heartbreakingly true.
So Amazing by Luther Vandross. My happy ever after song.
What 5 things (apart from family and friends) you’d find it hard to live without.
Books – that’s easy.
Access to outside. I’m not a big outdoorsy person even though I live in the Lake District and have access to fells and lakes and the coast. But I have lived in flats with no access to outside space at all and it was terrible. I felt so cooped up and confined. My heart goes out to everyone who has survived lockdown without even a tiny balcony.
Moisturiser. If I was sent to the fabled ‘Desert Island’ this would be my luxury. I literally run from the shower every day to rehydrate my face before it either falls off or implodes.
The wherewithal to make tea; PG Tips teabags, boiling water, fresh milk, sugar. I hope that doesn’t count as four things.
My laptop. That’s sad, I know, but I really do not know what I would do if I couldn’t write. My handwriting is so appalling – I have recently discovered this is called dysgraphia – I can’t read my own shopping lists, so a laptop or computer of some kind is a must. I am so privileged to have the time and the space to write, and also the encouragement of my lovely husband Tim.
Can you offer 5 pieces of advice you’d give to your younger self?
Don’t be afraid to tell your mother the truth.
Stand up for yourself.
Your mother is right, platform shoes WILL cripple you.
Take your children out to play in the rain more often.
Dreams do come true.
Tell us 5 things that most people don’t know about you.
I have an MA in English literature and wish now that I had gone on to do a PhD. I think the academic life would have suited me.
I slept in the same bed as Simon le Bon (but not at the same time).
I am an avid listener of The Archers, a long running radio serial.
I was University with June Whitfield’s daughter, actor Susie Aitchison, and also with Mark Billingham, who I notice has also contributed his Five on Friday – I am sure neither of them remembers me.
I’m one of those pedants who rubs out erroneous apostrophes on chalk boards outside cafés and bakeries.
Tell us 5 things you’d like to do or achieve.
I’ve never been to Italy, so I’d like to do that. But I’d like to do it in 1900, in the context of a Henry James novel. There will be no crowds; I’d have the Colosseum to myself, enjoy a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel and have no difficulty getting a table at Florian’s.
I’d love to see one – or more – of my books adapted to the screen. I do think my style is cinematic, so would translate well. I have written some great parts for female actors. I have my cast list pretty much assembled. Sophie Thompson should play Minnie in The Widows series, opposite Kate Winslet as Maisie. Charlotte Riley will play Evelyn in Tall Chimneys, and since she is married to Tom Hardy and they might enjoy working together, I’d have no objection to him playing the role of Kenneth.
This is a longshot, but I’d like to somehow be the means by which no apostrophe is ever omitted or misused again.
I’d love to have a go at writing an episode of The Archers.
I’d like to STOP people chucking their bloody litter out of their cars or dropping it on the streets. I just don’t know why people think that’s OK. Why are our grass verges, streets and pavements always choked with rubbish? Why can’t people take it home? And don’t even get me started on fly tipping…..
Many thanks for sharing with us today Allie. As we are not too far apart in age, I remember well the summer of 76 (except I swear it never got as hot in Hull as it did everywhere else – the North Sea saw to that). Delighted to find another moisturiser addict, I have shelves full of the stuff. Ah yes, platform shoes, not only where they crippling, they were so ugly. How did we have fall for that ‘fashion’ trick? You do realise we now we are all curious about the bed and Simon le Bon! I really hope you get to achieve your dreams, though going back to 1900 might not an option. Sadly the pandemic created the opportunity to visit without crowds, but the circumstances where hardly conducive to travel. As for litter – I’m with you. I’m beginning to worry you’ll be assessing my use of apostrophes – if I fail, I’m blaming autocorrect!
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Considered a troublesome burden, Evelyn Talbot is banished by her family to their remote country house. Tall Chimneys is hidden in a damp and gloomy hollow. It is outmoded and inconvenient but Evelyn is determined to save it from the fate of so many stately homes at the time – abandonment or demolition.
Occasional echoes of tumult in the wider world reach their sequestered backwater – the strident cries of political extremists, a furore of royal scandal, rumblings of the European war machine. But their isolated spot seems largely untouched. At times life is hard – little more than survival. At times it feels enchanted, almost outside of time itself. The woman and the house shore each other up – until love comes calling, threatening to pull them asunder.
Her desertion will spell its demise, but saving Tall Chimneys could mean sacrificing her hope for happiness, even sacrificing herself.
A century later, a distant relative crosses the globe to find the house of his ancestors. What he finds in the strange depression of the moor could change the course of his life forever.
One woman, one house, one hundred years.
Who knows what secrets are trapped, like caged tigers, behind our neighbours’ doors?
When Molly and Stan move into a new housing development, Molly becomes a one-woman social committee, throwing herself into a frantic round of communal do-gooding and pot-luck suppers. She is blinded to what goes on behind those respectable facades by her desire to make the neighbourhood, and the neighbours, into all she has dreamed, all she needs them to be.
Twenty years later, Molly looks back on the ruin of the Combe Close years, at the waste and destruction wrought by the escaping tigers: adultery, betrayal, tragedy, desertion, death. But now Molly has her own guilty secret, her own pet tiger, and it is all she can do to keep it in its cage.
Imagine that for one night only you could do absolutely anything you wanted, and get away with it.
Welcome to Game Show.
It is 1992, and in a Bosnian town a small family cowers in their basement. The Serbian militia is coming – an assorted rabble of malcontents given authority by a uniform and inflamed by the idea that they’re owed something, big-time, and the Bosnians are going to pay. When they get to the town they will ransack the houses, round up the men and rape the women. Who’s to stop them? Who’s to accuse them? Who will be left, to tell the tale?
Meanwhile, in a nondescript northern UK town a group of contestants make their way to the TV studios to take part in a radical new Game Show. There’s money to be won, and fun to be had. They’ll be able to throw off their inhibitions and do what they want because they’ll all be in disguise and no-one will ever know.
In a disturbing denouement, war and game meld into each other as action and consequence are divided, the words ‘blame’ and ‘fault’ have no meaning and impunity reigns .
Game Show asks whether the situation which fostered the Bosnian war, the genocide in Rwanda, the rise of so-called Islamic State in Syria and the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar could ever happen in the West. The answer will shock you.
The McKay family gathers for a week-long holiday at a rambling old house to celebrate the fiftieth wedding anniversary of Robert and Mary. In recent years only funerals and sudden, severe illnesses have been able to draw them together and as they gather in the splendid rooms of Hunting Manor, their differences are soon uncomfortably apparent. For all their history, their traditions, the connective strands of DNA, they are relative strangers. There are truths unspoken, but the question is: how much truth can a family really stand?
The family holiday mushrooms, drawing in sundry relatives both estranged and deranged. The machinations of an appalling, uninvited aunt threaten the holiday – and the family – with irreparable damage.
This book will make you question your own family situation. What does it really mean to be ‘family’.
The Highbury Trilogy
Thirty years before the beginning of ‘Emma’ Mrs Bates is entirely different from the elderly, silent figure familiar to fans of Jane Austen’s fourth novel. She is comparatively young and beautiful, widowed – but ready to love again. She is the lynch-pin of Highbury society until the appalling Mrs Winwood arrives, very determined to hold sway over that ordered little town.
Miss Bates is as talkative aged twenty nine as she is in her later iteration, with a ghoulish fancy, seeing disaster in every cloud. When young Mr Woodhouse arrives looking for a plot for his new house, the two strike up a relationship characterised by their shared hypochondria, personal chariness and horror of draughts.
Jane, the other Miss Bates, is just seventeen and eager to leave the parochialism of Highbury behind her until handsome Lieutenant Weston comes home on furlough from the militia and sweeps her – quite literally – off her feet.
Jane Bates has left Highbury to become the companion of the invalid widow Mrs Sealy in Brighton. Life in the new, fashionable seaside resort is exciting indeed. A wide circle of interesting acquaintance and a rich tapestry of new experiences make her new life all Jane had hoped for.
While Jane’s sister Hetty can be a tiresome conversationalist she proves to be a surprisingly good correspondent and Jane is kept minutely up-to-date with developments in Highbury, particularly the tragic news from Donwell Abbey.
When the handsome Lieutenant Weston returns to Brighton Jane expects their attachment to pick up where it left off in Highbury the previous Christmas, but the determined Miss Louisa Churchill, newly arrived with her brother and sister-in-law from Enscombe in Yorkshire, seems to have a different plan in mind.
The final instalment of the Highbury trilogy, Dear Jane recounts events hinted at but never actually described in Jane Austen’s Emma; the formative childhood years of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill, their meeting in Weymouth and the agony of their secret engagement.
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. Frank Weston is also transplanted from Highbury, adopted as heir to the wealthy Churchills and taken to their drear and inhospitable Yorkshire estate. Readers of Emma will be familiar with the conclusion of Jane and Frank’s story, but Dear Jane pulls back the veil which Jane Austen drew over its remainder.
The Widow’s books
Suddenly-widowed Maisie sets out to clear her late husband’s collection; wonky furniture and balding rugs, bolts of material for upholstery projects he never got round to, gloomy pictures and outmoded electronics, other people’s trash brought home from car boot sales and rescued from the tip. The hoard is endless, all part of Clifford’s waste-not way of thinking in which everything, no matter how broken or obscure, can be re-cycled or re-purposed into something useful. Now, it appears to Maisie more grimly than ever as what it is: junk.
As Maisie disassembles his stash she is forced to confront the issues that drove her husband to squirrel away other people’s rubbish. Finally, in the last bastion of his accumulation, she discovers the key to his hoarding and understands – much too late – the man she married.
Minnie Price married late in life. Now she is widowed. And starving.
No one suspects this respectable church-goer can barely keep body and soul together. Why would they, while she resides in the magnificent home she shared with Peter?
Her friends and neighbours are oblivious to her plight and her adult step-children have their own reasons to make things worse rather than better. But she is thrown a lifeline when an associate of her late husband arrives with news of an investment about which her step-children know nothing.
Can she release the funds before she finds herself homeless and destitute.
The Lost Boys Quartet
Iris Fairlie is lonely, isolated but increasingly unable to cope with independent living.
Against her every desire she is moved into Bridge House, a home for the elderly, where a constant round of confectionery seeks to compensate for the lapses of old age; there is an all-pervading aroma of biscuits and wee. Iris sulks in her room and rebuffs advances of friendship from other residents; poor, lonely Mr Goldstein who waits every day for visitors who don’t arrive; loquacious Pearl Baker, lost on an interminable loop of inconsequential diatribe. Iris resists the blandishments of the piano-playing spinster, the happy-clappy evangelicals, the raffia-weaving WI, all determined to distract the hapless residents from the inevitable terminus of their slow demise.
But in her new surroundings she is forced to see herself differently, honestly. She is old. Life is over. What has she achieved in this life to which she holds with such stubbornness? Where, amidst the work and weariness, the pride and resignation, were the warmth, the love, the laughter?
What is it that separates her from her daughter? Why can’t they talk about things?
The answer to all these questions seems to be her wayward son, her lost boy, missing for years on some quest she never understood.
Witnessing by chance the tumble of a young boy into a racing river, Mrs Fairlie is galvanised at last into action; if she cannot rescue her own boy she will try to rescue this one.
Little Mikey’s fall pulls Iris into the maelstrom of his fate, along with Matt, Megan and his Auntie Jade, whose stories are featured in books 2, 3 and 4 of the Lost Boys Quartet.
Rosie and her son Matthew have fallen on hard times. Rosie’s husband has left them for another woman, necessitating a move from an affluent development to a run-down estate of social housing. There isn’t the money to pay Matt’s school fees and he has had to move to the local comprehensive.
At first the victim of their cruel and thoughtless bullying, and later in rebellious fascination, Matt becomes embroiled with a local gang. But their world, on the ragged edges of civilization, is full of dangers and pitfalls that soon threaten to suck Matt under as he wrestles with his anguish over his father’s defection, and, worse still, his bitter envy of the new boy in his father’s life.
Skinner’s mother Megan is hiding in plain sight. She has a job at the 24 hour breakfast café at the motorway services. She lives in the twilight of the careful shroud of anonymity she has drawn around herself, prevented by her traumatic past from embracing the future, and desperately missing the son she left behind.
Guy is hiding too. After eight years with a Commando unit in Afghanistan he has made a career U turn and lost himself in a job as a reporter on a weekly paper in a small northern backwater. But Guy finds that life in a small town can be very small-minded indeed, and that local loyalties firmly exclude newcomers who would expose people’s carefully kept secrets.
Skinner goes missing and Guy is tasked with investigating the story. Then Megan finds herself embroiled in the search for the little boy lost in the raging river. Guy’s front page story tears Megan’s veil away, and forces her to confront her ghosts; not only the son she abandoned, but the husband she is so desperate to evade.
Jade has had a terrible day. If having her little nephew fall into a river in spate isn’t bad enough, she finds herself caught up in a violent street-riot.
Lost, barefoot, caught between opportunistic looters and the implacable ranks of riot-police, Jade takes refuge in a semi-derelict church where the kindness of strangers opens her up to the possibility that there is a higher hand at work than the malign, bad-luck demon she has always felt dogging her steps.
Jade’s sister Carmel falls prey to the malicious influence of local bad-lad Spencer, and although the two girls have been at each other’s throats all their lives, Jade takes the opportunity to step out in her new-found faith on Carmel’s behalf. Can she, in this new, softer incarnation of herself, and with the aid of whatever beneficent power she senses is out there, somewhere, weave something new from the frayed ends of their antagonistic sisterhood?
Meanwhile, Jennifer’s mother is dying, her psychotic brother is beyond redemption and her husband is AWOL. While Jade explores the wonder of new beginnings, Jennifer is tasked with bringing things to an end. The tidiness of closure seems so desirable until it comes, and she finds herself surprisingly anchored by the threads of her past.
The Amazon # 1 best-seller, this is a collection of short stories, travel-writing, reviews, excerpts and articles.
In ‘The Book’ a woman on a station platform has her life changed by the gift of a strangely powerful book. ‘Baseball for Beginners’ attempts to understand the subtleties of this nuanced game. In ‘Many Rooms’ three strangers who inhabit an inner city square find they have more in common than they think. ‘Grave Secrets’ explores the buried lives, hopes and dreams of the dead. In ‘Open Day’ the pinkest, fluffiest, most innocuous old lady at the old folks’ home surprises everyone, including the Mayor. ‘The Peach Side of Apricot’ recalls a conversation overheard on a bus.
A new collection of short stories, diary-entries, excerpts, articles and reviews from the Amazon # 1 best-selling writer Allie Cresswell.
In ‘Genesis’ a writer begins a new work from scratch. It is to be her signature work and the main character will go down as one of literature’s greatest. But the character has other ideas about the way the plot should go, and the writer has to decide whether to consign the whole manuscript to the bin or just let the story unfold.
‘Being Mandy Broadhead’ is a memoire of the writer’s teenage years. The agony of being plain and not particularly popular crystallises into a fixation with the prettiest and most popular girl in her school.
‘No-One Was Saved’ is the outworking of the lyrics of a popular song. Who was Eleanor Rigby and why did she collect rice from the church grounds? What was the face she kept in a jar, and who was it for?
‘Moving’ includes excerpts from a diary written when the writer moved with her family from suburban Cheshire to rural Cumbria in 2000.