The Mistress of Pennington's Tour

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Welcome Accent Press author, Gilli Allan...


      Hi Gilli! Welcome to my blog - It's always great for me to host a fellow RNA member      and as this is your visit with me, I really hope you enjoy your time here. Wishing you        much success and sales with your latest release, Fly or Fall! Let's kick off with my              questions...

1.) What was your first job? Did you like or dislike it? Why?

My first job was as an occasional Saturday girl, at Etams, in Orpington, Kent, where my Aunty Joy was the manageress.  I liked having a bit of extra money, but I can’t say I liked the job. I was still at school, so I must have been just sixteen, and I was deeply shy.  When new customers came into the shop I recall becoming rigid with fear and embarrassment, knowing that I should walk up to them and ask “May I help you?” while all I wanted to do was run away.  And I’d not done the job frequently enough to have become used to it, when my aunt got a promotion to the Bromley branch of Etams. Christmas was approaching and she asked if I’d like to work in the school holidays, for the week leading up to the big day.  My desire for the money overcame my aversion to the job.

I was very susceptible to cystitis in my early teenage years, and anyone who’s had it will know that if you’re suffering with this condition, the very worst thing you can do is stand around. I’d woken on the very first morning of my holiday job with the unmistakable symptoms. I duly presented myself at the shop but I felt worse and worse during the morning.  By lunchtime I admitted to Aunty Joy that I wasn’t well.  She wasn’t pleased but I think she believed me. I looked flushed apparently and probably had a temperature. She sent me home....   but not before I’d used my Etam’s discount to buy myself a Christmas present - a new dressing gown! I didn’t go back.

2.) Do you have a pet peeve? If so what is it?

One of the things I hate about the world we now live in is litter.  I cannot get my head around why some people think it’s all right to take a mattress or an old fridge out into the countryside and dump it.  Are they blind or completely insensitive to the way they’re despoiling the landscape?
But I suppose they think “out of sight out of mind.” If they don’t live there, they don’t care.  Their unwanted ‘stuff’ becomes someone else’s problem.  I don’t approve of this attitude but I suppose there is a kind of logic to it.

I know I’m very privileged to live in a beautiful part of the country, and that life for the majority is ever more urban. But this doesn’t explain why people are so slovenly in the towns where they live and work? Why do they open their car windows and throw bottles, cans, and cigarette packets out into the street? Why do they empty their car ash trays onto the ground in car parks?  Why do they drop the paper and packaging from their fast food purchases on the pavement?

Wherever people live, isn’t it more pleasant to live in surroundings that don’t have plastic bags caught in the branches of roadside trees, where there isn’t filth and detritus scattered across pavements, and clogging the gutters?

3.) Would you describe your style as shabby chic, timeless elegance, eclectic, country or ___­­­_?

I don’t buy fashion magazines and don’t pay a lot of attention to what the well dressed woman is wearing. And certainly not the well dressed woman of my age!  Most of the time, I have to admit, I’m just shabby - there’s not much chic going on. I don’t go shopping for clothes frequently, but when I do I love a bargain.  I will never buy something just because it’s cheap, however. I have to be able to envisage what it will go with.  The colour is all important.  You may not think it to look at me, but I will agonise over what goes with what, and will never wear two items of clothing together (even at home in shabby mode) that, in my view, clash.  

But one thing is constant. I am usually in trousers. For many years I have been afflicted by the conviction that as soon as I put on a frock I look like Edna Everedge; and that I look like a Christmas tree as soon as I wear any jewellery other than earrings.  This doesn’t mean I never wear dresses and necklaces, but it’s very infrequent. If I’m going out to a daytime event - lunch, or seeing friends - I suppose you’d describe my style as country - if by country you mean jeans or chinos, Tee shirts, shirts, cardigans etc. But going out in the evening my style is more eclectic. So when preparing for a ‘do’, I love teaming items from my wardrobe that individually might be old, cheap, or a lucky find from a ‘hippy’ shop, and creating ‘an outfit’.

4.) Tell me about your book { FLY OR FALL } and where you got your inspiration for it?

When I first started writing FLY OR FALL it was not as a result of a single, lightning bolt of inspiration. I did then what I’d done before and what I’ve done since, I began to think about my own life and of some incident or experience I could use as a jumping off point.  The only event I came up with was moving house, which we’d done a few years previously.  I’d moved house quite willingly - in fact it had been at my instigation - but for whatever reason I came up with the idea of a woman who is somehow forced into moving against her will, and I began to reflect on the possible ‘hows’ and ‘whys’.

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.

5.)    How much of your book is realistic

I’d not got very far with FLY OR FALL when my life was thrown into chaos by two events which mirrored plot points in my developing story.  My mother died and my husband was head-hunted. We moved to a part of the country neither of us knew, or had any connection to.  At this point I decided to put the book away for a while.  In fact, it stayed on the shelf for many years, years in which I tucked away a lot of real life experience that later emerged in the book. 

6.)   Who is your role model? Why?

   I’ve wracked my brains over this question.  There are many individuals I admire, but I        wouldn’t call them role models.  So I’m going to plump for my mother.  As I said               earlier, she died too young, and I’ve missed her very deeply ever since. 
    I’m lucky to have my parents’ letters, those written to one another through the war             years, which shines a light on their early relationship. My mother was from a very             respectable but, working-class, family. My father’s background was middle-class, but       his arty, musical and theatrical parents had fallen on hard times. He patently saw                  himself as a bit of an intellectual, a Professor Higgins to his own Eliza Doolittle. At the     time my mother accepted his own estimation of himself and, in her letters, seems               almost overawed and grateful to be the beneficiary of his pearls of wisdom.     
    The woman I knew was very bright - probably brighter than her husband - feisty,                  independent, strong and well read.  My dad was a graphic designer but she was an           artist in her own right - an oil painter. She was interested in left-wing politics, was an          early adopter of environmental concerns and of the ideals that inspired women’s lib.          Most of all, she wouldn’t take any old nonsense from my dad.  
7.)  What are your ambitions for your writing career?

Money, fame and celebrity would all be welcome, although the older I get, the less I hanker after the last two. In fact, money isn’t all that important either.  Enough to get by is all I need.  The only thing money provides is the evidence that you’ve sold a lot of books, and that is my primary ambition. I want people to read my books and to tell me they enjoyed them.  Although I wouldn’t say no to a six figure advance and a film deal!

8.)  Share one fact about yourself that would surprise people.
    My life is an open book and not very surprising.  OK, there is one story which I don’t         think I’ve told in public. I was about 18 or 19 when I met a bloke at a party who took a       fancy to me.  His name.... well, perhaps I won’t tell you his name, but he claimed to            work as a publicist in the music business.  I had largely overcome my aversion to shop     work by this time and, following two years at art college, was working at Peter                   Robinsons (a ‘ladies’ department store in the Strand, which no longer exists but which       spawned Top Shop). He called me at work one day and I asked me to visit him at his         flat, that evening. Although I wasn’t very experienced in those days, I thought the very       least a man could do was give me a bit more notice, and take me out. But he claimed to      be banned from driving, which might well have been true, although I suspect the real         reason was that I wasn’t glamorous enough to be seen in public with him.  I wasn’t a          model or a pop singer or a starlet.
     I made excuses on that occasion, but he was persistent and kept phoning me.                      Eventually we made a date. His flat was in Ovington Gardens, a road off                            Knightsbridge, just along from Harrods, so I guess he was (or might have been) what        he said he was*.  The flat was fairly bohemian, as far as I recall, but it had an elaborate      quadraphonic sound system which he was patently proud of.  I think he fed me and            played me music, and then it was time to get down to the real business of the evening.    
    As I said, I wasn’t very experienced, but I did like kissing.  So there was a bit of that,         and then things began to get a bit more heavy and serious.  But I wasn’t keen on things       getting more heavy and serious ... and I bit his tongue.

    I have never known a mood to change so rapidly.  I think I really hurt him.  He was           upset and angry, and I very quickly left the flat. And that was the last I saw of him.  I         am quite convinced he had every intention of tumbling me into bed, and possibly                keeping me as a spare ‘not to seen with’ girlfriend. But my biting his tongue put paid          to that plan.  And, as it happened, he’d have had a hard job getting me into bed unless        he wanted to force the issue. I was very choosy and for all his connections to a world I      longed to be associated with, I just didn’t fancy him enough. He had ginger hair!

    *NB. I have just googled this man and, apart from him now being dead (I’m obviously       sorry to hear this) his Wikipedia entry says he was “ the most successful and sought           after rock publicist in London” (60s/70s). Would my life have been different if I hadn’t     bitten his tongue?
     Blurb for Fly or Fall...
     Will the allure of the unknown ever overcome the fear of stepping away from solid                 ground? 

Wife and mother, Nell, fears change, but it is forced upon her by her manipulative husband, Trevor. Finding herself in a new world of flirtation and casual infidelity, her principles are undermined and she’s tempted. Should she emulate the behaviour of her new friends or stick with the safe and familiar?

But everything Nell has accepted at face value has a dark side. Everyone - even her nearest and dearest - has been lying. She’s even deceived herself. The presentiment of disaster, first felt as a tremor at the start of the story, rumbles into a full blown earthquake. When the dust settles, nothing is as it previously seemed. And when an unlikely love blossoms from the wreckage of her life, she fears it is doomed.

The future, for the woman who feared change, is irrevocably altered. But has she been broken, or has she transformed herself?

My Links
To connect to me:
TORN (universal) or 


FLY OR FALL- (universal)


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.


  1. Thanks for having me Rachel. It was fun. gx

  2. Interesting interview and I love the tongue biting incident! Angela Britnell

  3. Thanks Angela. Glad you were able to get the gist. At the time of the incident I felt a bit guilty, but didn't tell anyone as I felt it made me seem gauche and naive. Since then I half forgot about it until this man appeared as a 'talking head' on a programme about the music business, back in the nineties. "I went out with him" I exclaimed. My husband was not particularly impressed. He'd have been even less impressed if I'd told the whole story. We didn't 'go out', we stayed in. And as for the rest.........