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
I am lucky to be able to feature a guest post by the writer of Tall Chimneys today. Allie Cresswell tells us why she writes and what it means to be a writer.
Years ago I sat on a bus in front of two women who were discussing the colour of the Mother-of-the-Bride outfit one of them had bought the week before.
‘What colour is it?’
‘Hard to say, orangey.’
‘Like a tangerine?’
‘Oh no! Not so vivid.’
‘More of an apricot?’
‘Mmm. But pinker.’
I was hooked; crucially invested in establishing the colour of the frock. ‘Peach?’ I muttered into the damp air of the bus.
‘Peach?’ they took my suggestion up.
The Mother of the Bride considered. ‘On the peach side of apricot,’ she agreed, at last.
I relate this incident because it illustrates a lot about why I am a writer and the writing process. Situations like the one on the bus are meat and drink to a writer. All of life is material to her ever-eager eye and attentive ear. I am a terrible eaves-dropper, as demonstrated above, and I am very nosey. I ferret story out of the least snippet of overheard chat, from encounters briefly glimpsed in the supermarket aisle. For me, they are laced around with narrative potential. Before I know it I am inventing dialogue, defining character, conjuring a world of history from the peculiar slouch of a hat over an eye, or a stretched-out silence over a neighbouring restaurant table.
Writing is my way of coping with the fragmentary nature of life; we never see everything, we never know the whole story. I’ll never know where on the colour spectrum that lady’s outfit belonged, or how it looked when it was on, or whether (as I rather suspect she did) her neighbour turned up to the evening-do in something very similar (‘if you’d said yours was cantaloupe, I’d never have worn this old thing.’). Life’s narrative is always being interrupted by time or diverted by distance. But as a writer I can draw the threads together again and reconnect the severed ends. I like the wholeness of it, the unity.
I use my writing to test out and explore universal themes, to question big ideas like family (in Relative Strangers) and consequences (Lost Boys). I use it to tread the roads I have not taken in real life as well as to anatomise in surgical detail every false step and foolhardy choice I ever made. They say that writing is good therapy, and it really is; you can probe the most delicate and profound of issues and often make more sense of them on the page than you can in real life. Of course you can control the outcome, too, unravelling fashion faux pas to knit back into a successful garment.
The effort involved in arriving at this truthfulness is considerable. It is a process of second-guessing: would he really say that, given what has gone before? What does a thing really look like, smell like, sound like? It has to be right to be real. The efforts of the women on the bus to establish the colour of the frock – the nudging and tweaking, the counter-suggesting, honing and refining – is exactly the process I go through when trying to describe something, to make it vivid and tangible.
Writing is all about connection. I felt connected to the women on the bus, a small cog in the machine of their relationship. It is an essential aspect of our humanity, this desire and ability to communicate and connect with one another, to be part of something that is bigger and more important than just ‘me’. I mean the shared understanding of one person with another, and of the individual with the wider world. Don’t we, when we hear a piece of music, or stare out at night into the star-peppered sky, feel some inner part of us reaching out and becoming part of it? Aren’t there moments, with a dear friend or, sometimes, even with a stranger, when we know a better peace than we can ever have alone? We experience, just for those moments, a kind of synchronicity; what Mr Spock calls ‘mind-meld’.
For me, writing is spiritual. When things are going well, I lose myself in it (in reading, also). I have no corporeal awareness while I am writing. Hours pass without my having any consciousness of them. I only know what I am reaching out towards something, trying, in the creative process, to touch some truth. Choosing words, dismissing them, choosing better words, sharpening and clarifying, adding texture and hue which will give it – whatever it is – real substance. And then painting in the shadows, the echoes and smells, the antipathies and sudden moods, those resonances which emanate only from that which is true. I take in what life offers me and garner it into the crucible which is my imagination. What happens there, I don’t know – some spark, some mystery I can’t explain. The elements rearrange themselves; they coalesce with snippets and fragments I have forgotten about, some metamorphosis happens which is all of me and yet at the same time nothing to do with me. Something entirely new and independent emerges and I set it free in the hope that it will enrich others as it has enriched me.
Thank you Allie for taking the time to write such a fascinating post and Rachel Gilbey for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for Tall Chimney’s.
Tall Chimneys can be bought from Amazon.
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, one granddaughter and two grandsons, is married to Tim and lives in Cumbria, NW England.
Tall Chimneys is the sixth of her novels to be published.