Interview with Allie Cresswell

If you could compare yourself to other, better known writers, who would they be?
I aspire to write literary fiction, with equal emphasis on both those aspects of the genre, so if you tend to read writers who give equal weight to the story they are telling and to the words they choose to tell it, chances are you'll like my books too. Naming names is tricky (how dare I aspire to such august company?) but Ian McEwan, Salley Vickers and Patrick Gale are writers I admire and aspire to emulate. In terms of subject matter, I love the everyday, every-person aspects of Anne Tyler's books. I'd like to think that (with the exception, perhaps, of Game Show) all my stories are the kinds of things which could take place in your neighbourhood to your friends and acquaintances.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy is when I sit down in the morning, still wearing my dressing gown and with my first cup of tea still warm in the cup, just to look over what I wrote yesterday, and look up to find it is half past four in the afternoon and the tea has gone cold, with no sense of how time has passed in between but 1800 good words on screen.
Who are your favorite authors?
I love the nineteenth century greats; Trollope, Dickens, Austen, Wharton, James and the Brontes, but unfortunately none of them has produced anything new for some time. The story-telling talent of writers like RF Delderfield, Howard Spring and AJ Cronin was magnificent but sadly they are rarely read these days. Recently I re-read 'How Green is my Valley' and was overwhelmed by the poesy of Richard Llewellyn's prose. I am on the look out for newer writers. The Reading for Pleasure class which I teach to lifelong learners has really helped. I love Patrick Gale and Alice Munro, Anne Tyler and, Donna Tartt.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Our dog Moppet is always so happy to see me!
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Reading, reading reading. I believe all writers are readers. It isn't about filching ideas or trying to catch on to the tail of a popular trend, but just about immersing yourself in the world of fiction, walking in other shoes, to broaden your experience and emotional canvas.
I am a member of some Goodreads review groups where I have read some awesomely good (and some cringingly awful) novels. Writing reviews which are honest and constructively critical takes quite a bit of time. Recently two novelist friends have asked me to read their draft manuscripts, which was a great honour.
Twice a day Moppet and I take to the woods and fields around our home for walks, which provides me with good thinking time.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes. I was about 8 years old. Our teacher asked us to write about a family occasion and I launched into a detailed, harrowing and entirely fictional account of my grandfather's funeral. I think he died very soon after I was born; certainly I have no memory of him and definitely did not attend his funeral, but I got right into the details, making them up as I went along (I decided he had been a Vicar, which I spelled 'Vice'). My teacher obviously considered this outpouring very good bereavement therapy so she allowed me to continue with the story on several subsequent days, and I got out of maths and PE on a few occasions before I was rumbled.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
I have ten favourites and you can see them listed on my website at allie-cresswell.com along with an explanation of why I like them but I think the top five would be; Jane Austen's Emma, Anthony Trollope's The Last Chronicle of Barset; Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wilfell Hall, Anita Shreeve's Fortune's Rocks and Donna Tartt's The Secret History.
Describe your desk
It's a bit of a shambles as I run the house from here, so there are bills and things which need filing, notes to self to remind me about things I'm supposed to be doing, a tangle of wires to charge the 'phone, iPad and Kindle, a cup with cold coffee in it and a pile of books which haven't made it to a shelf yet. I have pens and pencils in a washed out yoghurt pot, and photos of my children and grand-daughter stuck onto the wall.
The desk has been constructed by my lovely husband in the smallest bedroom at the back of the house, overlooking the terrace and fields beyond. It is big enough for us both to work here side by side, when he is at home.
Just at the entrance to the room, on the landing, is Moppet's bed, where she lies while I'm working until she gets bored, when she tries to sit on my knee and I have to type with one hand.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Tiger in a Cage sprung from a situation I encountered a few years ago. I became aware, among a largish group of friends and acquaintances who had been thrown together by random circumstances, of the potential for what I will describe as 'inappropriate feelings' to develop. I just decided to pursue that imaginatively. How would it feel to find that you were drawn towards, say, the husband of your friend at dinner parties? What if you found that you wanted to spend the whole evening at a party chatting to the man who lived across the street? What strategies might you employ to get yourself a seat next to him at the dinner table? On the other hand, what evasive action might you take - this after all, would be a total no-no, wouldn't it?
So I invented a group of neighbours and let the thing play itself out.
Writing in the first person was quite a challenge - this was a story I felt needed telling from the inside. Molly is naive and hopelessly idealistic about people. She has high expectations of others as well as of herself. She doesn't see what's plain to the reader - so she's an unreliable narrator - and she is something of a busy-body, but I hope the reader forgives her and wants her to be happy.
What are you working on next?
My next book has as its working title 'The Hoarder's Widow' and is a development of a story which has been languishing in a drawer for years and years.
We once went to view a house which was packed to the gunnels with every kind of random article you could name; furniture, rugs, mirrors, toys, tools, bikes, bags of rubble, defunct electricals.... We did actually buy that house and the first time we were really able to see it properly was when we got the keys. It had taken the vendors three days to move out - even the rubble had been carefully transported to their new home.
Of course I now know that the couple - or, should I say, the gentleman - was a compulsive hoarder. We see a great deal about this on television nowadays. Hoarding is a branch of compulsive obsessive behaviour and is often triggered by a trauma early in life, but is also thought to be a trait which runs in families. My imagination was fired by his wife, the poor, hapless partner of his habit. (I think of her, now, immured in some house surrounded by a further thirty years of his accummulations, probably still having to step over bags of rubble to get to her cooker, assuming the towers of debris haven't collapsed on top of her and trapped her for perpetuity.) I wanted to imagine an alternative destiny for that poor woman, but in doing so I have to come up with a rationale for why she put up with her husband's hoarding, and an explanation as to what had triggered the hoarding in the first place......
You have chosen to self-publish your books. Why is that?
Basically because I couldn't get a publisher interested! of course I'd rather publish in the mainstream. The editorial and marketing assistance I'd get would be invaluable. However publishing, like everything these days, is a business and publishers are looking for big sales figures and film spin-offs. Also, there are a so few publishers and so many writers - thousands and thousands of us - sending manuscripts off to them every week. It would be sheer luck to find my submission on top of an editor's reading pile, then s/he would have to really like it within the first five pages or so. Finally s/he would have to ask; can this be a best seller? Can we make money out of it?
So the chances seemed slim and I took an alternative route.
Indie publishing, unfortunately, because it is totally unvetted, is full of poorly written novels. You can upload your manuscript in a few moments with only the format checked, not the content, and many people do so before their book is ready. Readers' reviews are crucial if a book is to rise above the crowd, and will go some distance towards the publicity budget and marketing expertise I'd have at my disposal if I were ever lucky enough to secure a publishing deal, so, if you read one of mine, please return to one of the ebook sites and write a short, honest review.
Published 2014-08-11.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.