It’s ‘Meet the Character’ time again and this week popular novelist Gilli Allan is interviewing Eleanor Hardcastle, from her latest romantic novel ‘Fly or Fall’.
Let’s find out a bit more about the book
Wife and mother, Eleanor (known as Nell), fears change, but change is forced upon her by her manipulative husband, Trevor Hardcastle. Moving to a strange town, to a house she doesn’t like, her feelings of isolation are not improved by the further disruption of building work. Taken on by her husband, Lynch & Son begin the modernisations that he feels are essential. Trevor is becoming unrecognisable to her, and her increasingly troublesome and difficult children unfairly blame her for an alteration to their lives they didn’t ask for.
Her family are not the only ones who can change. After making new friends, Nell is gradually drawn into a social-circle unlike anything she’s previously experienced. She begins to look at life differently, to let go of some of her prejudices and to enjoy herself. But this world of flirtation and casual infidelity is more insidious and dangerous than Nell realises. Her principles are undermined and she’s tempted. Should she emulate the behaviour of her new friends or retreat to the safe and familiar?
But Nell discovers that everything she 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 believes it is doomed.
For the woman who feared change the future is irrevocably altered. But has she been broken, or has she transformed herself?
It sounds Intriguing, doesn’t it? Let’s move onto the interview with Eleanor:
Hello Eleanor, or do you prefer Nell?
Most people call me Nell. I don’t mind either way but I draw the line at Nelly.
I’ve been told that you didn’t really want to move to Downland. Why? What’s wrong with it?
There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just…. It was a bad time for me. My mother had just died. My husband, Trevor, who I thought was happy with his life, suddenly wanted to quit teaching. Then, out of the blue, we got the eye-watering offer for our house in Battersea. Theoretically it was my decision … it was my house after all … but I knew that my vague presentiment of impending disaster was not sufficient reason to persuade Trevor. He was likely to accuse me of going doolally. As I couldn’t summon up any other argument for staying-put that didn’t sound wimpy and selfish, I just let it happen.
But once you’d made the move you were all right about it? You were close to the countryside, you had a garden, and the house was much bigger than the one you’d sold, it had loads of potential for improvement and you had the money to do it.
You sound like Trevor. The house was cold and ugly and old-fashioned, and its potential for improvement was part of the problem. No sooner had we moved in than we were plunged into a chaos of rubble and renovations, and beefy builders cluttering up the place.
Some women seem to like that, don’t they?
Bizarrely, Felicity, one of my new friends, claims to love having the builders in, but then she’s got a thing for Patrick….
And Patrick is?
He’s the “and son” of “Lynch & Son”, the local builders we hired to take on the work. He never made a pass at me….. Sorry, that sounds weird, like I wanted him to. Believe me, I didn’t. I’m not that kind of woman. But Patrick is infamous as a local Lothario, so I couldn’t help noticing he seemed to have no interest in me. I could see the attraction, he is a nice-looking bloke, but I didn’t like him. I didn’t know him, of course. It wasn’t until much later that I began to realise he’s a far more complex character than he allows anyone to see.
What do you mean?
He’s a chameleon. But I don’t want to talk about Patrick.
Fair enough. So, you were fed up. You didn’t like the house or the upheaval of the building work?
You make it sound trivial. It wasn’t just the house. I felt insecure and out of place, like a fish out of water, and my family seemed to be changing before my eyes. The twins became far more difficult and troublesome than they’d ever been before. I suppose it was only to be expected. It wasn’t just me who’d been uprooted from everything familiar after all, and the timing couldn’t have been worse for them. But being aware of why doesn’t automatically give you a handle on how to deal with the fall-out!
How do you mean?
In the best of circumstances young teenagers are likely to go through an emotionally turbulent stage. And they hated the fee-paying school which Trevor insisted they go to instead of the local comprehensive. I was gobsmacked. He has never approved of private education….!
I’m surprised to hear that you’re the mother of teenagers.
I was very young when I had them. It wasn’t planned but Trevor was my first boyfriend … quite a bit older than me. I admit I hero-worshipped him in those days.
But not anymore?
Does anyone feel the same about their husband, after fourteen years?
You tell me. So, there you were, feeling unhappy and depressed. What changed?
I began to make friends. And then I took an evening bar job at the sports club. I’ve probably been a bit too serious all my life, a bit too cerebral, but suddenly I was having fun. The atmosphere up in that club bar was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It was flirty and gossipy and … a bit over-heated. All at once, people … men …. were taking an interest in me! You could say my head was turned. Looking back, I can hardly credit how thoroughly I was taken in by it all, or understand why I made friends with such shallow, silly women who ran around like school girls giggling about who fancied who.
They certainly don’t sound like your kind of people.
There was one woman who stood out, whose friendship I really valued. Elizabeth is so different from the others. She is quirky, a bit alternative, but has a cool, questioning and detached view of things. But at the time, well, I was enjoying myself, buying clothes, learning to drive, listening to pop music. It was a complete illusion but I felt that my life had become exciting. And there was Trevor, becoming more and more disapproving. It had been his idea to move, to undertake all the improvements to the house, to buy the flashy car, but he was turning into a miserable old curmudgeon … not wanting to go out, querying the money we were spending, losing his temper. It was like we were on this cosmic seesaw. When I was down he was up, and vice versa. I admit I lost patience with him, and when the beautiful man I only knew as Angel began pursuing me … well, I’m ashamed to say I was tempted into behaviour I’d never believed myself capable of. And that was the catalyst.
That’s when everything fell apart. Had it just been me, my stupid mistake and the ramifications from that, it would have been bad enough. But it was like a domino derby. One thing after another. There was no apparent connection, but no sooner had one blow fallen than the next one followed. There was the incident with my daughter, Juliet … and Patrick of all people! It was a long time before I really understood my reaction to all of that. Next it was her brother’s turn to whip the rug from under my feet. Even my friends had all either been keeping secrets, or simply not telling me what was really going on in their lives. And then Trevor! Shock after shock rocked through my life.
Patrick falling off the ladder was almost the least of them, but it had the most profound repercussions of all……….
Are you going to explain any of that?
Come on. You don’t really expect me to, do you? You’ll just have to read the book.
Fascinating interview, isn’t it? And to whet your appetite even further, here’s an extract from the book
Eleanor has opened the door to one of her builders, who has just taken down the rusted metal guttering. He asks to use the loo. When he comes downstairs, instead of going outside as expected, he follows her into the kitchen.
‘I suppose you want a cup of coffee?’ I asked discouragingly, and then added, ‘Won’t you sit down?’ before he did so uninvited. I was annoyed with him, and with myself for allowing him to rattle me.
The man sat, stretching out his cement crusted legs and crossing his feet. His large, steel capped boots were almost white.
‘Prefer tea,’ he said, ‘and I don’t suppose there’s a chance of something to eat?’
‘Yeah. You put it in your mouth and chomp up and down a bit. Fuel for the inner man.’ At my silence he elaborated. ‘Lump of cheese? Bread and jam? Marmite? Honey? Anything? I’m easily pleased.’
None of the other workmen had expected to be fed. And beyond the occasional biscuit, I’d not considered offering food. I was surprised, and by now thoroughly put out by the man’s continuing presumption. I was relieved I could dislike him. Had he turned out to be a thoroughly amiable character, his continued presence around my house could have proved seriously distracting.
‘The others –’
‘No need to worry about Spike and Jazz. Gone off down the boozer.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Don’t drink. Makes me dopey. Don’t want to fall off the ladder.’
‘I wasn’t worried. I was about to say, they provide their own food.’
‘They’ve got mums. I’ve no one to look after me. Rather spend the extra ten minutes in bed than making a picnic.’ He turned the full strength of his smile on me.
‘I’ve the washing to peg out,’ I said, with a nod to the basket.
‘Doesn’t matter. I can see you’re busy.’ He made as if to get up, withdrawing his long legs.
Concerned now, and half ashamed of my churlishness, I looked at the clock. I didn’t want it on my conscience if my hypoglycaemic builder had an accident.
‘I suppose another ten minutes isn’t going to make a difference to the washing. And I need to get myself something.’ My big mouth. Of course he would take this as an invitation to eat with me. Already he was relaxing back into the chair, hands behind his head, as I pushed aside the library book I was reading and put the bread board and butter on the table. It was a bad idea to get too friendly with the men. I knew it, Trevor had reiterated it. If you get too chummy they’ll take advantage. Yet here I was, in my own kitchen, about to share my lunch with a stranger who was patently all too willing to take liberties. I opened the fridge and took out the cheese box, then dumped some plates and knives onto the table. It would have been different if I’d wanted the company, but I preferred my own. I badly wanted to be left in peace to listen to the radio. Just then, the theme tune to The Archers came on. While washing up the previous evening I’d heard the original broadcast – hard to justify a desperate desire to hear the repeat. I turned it off and sat down opposite him.
‘That looks like a bit of a tome. The Inheritance of Loss …’ As he reached for the hardback, the previous year’s Man Booker prize-winner, I noticed his large hands. Though clean now, they were ruddy, and roughened by heavy work, the knuckles pitted, scuffed, and scabbed by old and recent injuries. Instead of turning the book over to read the blurb, he glanced up at me with raised eyebrows. I wondered if he wanted a précis of the plot or a justification of why I was reading it.
‘It’s not particularly long.’
‘Looks serious. Not much of a reader, me. Apart from the Sun, of course.’
Of course. I’d no need to make clichéd assumptions about the man; he’d done it for me. Upstairs he had evidently washed his face as well as his hands; a few strands of hair still clung to a damp forehead. I wondered what it was that had initially unnerved me at first sight. His was a longish face and although I was mistaken about the depth of tan, his complexion possessed the healthy bloom of a life spent outdoors, a bloom which heightened to a tawny flush over high cheekbones. Without the disconcerting patina of rust flakes I noticed natural freckles scattered across the blunt bridge of his long nose. I’d never admired men with freckles. His eyes were not a piercing periwinkle, nor a glittering emerald, nor a smouldering, sensual brown – merely hazel. There was nothing to write home about in the hair department either. A lighter brown than my own, it was cut in such jagged layers it could conceivably have been styled with garden shears, and the faint russet burnish might only indicate it was still dusted with rust. Even the wide, perfect smile was not that perfect; one of his incisors was crooked, and a scar hooked upwards from the right corner of his over-generous mouth. Analysis proved how misled I’d been at first sight. Nice enough, but far from an Adonis.
Now he was holding the book up, apparently reading the blurb, I couldn’t see his face. ‘Nepal to Manhattan. Hmmm. Bit deep for me.’
‘But it’s not inaccessible. Yes, it covers some big subjects; radicalisation and insurgency. But a large part of it is a rather touching love story.’ I immediately regretted my qualification.
‘Ah, a love story,’ he repeated, laying the book down again and looking at me with a teasing smile. Needing to draw a line I stood up and broke eye contact.
‘A necessary part of life, but love, romance, all that nonsense is very much behind me now.’ I said crisply. I’d surprised him. His eyes widened as he brought his hand to his mouth and stroked the scar at the corner of his mouth. ‘And talking of names, mine is Eleanor. And yours, if I’m not mistaken, is Patrick Lynch?’
Oooh, that Patrick! Want to read more?
FLY OR FALL – http://myBook.to/GilliAllan
Also by Gilli Allan:
LIFE CLASS – http://myBook.to/LifeClass
TORN – http://MyBook.to/gilliallansTORN
Gilli Allan began to write in childhood – a hobby pursued throughout her teenage. Writing was only abandoned when she left home, and real life supplanted the fiction.
After a few false starts, she worked longest and most happily as a commercial artist in London, and only began writing again when she became a mother.
Still a keen artist Gilli draws and paints, and has now moved into book illustration. She regularly attends a life-class near her home, a village in Gloucestershire, where she lives with her husband, Geoff.
Gilli Allan has had five books published.
You can find out more about Gilli here:
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