Tall Chimneys by Allie Cresswell
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.
Publication Date: 12th December 2017
There is nothing better than a book with an evocative, tangible setting. What would Wuthering Heights be without the brooding moor? What a loss the teeming streets of London and the busy banks of the Thames would be to Dickens’ novels. Anthony Trollope is the master of fictional geography. His imaginary county Barsetshire takes on a life on its own in his novels.
I think location should be authentic. If a writer sets his novel in Dallas he needs to know the geography, the street lay-out, the whereabouts of the rail terminus and the police station. You can be sure, if he gets it wrong, a reader will point it out to him, and rightly so. If readers are to engage with our stories we must make them believable. Similarly, if a writer uses an imaginary setting, that, too, must be plausible and consistent, so that readers can immerse themselves in it. Any wrong note will jar, and break the spell. I don’t know if you recall the film Somewhere in Time? A man literally wills himself back in time seventy or so years, transporting himself bodily through the power of his mind, but the discovery of a modern coin in his pocket breaks his concentration and he is yanked back to the present. This is not an experience we writers want for our readers!
Location should also be dynamic – it must exert an influence on the plot and the characters, or else, what is the point of it? It must be much more than a flat and immutable canvas. It must breathe and ripple and play a part. I might almost say it should be a character itself – changing, developing, vital, unpredicatable.
Location plays a large part in my latest novel, Tall Chimneys. It is set in Yorkshire, in a rural community hemmed in by moor. It is a beautiful setting, very painterly, and I introduced an artist, John Cressing, to render its colours and textures. The house itself is located in a peculiar depression in the moor, a sort of crater, surrounded by trees and invisible to the passer by. I wanted a sense of seclusion, for it to be outside of modern progress and almost outside of time itself. I hoped the house and the woman would be in a sort of vacuum, their close kinship fermented by their utter isolation. But I found the amphitheatre-like setting did occasionally echo with strains of the modern world – I couldn’t keep it out entirely. So the rise of the Fascists in the 1930s, the abdication crisis and WW2 do find their way to Tall Chimneys. The house is a shelter to the woman but it is also a huge burden of responsibility. At one point she asks herself if it is a refuge or a prison.
I have always been fascinated by houses and I wanted Tall Chimneys to have a vivid presence in the book, to be a character itself. It exerts a strange influence on Evelyn, my protagonist. In another of my books, Relative Strangers, a dysfunctional family spends a week at a country house and it acts as a crucible for all their resentments and misplaced loyalties. With all its many rooms and labyrinthine passageways, there is nowhere to hide and the family’s secrets come spilling out with tragic results. In The Hoarder’s Widow, a woman has become almost imprisoned in her house, fenced in by the towering piles of furniture and rubbish accumulated by her compulsive hoarder husband. In each case, the location of the stories – the houses and their surrounding environments – are authentic – I drew out their floorplans and gardens and localities so that I would be sure to be consistent. Each plays a part in the plots, influencing events, so they are dynamic too. I hope each is more than just bricks and mortar in the readers’ minds. I hope, like every good location, they reach out and grab the imagination, and draw the reader in.
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.