Today, it’s my pleasure to introduce Gilli Allan as my guest on the blog. Gilli is the author of “award winning contemporary romantic fiction with an edge”. I’m delighted she has agreed to share her Five Photos with me.
I thought long and hard about how to approach this topic. 5 photos of me?
5 of places I’ve enjoyed visiting? 5 of my own books? 5 of my husband, who has made the life I lead possible? Writing them down makes the choices I’m considering feel a bit self-centred. But I suppose that’s the point of this exercise. In the end the topic of my 5 pics was inevitable.
As a pre-pubescent I looooooved babies! This maternal obsession was compounded by the late pregnancy of my favourite Aunty – Jean Gibbs. Jean and John were not blood relatives, they were my parents’ best friends and their only child, Sara, didn’t arrive until I was eleven. (Some of my writing friends will know her now as Sara Moody, hostess, doyenne, CEO and owner of Arte Umbria, where some of you may have enjoyed writing courses and retreats.) I had plenty of opportunities in Sara’s very early years to cuddle, feed and help to change nappies. I couldn’t wait to have a baby of my own to play with. I have no pictures of me with Sara when she was a baby. In this, my 1st photograph, she is probably between 2 and 3. I am around 13.
Soon enough the upsurge of hormones kicked me over the line from child to teenager, and to my next obsession with pop stars and boys. The latter was an arms-length interest. I never so much as spoke to any of the local lads who took my fancy, but I was able to adorn the wall over my bed with pictures of my pop-singer heart-throbs. By the time I was sixteen and at art school, the very idea of babies in general, or even of having my own in the future, was entirely unappealing. I just wasn’t interested. I doubted I would ever deliberately choose to have my own child. And for many years after I came to this conclusion, my determination lasted. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to change my mind on the subject when I met my husband to be, Geoffrey Williams. But fate had other ideas. I became unintentionally pregnant two years after we married, but I miscarried at 18 weeks.
From then on, the die was cast. It became an emotional imperative to have my own child. But my second attempt came to an end at 21 weeks. Once I’d recovered physically and emotionally, and we stopped using contraception, I immediately became pregnant again. This time I was monitored very closely, and I spent eleven weeks in hospital during the mid- trimester. I got this image of my baby at 36 weeks gestation by taking a photograph of the ultra-sound screen. Print-outs were not yet available.
Father and son
Third time lucky. This time there was a successful outcome. To say our son Tom (Thomas Williams) was doted upon is not an exaggeration. My 3rd photograph is of him at four weeks old with his dad, Geoffrey.
Mother and son
Towards the end of my primary school years I had begun writing ‘books’. With the advent of my interest in boys, these sagas became more overtly romantic and literally endless. But the hobby was put away with other childish things when I moved into a shared flat and began ‘grown-up’ life. After a few false starts I eventually landed my job as an illustrator in advertising but I gave it up when I had Tom. In his early years I began to consider what I could do from home to earn money. I didn’t want to go back to commercial art. On the face of it, it might look like an obvious free-lance career, but it was a high-stress – feast or famine – occupation and, pre-internet, the practical difficulties made it unattractive. Why not try my hand at writing romantic fiction again?
I found that I slotted back into it naturally. I loved writing. So much so that as Tom grew older and I was questioned if I was planning to add to the family, I would say, “my books are my babies”. I tried to keep my writing habit separate from maternal duties, but you may have noticed by now, I have an obsessive personality, and occasionally the need to just get this bit down overwhelmed my responsibility to be as good and focused a mother as I should have been. I recall being told-off by my son, “Mummy, you’re boring! You’re always type-writing!” and I still feel rightly ashamed and guilty. But the upside of my neglect (and it was only now and then!) is that I imprinted on Tom the notion that writing must be a fun thing to do. He ‘wrote’ (dictated and then illustrated) his first book about Ghosts and Ghouls, well before he started at Byron, his infant school in Coulsdon, south of London.
We moved to Gloucestershire when Tom was seven. More by luck than judgement this coincided with the change from infants to junior school. As he was growing up, the inevitably turbulent teenage years passed without too many battles. He was always a reader, and his enthusiasms – like singing and playing the guitar – were easy to approve of (or tolerate). Luckily the heavy-metal music he preferred at a high volume was usually confined to his bedroom two floors up at the top of the house! And we operated a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about what he got up to outside the home. Coincidentally, my 4th photograph is actually taken outside our home around a decade after we moved to Gloucestershire, when Tom was around 17.
I know my husband and I are fortunate to have always enjoyed a good relationship with our son. I suppose I wouldn’t have chosen this subject if that had not been the case. We didn’t just love each other, we got on. We were interested in the same sorts of things – art, culture, history, literature. And as he got older he began to display a growing fascination and focus on early mediaeval history. We were obviously delighted but not entirely surprised that after university his eventual career choice led him to the British Museum, where he became project curator of the Viking – Life and Legend exhibition in 2014. Almost more significant from my point of view was that he decided to write a children’s book to accompany this exhibition, about Harald Hardrada (the Viking King who invaded Yorkshire in 1066 but was defeated by King Harold (Godwinson) at Stamford bridge just before the Battle of Hastings). And Tom asked me to illustrate it! I’d not done any significant art for many years and I was excited and fearful, but it turned out to be a joy. ‘King Harald – The last Viking Adventure’ was published by British Museum Press in early 2014. And my final Photograph is of me at a joint book signing with Tom, after he’d delivered a talk to a sell-out audience of children at the Hay Literary Festival in 2014.
Our polymath son, Thomas Williams, now has his own family in London, by which I mean his wife, Zeenat, and their cat, Pru. He plays and sings in a band, Driftway; he is currently studying astronomy and mediaeval Latin. And ‘Viking Britain’, his first adult book, went into paperback this summer. He is close to the completion of his second book on Viking London. My husband and I are naturally very proud. His success as an author has already far surpassed his boring old mum, who was always “type-writing”!
Please forgive me if this sounds like one long boast!
Not at all, Gilli. You simply sound like one very proud mum, and I think you’ve earned that right. Thanks so much for sharing your photographs and the stories behind them. It’s been lovely to find out more about you.
More About Gilli
Gilli Allan began to write in childhood, a hobby only abandoned when real life supplanted the fiction. She didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge but, after just enough exam passes to squeak in, she went to Croydon Art College. Gilli didn’t work on any of the broadsheets, in publishing or TV. Instead she chose to be 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 son that Gilli began writing seriously. Her first two novels were quickly published, but when the publisher ceased to trade, she 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 has recently begun book illustration.
Gilli Allan’s three books, TORN, LIFE CLASS and FLY or FALL, are published by Accent Press.
Fly or Fall
Wife and mother, Nell, fears change, but it is forced upon her by her manipulative husband. Moving to a house she dislikes, in a town she has no connection to, she is cast adrift from all her previous certainties. Her life is further disrupted by the renovations her husband feels essential. She finds herself almost living with a firm of builders, one of whom irritates, intrigues and exasperates by turns.
After taking a part-time bar job at the sports club she is gradually drawn in to the social scene of the area. Finding herself in a new world of flirtation and casual infidelity, her principles are undermined and she is 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 believes it is doomed.
The future, for the woman who feared change, is irrevocably altered. But has she been broken, or has she transformed herself?
You can buy Fly or Fall here.
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