I’m delighted to feature an extract from Allie Cresswell’s latest novel, The Lady in the Veil, plus a Q&A. Firstly, here’s what the book is about…
What secrets hide beneath the veil? When her mother departs for a tour of the continent, Georgina is sent from the rural backwaters to stay with her cousin, George Talbot, in London. The 1835 season is at its height, but Georgina is determined to attend neither balls nor plays, and to eschew Society. She hides her face beneath an impenetrable veil. Her extraordinary appearance only sets off gossip and speculation as to her identity. Who is the mysterious lady beneath the veil?
The Lady in the Veil follows on from The House in the Hollow, but stands just as well alone.
And now for the extract…
The ability of the newcomers to ignore her thick drapings made Georgina shrivel with shame. They must have been warned, she thought, they must have been prepared. But how ridiculous, how odd they must think her. What kind of creature was she—an aberration, a crank—that she must be excused, explained!
All around her was merriment. Georgina sat in the midst of it, but it eddied around her as though she were an impervious rock in a lively sea. The longer it went on the more ridiculous Georgina felt, swathed in her veil, separated from the company and not able to meet them eye-to-eye. The effect of the humble but exquisite little parlour, the unpretentious company, the genuine laughter, made her feel more and more alien and at last she rose from her seat and walked to where her cousin sat near the door.
‘Will you walk outside with me, Cousin George?’ she asked.
They went through a wicket gate to a place that was half scrub, half shingle, the bank of the river Thames. Before them the river, having swung in an enormous meander, flowed south. The lowering sun was behind them and cast their shadows on the smooth, oily surface of the water. The outlines were distorted, exaggerated. Georgina looked at the outline of herself as it lay, undulating slightly, on the murky floe.
‘I wanted to ask you, Cousin George,’ she began, ‘about my mother. About her past. She has never told me, though I have begged her often enough. Of papa she will speak, and of our friends the Burleighs. But of her childhood she will utter not one syllable.’
George opened his mouth to speak—to demur, she was sure—but she went on. ‘No. I must know. And if not from you, then from whom?’ She grasped the hem of her veil and held it out before her, almost as though she would pull it away. ‘In my mind I believe that my appearance poses some danger. And it is true that, in the past, my face has had the most unaccountable impact on people. But I am ready, Cousin George. I am ready to emerge if only I can know the truth.’
Allie was kind enough to answer a few questions…
Could you tell us a little about your new book and what inspired you to write the saga?
When I wrote Tall Chimneys I had no plan to make it part of a saga. That book covers the years 1910 to 2010 and includes some of the most significant historical events of that era. I thought that would be that. But no. The house, and the Talbot family, got under my skin and I found I wanted to know more about the history of both. I wrote The House in the Hollow, which covers the years of the Napoleonic War, and introduces the Talbot family just as they become wealthy. The new book, The Lady in the Veil, takes place in 1835, and describes, in part, the consequences of the events of the previous book. I find I’m still not done. There will be at least two more books.
Do you work with an outline or go wherever the characters take you?
An interesting question. The facts of history are indisputable, so writing a historical novel has to take account of those and, to some extent, they must direct the plot. But, aside from that, my writing is character-driven, and they regularly do things that take me by surprise. I’m always happy when that happens, because it means that they have an element of spontaneity and autonomy that will make them leap off the page and into my readers’ imaginations.
What kind of books do you enjoy reading for relaxation?
I tend to write the kinds of books I myself would enjoy reading, so I like character-driven fiction, written in flowing, lyrical prose. I’m steeped in the classics of the nineteenth century: Austen, Trollope, Dickens, Wharton and James. Of newer writers I enjoy Hannah Kent, Laurel Savile, Kazuo Ishiguro and Patrick Gale. I like books that surprise and challenge me. Recently I couldn’t put Stuart Turton’s The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle down.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I felt miserable as a teenager. I was not one of the popular crowd, being neither sporty nor pretty. I had a reputation for being a swot. I had a small coven of friends but girls can be so unkind at that age and we spent as much time being enemies as we did being friends. If I could go back and whisper advice into the ear of that tubby, beleaguered girl as she struggled home under her burden of homework and hormones it would be: Don’t worry. It will all come right. Just be yourself. One day you will have exactly the life you dream of.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Read, and think about writing! And eavesdrop on other people’s conversations, always such a fertile source of plot and character!
I’m lucky to live close to my children and grandchildren, and I love spending time with them. We have a large garden and I do enjoy gardening, but only the easy kind where someone else has done all the hard digging! We have two dogs and walking on the beach with them is a joy. I knit and crochet.
When did you first realise that you wanted to be a writer?
It’s hard to pinpoint. I always enjoyed writing stories and, aged about seven, asked for a stack of writing paper for Christmas. Another year I got a portable typewriter. Just asking for those things tells me that I wanted to write, but I didn’t believe I could do it as a career until much later. It took the encouragement and belief of others to make me realise that it might be possible. I only know that when I am writing I feel more thoroughly at peace, more wholly me than at any other time.