Thursday, 19 November 2020

New Book Release Spotlight and Author Guest Post: The House in the Hollow by Allie Cresswell

A Characterful House

My new novel The House in the Hollow is a prequel to Tall Chimneys. Both feature a fictional house in Yorkshire, built at the bottom of a combe or hollow, surrounded by trees and in some strange way cut off from time.

I can see the house in my mind’s eye with absolute clarity. It is built of grey stone, the same stone that forms the scree and rocky outcrops of the combe. Time has weathered the stones and they are furred with an atlas of greyish green lichen. The house is flat-fronted, with a porticoed door and deeply mullioned windows. At first the windows seem blank and blind, coldly forbidding to any visitor. But after a while this expression is revealed as a defensive shyness; the house protects its inhabitants from intrusion. Although shielded from the worst ravages of the weather that roars across the broad-stretched moor above, the bowl around the house has its own climate; of frost, of rain, of mist and of a churlish, swirling wind that scours the crater and sculpts the trees. When summer comes it is glorious, but brief.

A century separates the two women who inhabit this house in the two novels, but both find it to be a place of exile as well as a place of refuge. Its situation is so remote—its very existence not known by many—it has the potential to make them mad with loneliness and despair. On the other hand the outside world becomes increasingly frightening and malevolent to them as they are left, alone and almost friendless, within its walls. What is to be trusted, out there? Here, at least, they are safe. Aren’t they?

For both women the house and its environs begin to exert a subtle influence. It becomes, for them, much more than stone and slate and wood. For Evelyn, the heroine of Tall Chimneys, it begins to exude a jealous control, in some peculiar way encouraging all her fears and misapprehensions about the world beyond its boundaries. The survival of the house and her own future become so entwined that it seems, at one point, that the continuance of one will mean the demise of the other. Like a jealous lover, it makes her choose. For Jocelyn, the heroine of The House in the Hollow, the house has a benign, healing effect. Though she is sent there as a punishment and endures, at first, great unhappiness, in time the house’s very isolation from the cruelty and deception of the world acts as a balm.

Perhaps it is because we have all recently spent so much time at home that the ambivalence of it has struck me so forcefully. For those in small apartments, places without access to outside space, over-crowded houses or for those who live alone, home must have seemed at times to be a prison. The lyric from The Eagles’ Hotel California comes to mind; ‘You can check out, but you can never leave.’

For others, where home is comfortable and the house-mates pleasant and where there is outdoor space, lock-down has given new appreciation. For them, there really is ‘no place like home’.

The House in the Hollow, the house that later becomes Tall Chimneys, is both the malevolent place of nightmares and the picturesque house of dreams.

The Talbots are wealthy. But their wealth is from ‘trade’. With neither ancient lineage nor title, they struggle for entrance into elite Regency society. Finally, aided by an impecunious viscount, they gain access to the drawing rooms of England’s most illustrious houses.

Once established in le bon ton, Mrs Talbot intends her daughter Jocelyn to marry well, to eliminate the stain of the family’s ignoble beginnings. But the young men Jocelyn meets are vacuous, seeing Jocelyn as merely a brood mare with a great deal of money. Only Lieutenant Barnaby Willow sees the real Jocelyn, but he must go to Europe to fight the French. The hypocrisy of fashionable society repulses Jocelyn—beneath the courtly manners and studied elegance she finds tittle-tattle, deceit, dissipation and vice.

Jocelyn stumbles upon and then is embroiled in a sordid scandal which will mean utter disgrace for the Talbot family. Humiliated and dishonoured, she is sent to a remote house hidden in a hollow of the Yorkshire moors. There, separated from family, friends and any hope of hearing about the lieutenant’s fate, she must build her own life—and her own social order—anew.

Amazon UK               Amazon US

Both books are available at discount prices this week.

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