It’s my pleasure to join the blog tour for Tall Chimneys by Allie Cresswell today! My thanks to Rachel for the invitation! I have a wonderful extract to share with you, right after I tell you a little something about the novel.
Author : Allie Cresswell
Title : Tall Chimneys
Pages : 417
Publisher : n/a
Publication date : December 12, 2017
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.
Tall Chimney’s remote and secluded situation means that it is the ideal place for clandestine political meetings. In 1936, its owner, Colin Talbot, uses the house to entertain his right wing friend Oswald Mosley and to try to espouse others to the Fascists’ cause. One of those invited is Edward VIII, a known admirer of Hitler’s Nationalism, and, with the King, comes Mrs Simpson.
Tea with Mrs Simpson
She was huddled into a small armchair she had pushed as close as possible to the fire. She was poking ineffectually at it but it hardly emitted any heat – somebody had put damp logs on it and only a thick, acrid, yellowish smoke rose from the grate. Mrs Simpson wore a thin cardigan over a plain blouse. The scarf she had worn earlier was draped across her shoulders. I have no doubt the cardigan was cashmere and the blouse and scarf both silk, but they seemed to provide no warmth. Her face was pinched; a deep frown slashed her bony forehead which her starkly parted hair made very prominent in her face. I could see she wore a good deal of make-up but it did not disguise her discomfort. Bright red lipstick made her mouth seem very wide, and emphasised a blemish on the left side of her chin. Apart from the poker her hands were empty; she didn’t seem to have any reading material with her, or anything at all to occupy the lonely hours she must have known she faced while the men talked.
I bobbed a curtsey – probably wrong – and went across to fire to mend it, taking the poker from her hand, which was ice cold.
‘I’ve been sent to see if you need anything, ma’am,’ I said. ‘I can see immediately that you do.’
She gave me a wan smile and leant back in her chair as though exhausted. I soon had the fire burning better, and pulled the thick curtain across the window, to block out the draught. I lit the lamps and rang the bell. ‘Bring tea,’ I said, ‘hot tea, and toast, and that thick mohair blanket from the settle in the hall.’
I took the liberty of tucking the blanket around her legs while she dozed, easing off her high heeled shoes and chafing her feet, which were frozen. She allowed my ministrations without a murmur, and when the tea came I poured her a cup without asking and placed it on a table at her side. She roused herself enough to drink it, both hands cupping the fine porcelain, before lapsing back into sleep. Satisfied I had done everything I could to bring her ease, and with the fire now burning very brightly and the room altogether more cheerful and comfortable, I gingerly took another armchair and settled to my sewing.
Presently I looked up to find her eyes on me. ‘What’s your position here?’ she asked.
I decided it was pointless to prevaricate. ‘I hardly know,’ I admitted, putting down my work. ‘I am Colin Talbot’s sister. I live here permanently but you wouldn’t call me the lady of the house. Up until a few weeks ago I lived here alone, practically.’
‘Ah! You’re the reclusive sister.’ Her American accent was pronounced; it would be clichéd to call it a drawl but it certainly had a languorous quality to it.
I felt a brief surge of anger. Her privacy had been protected at all costs, I fumed. Everything had been cloak-and-dagger to the extent I hadn’t even known she was coming. My affairs, in contrast, it seemed, had been thoroughly discussed. ‘I’m not a recluse,’ I retorted. ‘At least, not by choice. It seems to have been my fate, though. It’s the part that has fallen to my lot, for good or ill. I can’t deny, before the visit of these gentlemen, and yourself, Tall Chimneys has had no visitors since 1929.’
‘Good God!’ she ejaculated, and then, more musingly. ‘What bliss.’
We sent for more tea. She smoked cigarettes. I told her what I could about the house – its history, as far as I knew it, about my brother George and the difficulties his death had caused. She seemed very interested to know how I had coped, all alone. ‘I wasn’t quite alone,’ I mumbled, ‘not all of the time, anyway.’
‘I see,’ she said, knowingly. ‘Now I think about it, something was mentioned. I know Mr Cressing’s work, in fact. I attended an exhibition of his, I believe.’
I said, wryly ‘It seems you know all my secrets.’
‘Don’t you know, dear, there are no secrets,’ she replied, bitterly.
We spoke of John for a while, and of the art scene in general. Mrs Simpson was surprisingly well informed. As I described John’s work I was conscious of a pit of longing for him deep in my stomach. ‘I wish he was here,’ I blurted out at last.
‘I’m sure you do,’ she said, warmly.
From the library the hum of masculine voices had been growing louder as we talked. Subliminally I had heard the tread of feet along the corridor, the chink of glasses on a tray. ‘The men have called for drinks,’ I said. ‘They must want whisky instead of tea. Perhaps the meeting has come to a close.’
‘I’d like some whisky too,’ Mrs Simpson said, stretching her feet out and groping with a silk-stockinged toe for her shoes. ‘I ought to go and freshen up. Will you show me the way?’
I showed her up to her room where, I was pleased to see, a fire burned and the best towels had been laid ready. Her maid stood by to draw her a bath, evening clothes were laid across the bed and on the dressing table a case of jewels stood open.
‘You won’t join us for dinner, I am told,’ she said to me as she paused on the threshold. I shook my head.
‘That’s a pity. Send the whisky, will you?’
Tall Chimneys is available for purchase!
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.