Behind Closed Doors: Q&A With Catherine Alliot

Bestselling author Catherine’s latest release Behind Closed Doors is a poignant tale of second chances.

When Lucy is unexpectedly widowed, she doesn’t know where to turn. She seeks refuge with her elderly parents in Oxfordshire, hoping for an escape from past memories – and from her overbearing sister-in-law.

But her parents’ bungalow is falling apart, and their busy social life throws her in the path of a childhood friend she hasn’t seen for decades.

Yet as Lucy begins to move on, others start to ask questions. Is she running away from her grief? Or did she leave something far worse behind?

Published by Penguin Michael Joseph | March 4, 2021 | Hardback/Audio | £12.99

Fiction editor Claire Gill asks Catherine about her 17th book, and her own idyllic writer’s life…

When did you first start writing fiction? How was your journey to getting your first novel published?

I first started writing under the desk at work when I was bored – which was quite a lot of the time. Eventually my boss twigged and I was sacked.

I told my husband – we’d just got married, no money, big mortgage – that the bad news was I’d got the sack, but the good news was I was writing a novel. His face was a picture.

Anyway, I persevered, and sent the finished article to an agent I’d heard about through a friend, who remarkably, took it. I was incredibly lucky, these days it’s a lot harder. There was less competition then – we’re talking thirty years ago – and women’s fiction hadn’t quite blossomed.

She found me a wonderful editor and publisher and The Old Girl Network was published in a bright pink jacket. I’ll never forget walking into WH Smith in Sloane Square and seeing loads of copies all across the top shelf. I was so embarrassed I turned round and walked straight out again!  It seemed like the ultimate in exhibitionism.

Tell us a bit about Behind Closed Doors and what you hope readers will love about this book…

Behind Closed Doors is about a woman trapped in a loveless marriage, which sounds a bit grim, but hopefully it has its lighter moments. She also cares for her elderly parents who are a riot, as, in my experience, many older people are. It’s perhaps ironic that in their dotage they lend the novel its humour and amusement.

The husband is less amusing, but our heroine, Lucy, is a survivor – although she has her moments of wondering if she actually WILL survive – and when an alternative life is offered on a plate, she takes it.  Whether or not it’s legal for her to take it is the crux of the novel, so I won’t spoil things by spilling the beans here!

Your writing often deals with important subjects. Behind Closed Doors tackles the difficult issues of domestic abuse and taking care of elderly parents – along with all the relatable and often very funny foibles and pitfalls of family life. How do you juggle light and dark in your writing? And can we expect a happy ending?

Yes, as mentioned, there is a dark side to this book, and hopefully I don’t shy away from the seriousness of it. But ultimately, life goes on around Lucy, and because she is a sensitive girl, she can still appreciate the humour. That’s the secret really, to see chinks of light and to keep buggering on, but yes, it’s a juggling act.

A happy ending? Of course!

Which three books would you take with you to a desert island?

Three books on a desert island? They would be Franny And Zooey by JD Salinger, Persuasion by Jane Austen and to keep my spirits up while waiting for the ship, anything by the wonderful Jilly Cooper!

Where do you write, and what does a typical day in the writing life look like for you?

I write longhand in exercise books which means I can write anywhere. I’m sure the same is true of a laptop but I’m old-fashioned and prefer pen and paper.  I write in the garden in the summer and in my youth I’d be in a bikini, but these days a huge hat  preserves the old face.

In the winter, I’m curled up by the fire.

A typical writing days sees me writing from 9 until about 1.30, then I walk the dogs and come back starving. Because I’m hungry I eat far too much and then probably whizz to the supermarket, or see a mate for a cup of tea in Waitrose.

You’ve written an incredible number of books – this is your 17th novel! How has your writing, and your experience as a writer, changed over the years? Is it still as exciting as when you published your debut novel?

Seventeen books, I know.  It’s out of control. I suppose the subject matter has changed, but probably not the style. In the early days I wrote about young girls in flats and their boyfriends, because that’s what I knew, whereas these days I write about adult children, friends with marriage problems, and elderly parents – ditto!

Interestingly my books are now multi-generational, which they weren’t in the old days.  In the old days, my young  heroines were rather oblivious to anyone other than themselves and their own lives – how things change!

You write books set in beautiful rural settings, from Cornwall to Oxfordshire in Behind Closed Doors. Where do you find your writing inspiration?

Yes, Cornwall features a lot in my books, because that is where I spent holidays as a child, and then later with my own children. The Chilterns are where I live, so I suppose it’s only natural I write about my surroundings!

And when you’re not writing, what do you spend your time doing?

When I’ve finished a book and I’m not writing I always think I’ll play tennis, go to Pilates, do an art course or even paint old furniture in an attractive, distressed fashion. In reality, I lie by the fire eating chocolate and reading books.