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An Interview with Timothy Allsop (‘The Smog’)

Actor and writer Timothy Allsop’s debut novel The Smog is published by Amper & Sand. The Smog follows Jean Clarke and her brother Harry as they race through the 1952 London smog to find Harry’s missing wife, Phyllis. 

What prompted you to write The Smog?
The idea behind The Smog was to explore what happens when characters radically had to rethink how they express their identity or the elements of their life to which they attach their identity. I was keen to explore a woman who redefines herself through action, in this case taking a lead role in uncovering the mystery surrounding her missing sister-in-law, Phyllis. I thought the setting of the post-war smog of 1952 presented the perfect opportunity to explore the blurring of what people are and what they want to be. It also was an ideal setting for a mystery thriller.

What do you like about Jean Clarke?
What I like about Jean is that she is a sleuth who has a secret of her own. Her search for her missing sister-in-law awakens in herself a desire to make her own way in life. Through her journey the reader begins to understand the pressures on an unconventional woman in the 1950s. Some of the issues she raises are as pertinent as ever to discussions of how we classify people.

You tell the story through the alternating perspectives of Jean and her brother Harry. Why?
The story alternates between Jean and her brother, Harry, with fairly equal weighting. I wanted to set up a plot in which our two protagonists were following similar paths of discovery while often at odds with each other. At some points they are sidekicks and at others almost adversaries. I hope the reader will constantly be challenged by the differing perspectives on events.

Tell us a bit about your literary influences...
I am a great fan of Southern Gothic and the prose of Willa Cathar, William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. However, I'm interested in writers who manage to explore female and male characters with a deep understanding of their psychology. In this way I think Iris Murdoch, William Maxwell and Patricia Highsmith are strong influences. Highsmith, in particular, wasn't afraid to unite strong narrative with complex characters.

Why did you want to write a novel?
I've always been interested in writing, perhaps even before I became an actor. I like the expanse of novel writing and the way words can still be crafted so that you discover new ways of thinking. I know that virtual reality (‘VR’) is coming as an immersive experience, but there is still something remarkable in the immediacy and intimacy of both writing and reading a novel.

And finally: any other projects on the horizon?
My next novel explores marrying into the American south from the perspective of a British gay man now and as a woman in the 1950s. A young man heads to North Carolina to wed his American boyfriend, who comes from a Southern Baptist family. While there, he also traces his great aunt who married an American serviceman after the war and also moved to North Carolina. She dies in a suspicious house fire in 1962. It has a supernatural element and draws on my love of Southern Gothic.

The Smog is available in e-book format through Amazon.