She is, by her own description, ‘a Dales girl’ through and through, the daughter of a farmer raised in the heart of Yorkshire’s countryside who now calls Settle her home.
Perhaps not surprising then that the Yorkshire Dales, and indeed the rest of the region, provides much inspiration for author Diane Allen, who also goes by the pseudonym Gracie Hart.
“It’s lovely to be able to write about Yorkshire,” she says. “Proud of Yorkshire I am, a real Yorkshire girl.”
For 12 years now, Allen has been writing, but that career was preceded by a stint as a glass engraver and then many years working for a publishing firm.
Allen was born in Leeds but raised on the family farm in the heart of the Dales.
“It was absolutely lovely,” she recalls of her childhood. “We would get outdoors early in a morning and come back late at night. It was just gorgeous. I love the Yorkshire Dales... I loved being a farmer’s daughter, there’s nothing like it.”
Allen, who is a mother-of-two and grandmother to four, is releasing her latest book, The Baker’s Girl, in paperback under her pseudonym Gracie Hart, next month.
Set in Victorian Leeds, it follows the story of Meg, who is down on her luck. Her mother is desperately ill and her sister is still in school so it is up to her to support them both.
All Meg knows to do is bake and desperation leads her to Ted Lund, the miserly owner of a local bakery. In a moment of uncharacteristic kindness, he takes pity on Meg and offers her a job. But Ted’s charity ends there.
He’ll save money at any costs, cutting corners by using sawdust in his bread, ignoring vermin in his flour, and paying Meg a pittance. But despite her mistreatment, Meg can see what the bakery might yet be. Using her baking skills, she hopes to turn the shop around.
Allen says she takes inspiration from “everyday life and listening to people’s conversations”, as well as her love of history. The Baker’s Girl is no exception.
“If a story takes my imagination from history, then I create something around it,” she says.
“I love researching history around Leeds,” she adds, when asked about the idea for her latest book. “My daughter has a bakery shop in Settle so a bit comes from her as well. My mother was a good cook and I’m a good cook as well so a lot of the recipes in there are family ones.”
Family has been central to Allen’s life and career. Her first job, until she married, was as a glass engraver at Dent Glass.
“My family originally come from Dent and they moved back to Dentdale so I got a job at Dent Glass...It was very daunting at the time. You had to be very precise and have a good eye for detail.”
After having her own family, she joined Magna Large Print Books, a publishing firm in Long Preston, working her way up to manager level.
“I’ve always read, four or five books at least a week. But that was where my love of sagas came into my life,” she says. “I picked up a pen one day and decided I could write.... We were running out of sagas at work and I jokingly said I can write a saga. Lo and behold I did.”
She has now been writing for just over a decade and has written several family sagas, making it her full-time occupation around eight years ago.
She was first published under the name of Diane Allen by Pan Macmillan and then under the name of Gracie Hart, published originally by Ebury. She now joins the Simon & Schuster family too.
“It’s more than a full time job now,” she laughs. “I’m busier than I’ve ever been.”
The Baker’s Girl, by Gracie Hart, is published in paperback on April 14, priced £8.99. Out in hardback now.
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