Author Spotlight: Toni Allen

Who is Toni Allen?

Toni Allen is the author of the Jake Talbot Investigates mystery series, which began with Visiting Lilly (2014) and continues with Saving Anna (2015). She is currently working on the third book, Finding Louisa, due out in 2017. As a photographer of note, a columnist, and an acclaimed tarot reader and astrologer, Toni draws on her extensive experience as a psychic to bring personal awareness of the paranormal, from both the believer and non-believer’s point of view, to her Jake Talbot Investigates series. Toni has had numerous non-fiction articles published, and won awards for short fiction and poetry, including a first prize awarded in a competition judged by noted mystery writer P D James. She’s the author of two bestselling books on tarot, The System of Symbols: a New Way to Look at Tarot, which is now also published in Italian by Spazio Interiore; and Sex & Tarot.

She lives in Surrey, England, where she happily includes pink grasshoppers in her macro-photography.


What motivated you to write your first novel?

If we’re talking about my very first novel, that’s going back quite a few years now. At the time I had a pet rabbit, which I jokingly told everyone was a hare. I mean, it’s much more interesting to have a large white hare as a pet than a soppy white rabbit. Rumours spread about my white hare, and I started to make up elaborate stories about the hare going on a mystical journey, which I told my work colleagues. One day my boss called me into his office and said, “You’ve got to write this story down. Every night I go home and tell my kids your story, and they want to know what happens next, and I don’t tell it half as well as you do.”

I was so amazed that anyone wanted to hear my weird fable-like story, that I did as he asked and developed it into a short children’s book of about 20,000 words. Encouraged by a friend who worked in the local library, I touted it around publishers and agents, and although I had excellent feedback, it was never published. The whole experience was very stimulating, and I went on to learn more about the craft of writing and hone my skills.

With my more recent work, Visiting Lilly, my inspiration came from literally seeing a scene in my head. I saw two young men visit a beautiful woman, only she appeared to be living in the past. One young man, Frankie, returned home, but the question that struck me was, “What happened to the other young man?” The clarity with which I saw this snapshot of someone’s life spurred to find out more about him. Who was he? Who was his friend? What happened to his friend? Most of all, who was the fascinating woman? Once I had answers clear in my head it became obvious that Frankie could not tell his own story, and that it could only unfold as an exciting mystery with the help of a detective. Thankfully, Jake Talbot appeared on the scene, offering the perfect protagonist to explore Frankie’s need to visit Lilly.

What strange things do you do when you write? Do you listen to music? Watch television? Eat Cheetos?

I don’t do anything strange while writing, I’m English, I drink tea. I do, however, require total silence in which to write, and lots of tea. Did I mention tea? Yes, I drink tea.

What was your greatest challenge writing this story and how did you overcome it?

With my novel Visiting Lilly, Book1 of my Jake Talbot Investigates mystery series, one of the greatest challenges was the timeline. The story revolves around a young man, Frankie Hayward, who claims he’s met an old woman, Lilly, when she was young and beautiful. Time travel is flagged up as a possibility for his apparent delusion.

With constant references to the past and characters’ personal histories, I had to ensure when writing that I knew precisely how old any character was in any particular year. I also had to know how many years ago events were meant to have taken place, and how old each character was at the time. Trust me, this is not easy to keep track of.

There are probably a hundred high tech ways to maintain this type of detail and continuity, but I found the easiest method was to draw a timeline diagram on a single sheet of A4 paper.  I drew one line down the centre of the page and had everyone’s ages in relation to each other growing out of it a bit like a family tree. I pinned this onto my working-notes board which then gave me an instant visual reference. It sounds easy, but it took me three attempts to get the maths right and to slot everyone into place correctly!

If you could spend the day with one of the characters in this book, who would you choose and what would you do?

That’s a hard one, because I’d like to spend a day with both Talbot and Frankie. Individually they’re great guys, but together they can be extremely funny. If I have to choose one then I’ll opt for Talbot, he’s a detective inspector and I can follow him around as he gathers clues and ploughs in without getting his facts straight. When he gets told off by his superior, Superintendent Bailey, I can commiserate with him, and tell him that I know he’s done nothing wrong – well, not as much as Bailey believes he has.

We will, at some point, drink tea.

Of course, we’re talking about spending a whole day with Jake Talbot, and even within the space of twenty four hours he can end up in some kind of scrap or another, so I just hope it’s him who’s going home with the black eye and not me!

What’s next for you and your writing career?

Currently I have two books available in my Jake Talbot Investigates mystery series, Visiting Lilly and Saving Anna. The third book, Finding Louisa, is finished and due to be edited.

Meanwhile I’m developing a new mystery series about a young antiques dealer. It’s along the lines of Lovejoy meets Midsomer Murders. I’m currently writing the first novel, and although more ‘cosy mystery’ than my Talbot series, it will still have just as many twists and turns for fans to get their teeth into, plus a whole host of new and exciting characters.

What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas?

Sometimes ideas literally pop into my head and I’m ready to go. At other times a theme springs to mind and I develop a story idea around that. With my new mystery series, I knew I wanted to write about my passion for antiques, so I started to build a character profile for my protagonist and devise a suitable storyline for him to inhabit. With a murder mystery I like to have a rough idea of ‘who and why’ in my head before starting to write. That doesn’t mean that things won’t change as I write, but I always have the end in mind.

What is something you are not good at doing?

When writing I’m not particularly good at transitions in the middle of scenes, those awkward spaces in a novel when I need to get my characters smoothly from A to B without spending half an hour getting into the car or walking down the road. I tend to write the transition then go back and take out 90% of what I’ve written, constantly parring it down to the bare minimum. Sometimes a scene break won’t do the trick, and sweating over the perfect transition is the only way forwards.

What message do you want readers to get from reading the book?


In Visiting Lilly I’m exploring future technology and the possibility of what we may have already invented or is just around the corner. A hundred years ago the idea of today’s mobile phones would have been laughable, but now they sit in everyone’s pocket. I’m also raising awareness of autism and of how people who are perceived as different are often treated by others.

My message, if there is one, is simple, just because you’re not aware of something existing doesn’t mean that it isn’t already out there, somewhere.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I take photographs, mainly of wildlife, scenery and funky reflections. Walking with my camera is one of my greatest pleasures. It gives me time in the countryside, to connect with nature, to chat with fellow photographers I bump into, and to clear my mind and let the creative juices flow. You’ll find my photos on my Instagram feed at

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

The best piece of advice I ever received was to keep on writing. It’s impossible to become good at something without practise, practise and more practise. Thinking about writing is one thing, getting it down on paper is quite different.

What are your favorite characters that you have created?

To date my favourite characters are Jake Talbot and Frankie Hayward. To me they’re incredibly real because Talbot is always beating himself up for never quite doing well enough, and Frankie is constantly trying to find some self-acceptance. Once they meet each other and interact, they subtly point out each other’s foibles, often with dry wit and humour. They’re usually up to their necks in solving some crime or another, but they still take time to listen to each other’s problems, each one pointing out to the other that friendship is about talking things through and not bottling it up, which they both have a habit of doing.

What is one piece of advice you would give to your teenage self?

To follow my passion and never give up. Life throws boulders in one’s path, but once those obstacles are overcome, get back on track and stay there; until the next boulder needs to be removed.

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