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Archive for July 3rd, 2008

Linda Gillard Interview

Posted by Michelle on July 3, 2008

Having discovered this amazing author, I was very pleased to have her visit us as a Featured Author. These are just some of the highlights…

Q. Is writing something that you’ve always done? Did you write as a child, or was it something that came later in life?

A. suppose I have always written. I’ve certainly always made up stories in my head! I used to be a big letter writer too. I worked as a freelance journalist and as an actress so words have always been my thing.

I wrote my first novel many years ago when I had 2 small children and was quietly going mad at home (as you do). I tried to get that one published but after 2 years of rejection slips I gave up. I cringe now when I think how awful that novel probably was, but there were some interesting characters in it which I “recycled” in my 2nd novel, A LIFETIME BURNING. I think because I’d lived with those characters for about 18 years, it gave ALB a sense of depth and I was able to write about those lives in some detail. (ALB covers a period of 58 years in one family.)

I didn’t try for publication again until I’d turned 50. By then I’d abandoned a career as a primary teacher after a breakdown and long period of illness. I’d taken up writing fiction just as something to do – for pleasure and as a kind of therapy. The novel I began then eventually became EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, my first published novel. I’d joined a writers’ e-group and they encouraged me to try to get an agent. I didn’t think I’d stand a chance because EG was such a quirky book and had a 47 year old romantic heroine and this was in the heyday of Chicklit, so I sent off the manuscript with no expectation of success. But I found an agent who loved it (actually I think she loved my hero 😉 ) and then we found a publisher. So I began my 5th career (if you count motherhood) at the age of 53 when my first novel was published. It’s never too late for a new start! (Which is one of the “messages” of EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY.)

Q. Do you get time to read for pleasure? and if so who are your favourite authors, genres etc?

A. I don’t read that much for pleasure for a variety of reasons and this is a source of great regret. I write fulltime and I tend to work long days. I like to watch DVDs to relax. Reading when you’re writing can be very distracting stylistically and I tend to read anything but the contemporary fiction I write. If it’s good you get depressed, if it’s bad you get depressed (“Why is this selling in shedloads and I’m not?!”). So I like to read historical fiction (esp. Dorothy Dunnett whom I re-read all the time) and biography (I loved M Forster’s biog. of Daphne du Maurier) because there’s no overlap with my own work.

The other kind of reading I do is for research and I will always have a stack of books sitting on a table which I dip into, eg I read 3 autobiographical books written by blind people when I was researching STAR GAZING. For the book I’ve just finished drafting I read a biography of Enid Blyton. (Fascinating!)

But I do read some contemporary stuff. I recently discovered Sophie Hannah whom I’d recommend if you like psychological thrillers. I really admired Stef Penney’s TENDERNESS OF WOLVES. My favourite read so far this year is MR PIP by Lloyd Jones which I thought was brilliant. I also loved the Victorian detective romp, SILENT IN THE GRAVE by Deanna Raybourn.

Q. A lot of writers seem to come from either a publishing environment or have worked as a journalist before, do you think your background as a journalist helped when it came to trying to find an agent and publisher?

A. Another good question! You’re right – a disproportionate number of authors are ex-journalists. Publishers like journalists. They have a proven track record, a writing CV. They are used to being edited. They understand marketing. They meet deadlines. They are full of ideas. Perhaps most importantly they know people, they listen and research for a living, so their work is likely to have a certain depth.

There is also the factor that journalists are social animals and will have made a lot of contacts and publishing is a small, incestuous, back-scratching world where networking is an essential part of getting on.

None of this applied to me however! I was a freelance living in East Anglia and was never on the London circuit even though I wrote a column for IDEAL HOME for 12 years. And when I was trying to find an agent and a publisher for my first novel I was living on the Isle of Skye, my current home, so there was no London/journalism factor operating in my favour then. But I think being a journalist taught me how to write concisely, how to edit and how to think about marketing myself and my books.

As a journalist you are trying to write so that the casual reader will read to the end of your article and not turn the page in search of something more interesting. You are constantly

As a writer of fiction I aim to make it almost impossible for you to put my books down. As a journalist I wanted your eye to travel smoothly on till it got to the end of the piece. It’s the same aim and you use some of the same techniques. aware of the need to entertain and inform. I think this training pays off when you come to write fiction. You know that you absolutely must not bore your reader which means you mustn’t waste words and you must maintain their interest.

Q. Linda, what kind of research did you do to write from a blind person’s perspective?

A. I didn’t do a lot of research, Michelle. I read some books written by blind people that were very helpful (though none of them was written by anyone congenitally blind which was what I’d decided to make my heroine.) I researched on the internet, but mostly I relied on my imagination. It was just a question of removing any visual element from my thinking and allowing the other senses to come to the fore. I did do a certain amount of walking around in the dark or with my eyes closed. (I even tried that in the streets when there was no one around I would bump into!)

Once I’d got my brain in gear it was actually quite easy to write like this and very interesting. I enjoyed the challenge of depicting a hero according to what he sounds/feels/smells like!

I think writing in this way has changed the way I write now, even the way I think. I’ve realised how limited we are by sight. We are a visually fixated culture, but we look without seeing. We rarely bring our other senses fully into play. Writers tend to focus on the visual, to the exclusion of the other senses. Writing STAR GAZING was an artistically enriching experience for me. I realised I’d previously limited myself as a writer by just presenting a visual picture to the reader, instead of engaging all their other senses.

I must say that I never expected readers to be as positive in their response as they have been. I thought they might find the blind “point of view” a bit dull, but in fact they’ve said they’ve found it fascinating to experience life in such a different way – one they’ve never given much thought to.

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