May I extend a warm welcome to the talented Linda Gillard.
Hello Linda. Firstly, please could you tell readers a little about yourself and your books?
I’m English but I’ve lived in Scotland since 2001, mostly in the Highlands and Islands where some of my novels are set.
I write mixed-genre, issue-led women’s fiction and I’m told it’s difficult to put down! My books are all different. They always involve a love story but they tackle challenging themes such as bereavement, PTSD, mental illness and disability. A couple of them are contemporary ghost stories.
My first three novels were traditionally published, but I’ve been an indie author since 2011. I parted ways with my publisher over my fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE. They said it would be difficult to market and needed a complete re-write. Rather than do that I withdrew the manuscript which was professional suicide, but I really believed in my book as it stood. I hoped I’d get another publisher, but after two years my agent still hadn’t found one. We had a lot of rejection emails saying editors liked my books but couldn’t see how to market them as they didn’t belong to a particular genre.
My fans kept asking about a new book and I had two waiting that my agent had been unable to sell, so I decided to publish them myself. HOUSE OF SILENCE became a Kindle bestseller and then Amazon selected it as one of their Top Ten of 2011 in the Indie Author category.
I’ve re-published my out-of-print backlist and several new books and I now earn a modest living from writing non-genre fiction. Not many authors manage to do that.
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
I’ve had several careers and one of them was journalism. I did that for twelve years so I knew I could write, but I didn’t really think of myself as a writer. Freelance journalism was something that fitted in with being a stay-at-home mum. A later career was teaching but I had to abandon it after a mental breakdown so I started writing again, therapeutically. An online writing group encouraged me to find a publisher for my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY which was about the links between bipolar affective disorder (manic depression) and creativity.
It was published in 2005 and I was 53. It wasn’t until I was offered a contract that I thought writing might be what I would do with the rest of my life. But it wasn’t just the contract. By the time I was halfway through drafting EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, I was hooked on writing fiction. Then when EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY was short-listed in 2006 for The Waverton Good Read Award (for a first UK novel) I realised I might actually be a writer!
If you hadn't become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
Writing fiction is my fourth career – fifth, if you count raising a family. I’ve been an actress, journalist, teacher and now novelist. My other creative outlet has been making quilts, but once I took up writing professionally, I found I didn’t have much time for patchwork. But it found its way into the novels. Two books feature heroines who work with textiles and in HOUSE OF SILENCE a patchwork quilt contains clues to the mystery.
How do you carry out the research for your novels?
I do enough background reading and Google research to be able to make a start on the writing, then I research as I go along, looking up what I need to know. I’m careful with research because there’s a temptation to use what you’ve discovered. You should use as little as possible – and only the fascinating bits – otherwise readers will skip to get on with the story. Writers research so we can write a convincing story, but readers don’t need to know all that we know. They just need to believe.
Some things are difficult to research. I wasn’t able to find many sources of information about brother-sister incest (A LIFETIME BURNING) or what it’s like to be congenitally blind. (STAR GAZING.) There’s lots of information about going blind, but the heroine of STAR GAZING was born blind, a very different experience.
So sometimes I just have to use my imagination and make stuff up, which fortunately I find quite easy, perhaps because I used to be an actress. When have to imagine what I can’t research, I apparently get it right. STAR GAZING was shortlisted for various awards and one of the judges I met said she’d assumed I must be blind myself or have a blind family member. Her father was blind and she said I’d nailed his experience. But I’d never even met a blind person.
Some readers assume I wrote EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY when I was living on the Isle of Skye. In fact, I started it years before when I lived in a Norwich suburb, as a cracked-up teacher. Finding myself with lots of convalescent time on my hands, I took up quilting. I found it therapeutic working with colour and design, but as I got better, I longed to do something with words. I decided I would try to write some fiction, just for fun, just for me.
I embarked on a self-indulgent, fantasy-fulfilling novel about all the things I was interested in – quilts, Scottish islands, mountains, geology, poetry, Gaelic and teaching. The book was about a woman who went to live alone on a remote Scottish island. Pure fantasy!
Then life got very complicated and I stopped writing. There was a double bereavement, both my kids went off to uni and my husband took up a teaching post on the isle of Harris. I ended up living alone on Skye. In my solitude, I started to think about my abandoned novel. I dug it out and found to my amazement that all the things I’d imagined – moving to an island community, the enveloping silence, the blackout darkness at night, the weird shifts between past and present that take place in your mind when you live alone and rarely speak – these had all become part of my new island life. (The two hunky heroes, unfortunately, had not.)
When you're not writing, what do you like to read?
Nowadays most of my reading is research, but when I read for pleasure I relax with classic crime (Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey) and historical fiction (Dorothy Dunnett, Patrick O’Brian). One of my favourite authors is Elizabeth Jane Howard and I like the sort of authors Persephone Books publish.
My tastes are rather old-fashioned, I suppose, but for me it’s all about the quality of the writing. I recently discovered Elizabeth Goudge who writes so beautifully, I have to stop to re-read sentences. I don’t need a complicated plot or lots of action.
Which of your characters would you most like to be and why?
Hmmm… I’m tempted to think which heroine ends up with the most gorgeous of my heroes? Actually I wouldn’t mind being a few of my heroes who, apart from being rather tortured individuals, have interesting careers in theatre, classical music, psychiatry, horticulture and bomb disposal. CAULDSTANE’s Alec is a swordsmith who lives in a decaying Scottish castle.
But I think I’ll opt for STAR GAZING’s Louisa. She’s fun, fifty, single and the heroine’s older sister. Louisa looks after her blind sister and writes trashy vampire romance, about which she has no illusions. It pays the bills. She’s kind, loyal, resilient, funny and ready for anything – which is how she acquires a very unusual and much younger boyfriend, a subsidiary character who turned out to be one of my favourite creations.
If one of your books became a film, which would you choose and why?
I’ve sold screen rights to EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and the producer is currently trying to raise the finance to make a movie filmed on location in North Uist. Despite the role landscape plays in the book. I would never have thought this novel could be cinematic. It’s a small cast of characters and not much happens. The story is about how traumatic events in the past still affect the characters in the present.
The adaptation is very faithful to the original. When I read the screenplay I was pleased to see most of the dialogue is mine.
But the novel I would most like to see on the screen is A LIFETIME BURNING. That’s a family saga covering the second half of the 20th century. I think it would make a great TV series. Imagine A Bouquet of Barbed Wire meets The Forsyte Saga…
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that your latest book, THE TRYSTING TREE should be their next read, what would you say?
Did you enjoy TESTAMENT OF YOUTH? ATONEMENT? Ever felt like hugging a tree? Then click!
Linda’s website: www.lindagillard.co.uk