I’m thrilled to welcome Scottish author of seven brilliant novels, Linda Gillard, to Celtic Connexions. I’m so excited to host you here today. I’ve read all of your novels and loved them. I’m anxiously waiting for number eight.
Shall we get started?
When did you first get bitten by the writing bug?
1999. I was at home recovering from a nervous breakdown. I’d recently given up teaching which I’d found very stressful. I taught in an unruly school in an impoverished area. One day a disturbed pupil punched me during a lesson and I decided I’d had enough.
I was diagnosed with depression and eventually mild bipolar. I recuperated at home doing a lot of reading and quilt-making, then I read a book called Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise deSalvo. One paragraph sent me straight to my PC and I started to write – almost automatically – the opening page of what became my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY.
I was writing for myself, just an escapist novel that was something like an alternative autobiography, but before long I was hooked on writing – and completely in love with my hero!
I’d been an actress and a journalist before I trained as a teacher and writing put me in touch with words and creativity again. I realised writing was the only thing I wanted to do and it led to a new and successful career as a novelist.
I was 53 when EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY was published, so I always tell people it’s never too late to start writing and you never have to retire!
Are you a plotter or a pantster or a combination of the two?
I used not to plot very much and I’ve never begun a book knowing how it will end. Readers often describe my books as “un-put-downable” and I wonder if that’s because even I don’t know how they’re going to turn out. I write to find out what happens.
I think if you let it, your unconscious mind will write a better book than your conscious mind. Your conscious mind will go for quick fixes, easy answers. Your unconscious will surprise you and the reader.
When I was writing HOUSE OF SILENCE
http://www.amazon.ca/HOUSE-SILENCE-Linda-Gillard-ebook/dp/B004USSPN2/ref=sr_1_2_twi_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423578897&sr=8-2&keywords=linda+gillard I didn’t know until quite late on which man the heroine would end up with. The decision I eventually made was one my publisher wanted to reverse and that was one of the reasons I withdrew the book. I didn’t want to re-write for what I considered to be commercial reasons.
I’m now working on my eighth novel and I’ve planned the last few books a bit more, but there are always surprises. I can be writing a scene and some twist will suddenly strike me, or I’ll realise something important about a character’s back story that I didn’t realise. I always listen to my characters and write what they tell me to write, even when I think the story should go in a different direction. Your characters always know best.
Ed. note. House of Silence was the first novel written by you that I read. It’s stuck with me and I want to read it again but most of all, it made me look for more books written by you.
You parted ways with your publisher with House of Silence, because they said it would be too difficult to market, if I remember correctly. Any regrets?
No. It was the best thing I ever did, both creatively and financially, although at the time it felt like professional suicide. I hoped I’d get another publisher, but after 2 years my agent hadn’t found one. We just had a lot of nice rejection emails saying editors liked my books but couldn’t see how to market them.
My fans kept asking for a new book and I had two that my agent had been unable to sell, so I decided to publish them myself. This was in 2011 and indie publishing was quite new. I didn’t expect to sell many copies, but HOUSE OF SILENCE became a Kindle bestseller. Amazon selected it as one of their Top Ten in the indie author category. I re-published my out-of-print backlist and 4 new books and I now earn a living from writing non-genre fiction which is quite rare.
But it’s a lot of work being indie. I’d rather be writing than doing admin and marketing, but I’ve really enjoyed working with a designer on my covers. In my opinion two of my traditionally published novels were sabotaged by their covers and I had a title foisted on me that I hated, so it means a lot to have books that have titles and covers I’m proud of.
How much research do you have to do in advance of sitting down to write?
In advance, not that much. I do preliminary research but start writing as soon as I can. I think if you do too much research it can take over. It’s tempting to include fascinating facts even though they don’t actually help tell the story. I keep in mind Elmore Leonard’s advice to writers: “Try to leave out the parts readers skip”!
You need to do just enough research to be able to write the story. As you write, it becomes clear where the gaps are. But you can do more research later, after you’ve finished the book if necessary.
I recall seeing pictures on Facebook you’d taken while on a tour of a stately home for use in an upcoming book (possibly your work-in-progress). How many actual locations – castles, mansions, cottages, etc. make it into your novels as fictional ones?
I usually base my locations on real places and buildings but they’re adapted. I lift bits from several different places and combine them to make a new location. So the decrepit Scottish castle in CAULDSTANE
http://www.amazon.ca/CAULDSTANE-Linda-Gillard-ebook/dp/B00HZYAIOM/ref=sr_1_1_twi_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423579166&sr=8-1&keywords=linda+gillard was inspired by several that I visited in the Highlands – Cawdor, Crathes, but mainly Craigievar in Aberdeenshire.
I visit places as part of my research but I also use photographs. I visited a lot of ruined tower houses for UNTYING THE KNOT http://www.amazon.ca/UNTYING-KNOT-Linda-Gillard-ebook/dp/B005JTAMQO/ref=sr_1_3_twi_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423579351&sr=8-3&keywords=linda+Gillard but for the restored version of Tullibardine Tower I had to rely on photographs of towers that had been refurbished as family homes.
Of all the books you’ve written to date, does one remain your favourite?
I think my best book is A LIFETIME BURNING but my favourite – the one of which I’m most fond – is HOUSE OF SILENCE. I really enjoyed writing that one, though the plot did rather strain my brain! Both HOS and ALB are family stories and I enjoy writing about extended families.
Of all the places you’ve lived in Scotland, is there one would you like to return to or would you like to stay in your current location?
I would like to return to the Isle of Skye where I lived for six years. I wish I had a holiday home there, but it wouldn’t be very convenient. Skye is a long way. When I lived there hardly anyone came to see me from the south and I didn’t see much of my adult children, so I think I’d just have to go back for holidays. But not in the summer. Skye midges are legendary for their ferociousness!
There are three words that come to mind when I look at these photographs of your home on Skye – beautiful, rugged, remote.
Linda Gillard lives in the Scottish Highlands and has been an actress, journalist and teacher. She is the author of seven novels, including STAR GAZING, short-listed in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and HOUSE OF SILENCE, which became a Kindle bestseller and was selected by Amazon UK as one of their Top Ten “Best of 2011” in the Indie Author category.