If you have ever been anywhere near a writing group or book festival of any kind, you will know that writers come in all shapes and sizes, from big robust circles, to tiny stabby stars. They come in different flavours too, from cool, classic vanilla, to eyeball-exploding, triple-hot chilli sauce.
Thrillers With Attitude is on a mission to find out what makes these weirdly-shaped and strangely-flavoured writers tick.
My guest this week is bestselling author, Linda Gillard.
Welcome to the Smorgasbord, Linda. What were you like at school?
A swot. I was academic, deeply religious and starred in school plays. I couldn’t decide whether to become a nun or an actress when I left school. I chose the latter.
Tell me something about the evolution of Linda Gillard the author.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t make up stories in my head. The first time I dared to think, “Maybe I could do this” was as a teenager in the ‘60s when I read the romantic suspense novels of Mary Stewart. She was a big influence and I still re-read her with pleasure.
After I abandoned acting, I worked for some years as a freelance journalist, but I didn’t start writing fiction until I had a nervous breakdown and had to quit teaching. As I convalesced, I started writing a novel for something to do. That was Emotional Geology. I became addicted to writing and kept writing novels – seven so far and the eighth should be out next year.
When did you first describe yourself as a writer?
After I got my first publishing deal in 2004. I’d been writing fiction for some years, but didn’t think I could describe myself as “a writer” until someone actually paid me for it. But I knew in my heart that I was a writer, even if I didn’t earn money doing it.
What is your style of writing?
I’ve no idea. Accessible literary fiction?… I certainly don’t write in any particular genre. But I think the journalism background shows. I cut savagely and like to think every single word earns its keep. I can’t bear waffle.
Are you inspired by any writers in particular?
I’m not sure I’m inspired by them – it’s more a question of bow down and worship – but these writers (in alphabetical order) have been influential: the Brontës, Dickens, Georgette Heyer, Daphne du Maurier, Dorothy Dunnett, Margaret Forster, Shakespeare & Mary Stewart. I would also cite Bruce Springsteen’s songs as a literary influence.
What are you working on right now?
My eighth novel which has the working title, The Trysting Tree. It has two interweaving story lines – one set in 1914 and one in 2014. It’s about memory and trauma. Most of my books are.
How much research do you do?
Enough to get started on the book, then I research as I go, looking up whatever I need to know. I’m wary of the distractions of research. It takes so much time, even with the internet. I prefer to make stuff up, then check later to see if I got it right.
How long does it take you to write a book?
It varies. I took a two-year break in the middle of writing Emotional Geology when I was getting my kids off to university and moving house. Now I write full-time and hope to complete a book in little more than a year, but life intervenes. I was treated for cancer in 2012 and subsequent disability has really slowed me down, physically and mentally. This year my first grandchild was born and that’s proved a delightful distraction from writing. I’m definitely getting slower and now I self-publish there’s so much more to do.
What is your writing routine – do you have a favourite time of day for writing?
I don’t have a routine. I write whenever I can make the time and find the energy, but mornings are best.
Do you have any particular writing habits?
I draft on lined A4 using disposable propelling pencils from WHS. I try to write as fast as I can without thinking too much about the quality. The editing starts when I type it up.
I can write straight onto the screen but I write better longhand. Chemotherapy damaged the nerves in my fingers so I’m no longer a very fast or accurate typist.
What inspires you to write?
Landscape. People. Problems. People with big problems, isolated in a real or interior landscape. The characters always come first, then a sense of place. I don’t actually need a story to start writing, just a situation that gets me thinking, “What if…?”
Any advice for aspiring authors?
Write for writing’s sake. Don’t expect publication or financial reward. You’re very unlikely to get either unless you go down the indie route. Writing is its own reward anyway. When you feel angry about your unsolicited manuscript being rejected, remember: nobody asked you to submit it!
If you’re thinking of going indie, write the best book you possibly can and make sure it’s properly edited. Ideally, wait until you have several books ready to publish. It’s hard to make an impact with just one.
I also recommend that any would-be indie author joins the professional body, The Alliance of Independent Authors. They offer advice, support and friendship. Their closed Facebook group is a mine of information, generously shared.
What are you reading right now?
The Singing Sands by Jospehine Tey.
Is there any one book you would like to have written?
The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett.
Who would play Linda Gillard in a film adaptation of your life?
Young or old Linda? Old Linda would be played by Helen Mirren.
What advice would you give to the young Linda Gillard?
Travel more. Get more exercise. Make more friends. Live as if you only have 10 years left, because you never know…
A few quick questions to finish – favourite book?
The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett, her six-book series of historical novels set in the 16thC.
Gin & tonic – with lime please.
Field of Dreams
I don’t watch TV but I tend to binge on DVD series. My favourite so far has been Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.
I love all kinds of music and couldn’t live without it. I’d rather go blind than deaf. It’s really hard to choose a favourite composer, but today (and most days) my choice would be Haydn.
Where can readers find out more about you?