For my 60th Interrogation I chat with Linda Gillard, the author who stuck 2 fingers up to traditional publishing and succeeded better than ever
What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in.
I write mixed-genre books and I cover a lot of different genres, several in each book. (When I was traditionally published I was a marketing nightmare.) Genres I’ve covered are
Literary fiction, Romance, Romantic comedy, Psychological drama, Cosy mystery, Paranormal, Family saga, Romantic suspense
So for example UNTYING THE KNOT has elements of rom-com, psychological drama, paranormal, family saga and literary fiction.
Clearly no one particular genre excites me enough to stick to it! I do like mixing things up and I found the marketing constraints of traditional publishing a creative straitjacket. Readers don’t seem to mind genre-busters, but publishers hate them because they don’t know how to market them. I’m much happier as an indie, writing the books I want to write in the way I want to write them.
How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any?
When they read the finished manuscript, my ex-publisher told me HOUSE OF SILENCE needed a complete re-write. They said they wouldn’t be able to market it unless I changed the ending and effectively changed the genre. I declined to do that because I believed in the book as it stood, so I paid back my advance. Eventually I indie-published HOUSE OF SILENCE on Kindle and it became a bestseller.
I mainly write to entertain myself. I wrote my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY with no intention of even looking for a publisher. It was just something I did when I couldn’t find the sort of book I wanted to read, so I decided I would write it. That was 1999 and I’ve been doing that ever since. Over the years I’ve been traditionally published and now I’m indie and publish myself, much more successfully than the professionals did. But I always say what I want to say, in the way that I want to say it.
But there’s just one thing where I do consider the reader. Over the years I’ve had flak from readers about “bad language” in my first novel. The worst thing is only the F-word used as a verb and an adjective, but you wouldn’t believe how upset people get. Someone went to the trouble of giving EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY a bad review on Amazon, saying she’d given up reading after one chapter because of the F-word.
Now I’m not that bothered about reader sensitivity when it comes to language you hear on TV, in the cinema or in the school playground, but I think if a few readers are going to get that distracted by swearing and if they’re going to make it a big issue, then I’m not going to use it unless I have to (and sometimes in the interests of realism you do have to.)
I now think very hard before using words that might upset the sensitive and those who must live very sheltered lives. It annoys me to have to do that, but these days reader-reviewers have so much power. I don’t think it’s fair to give a book a 1-star review after reading one chapter, but since Amazon doesn’t have a DNF button, that’s what you get. There’s still some “bad language” in my books, but in every instance now the use is carefully considered and, in my view, essential.
How do you manage plot bunnies (ideas that invade your mind that aren’t usually helpful to the story you’re writing but breed like...er...bunnies)?
They don’t actually bother me. I say yes to pretty much anything that comes into my head, but I can do that because I don’t plan my books much in advance. I sometimes don’t even know how the book ends or which man the heroine will end up with. This used to worry me, especially when I read about other authors and their chapter-by-chapter detailed planning. I don’t do that. I think if I knew exactly what was going to happen and how it was going to happen, I don’t think I’d want to write the book. I’d have no curiosity. And that’s what makes me write. For me writing is a process of discovery – finding out about the characters, what they did and why. So if I get some wacky idea, I don’t reject it, I explore it and often incorporate it. I love to complicate things.
I used to worry about painting myself into a corner plot-wise, creating situations I wouldn’t be able to resolve, but over the years I’ve learned to trust the process. I discovered that if you let it, the unconscious mind will write a much better book than the conscious mind.
How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the you that you’d most like to be? Or be with ?
I fall in love with all my heroes! I became obsessed with one and it took me years to get him out of my system. I change my mind about who my favourites are but at the moment I’m very fond of the ghost hero in THE GLASS GUARDIAN and Magnus, the cracked-up soldier hero of UNTYING THE KNOT.
I would like to be like some of my heroines and I‘m not (apart from perhaps grouchy insecure & blind Marianne in STAR GAZING!) I think in terms of character I’m more like some of my conflicted and tormented heroes. A lot of me went in to Calum, the hero of EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. He was a teacher who’d cracked and I was a teacher who’d cracked. Keir, the hero of STAR GAZING is someone who sees images in terms of music and vice versa. That was easy for me to write because I’m like that. It was also easy for me to write about how much he loved his island home of Skye because I’d lived there for 6 years and knew I was going to have to leave.
It never feels as if my characters are autobiographical when I’m writing the book. They seem very separate and I just feel like the channel, the mouthpiece they speak through. But when I look back, I can see that the characters’ concerns are my concerns and some of their traits are mine.
So I think my main characters are deeply personal, but when I’m writing, they are themselves. In fact they’re my imaginary friends. They appear to have minds of their own (like children, they won’t always do as they’re told!) but I realise they must be the product of my imagination, so their concerns will be largely my concerns.
In one of E M Forster’s novels a character says, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” That’s how it is for me. Sometimes I don’t really know why I’m writing a book or why I’m creating a particular character (why on earth did I want to write about bomb disposal?!), but when I “see what I say”, I find out what I think. So I’m not just discovering things about my characters and story, I’m finding out things about myself.
Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?
Oh dear me, yes. My husband and our kids learned to recognise the distracted look, the vague responses, the faraway look in my eye… It all meant I was only physically present. Mentally I was in a parallel universe!
I think there comes a point when I’m writing a novel where I find it difficult to emerge fully from the world of the book. I find I’m doing real life on automatic pilot because really I’m not there. I might not even be me. I might feel I’ve been taken over by one of my characters. I’m thinking like them, maybe even moving like them.
Then towards the end of writing, I find I have to enter into the world of the book completely and stay in it until a draft is finished. Imagine taking a very deep breath, then diving under water.. It feels a bit like that. Certainly when I’ve finished a book, I feel completely drained and emotional and then it feels like I’m finally coming up for air.
What do you like most about visiting KUF/GR/forums?
I love to find out how readers choose books, what they’re looking for, what makes them re-read, what makes them stop reading. I’ve always enjoyed engaging with readers because so often they show you something about your book that you didn’t know was there. I think of readers as co-creators. A book isn’t really finished until it’s been read. Readers bring so much of themselves to a book and so of course do authors. A book exists in the space between the author’s text and the reader’s imagination and that means it’s a different book for every single reader. I think that’s so exciting!
What is on your near horizon?
Recovering from breast cancer. Most of 2012 was about my cancer treatment and I didn’t get any fiction written. So 2013 is going to be a year in which I finish a new novel (I hope) and get back to full health. I’ll also be bringing out one or two more of my ebooks as paperbacks.
Where can we find you for more information?
I have a website – www.lindagillard.co.uk and you can follow my author page on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/LindaGillardAuthor
Thanks very much for interrogating me. Your questions were really interesting to answer.