Monday, November 19, 2012

One of my first jobs was selling wigs - Interview with @gilliallan

Tell us about you.

I was born in the south east of England and looking back to my childhood self I can see that I have always possessed the story-telling gene.  Long before I was capable of committing more than a few laborious sentences to the page I routinely developed long and complex stories in my head, peopled typically with fairies, princes and princesses, and the sons and daughters of red-Indian chieftains.  And at primary school, instead of the usual playground games, I forced my friends to enact these dramas.     
Only a few pages long, my first attempt at actually writing a novel was set on a manned lighthouse ‘in the olden days’. A visiting party of ladies was trapped there by bad weather.
Attempting to secure their rowing boat from being swept away by the storm, the son of the lighthouse keeper fell on the rocks outside. From then on, confined to the chaise longue by his ‘not very serious’ injuries, he was nursed by my young heroine - one of the visiting ladies. At this point my imagination and energy failed. 
 I began this flight of fancy when I was ten, inspired by my fifteen year old sister whose ambition was to write a Regency romance.  It was the only book she has ever written (so far), but at least she finished it.  I never finished anything, but I’m nothing if not persistent and once I’d caught the writing bug I carried on throughout my teenage years making many beginnings to various, and increasingly morbid stories. Doubtless I was compensating, through my romantic fantasies, for my lack of a real love life.  
The ‘love on a lighthouse’ story was a one-off.  Though I loved to read those Regency romances that had inspired my sister, my own writing swiftly settled into a more contemporary style, and dwelt in a darker, more sordid world than the one Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer inhabited.  It was a world I had no experience of and I had to rely entirely upon imagination.  
My parents were both artists.  They never discouraged my writing, but it was ignored. Their interest in my notebooks was not engaged by my literary pubescent outpourings, but by the doodles and illustrations which lavishly embellished them.  It was clear where they thought my talents lay.  In my early adult life I stopped writing – writers were clever, educated people. I was neither.  I’d left school at 16 with just enough exam passes to go on to art-college. Although I am on the mild end of the spectrum,  I now realise that I was then and am now almost certainly dyslexic.  
My career was in advertising where I worked as an illustrator.  When I stopped work to have my son, I started writing again.  Just Before Dawn, though unconventional, followed most of the of the tropes of the category romance.  But with the second, Desires & Dreams, I let my hair down and wrote the novel of my heart. It was still a love story, but it revisited the darker world of my teenage imagination and was a novel which subverted the ‘romance’ stereotypes. I was able to design my own covers.
Even now, many books later, I cannot follow any kind of formula in my writing.  Love may still be the engine of the plot, not that my characters are necessarily aware of this, but I try to write honestly, refusing to prettify the downsides and the pitfalls in modern relationships.

URL to Author pic of you (OPTIONAL)

Tell us about your book.

She can escape her past but can she ever escape herself ?

Life is not a fairy tale; it can be confusing and difficult. Sex is not always awesome; it can be awkward and embarrassing, and it has consequences. You don't always fall for Mr Right, even if he falls for you. And realising you're in love is not always good news. It can make the future look daunting.
Single-mother Jess has made a series of bad choices. Job, relationships and life-style have all let her down. By escaping the turmoil of her London life, she is putting her young child first. This time she wants to get it right, to devote herself to being a mother. But the country does not offer the ‘good life ’idyll she pictured. The landscape she looks out on is under threat, new friends have hidden agendas, two very different men pull her in opposing directions.

And in the face of temptation old habits die hard. She is torn between the suitable man and the unsuitable boy.

What inspired you to write this book?

Inspiration is a strange beast - who knows what is going on in the subconscious? But the original seed for TORN sprang from a momentary impression. I was the passenger on a car journey. We passed a turning on my side, a narrow lane sloping steeply down to the huddled centre of a village. Though the road we travelled along was by no means a new road, it was apparent that it had been built to by-pass this village.
The random thought which sprang to mind was: ‘I bet those villagers were pleased to have the main road re-routed.’ But it was swiftly followed by the qualification: ‘Though I doubt the people who lived up here were so delighted!’ I went on to reflect that life is rarely black and white. There are always competing demands, two or more sides to every question.
Although a disputed bypass was the initial ‘jumping off’ point for TORN, it was only one of many threads in the final story. From then on I drew on imagination and on life experience. But before you ask, I have various answers to the “Are your stories autobiographical?” question.
There are always a few autobiographical elements in my books. These may be tiny, hardly more than flicker, or they may be large, but that doesn’t make my books autobiography. When writing fiction, the real is made unreal, not because you are trying to disguise something, but because the people, places and incidents from true life won’t fit the story you’re making up. They have to be re-imagined. 
Hands up - there have been a couple of incidents in my life which have directly inspired a whole book, but usually I am already in the midst of the process when a memory springs up, and I think “Oh yes, I could use that.”
So, if you really want to know, I did draw on memories of an old boy friend when writing TORN. I also used a remembered incident I witnessed in the main street of the town I lived in years ago. Beyond that I am unwilling to go.....!

What can readers expect when they open your book?

If they come to my book, TORN, expecting 'fluffy' they will be disappointed. I refuse to romanticise - in fact I have coined a new genre Reality Romance. TORN is a more challenging read than much of the women's fiction that is on offer.   It faces up to the complexity, messiness and absurdities in modern relationships.  In real life few come to a new relationship unecumbered by past mistakes. In real life people sometimes swear. In real life women are sometimes abused in the street. In real life sex can be a disappointing mistake. In real life there are no neat solutions.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as a writer?

I am still rather proud of the fact that I found a publisher for the first novel I ever finished - Just Before Dawn - within four months of completing it. 
Love Stories - characterised when it launched as the “thinking woman’s Mills & Boon” - was a one woman band.  She was looking for un-clich├ęd stories about women and relationships; stories with a central love-theme but which were not conventionally romantic.  A year after my first book was published, she published my second, Desires & Dreams.  Both books were published in hardback, using my own artwork for the cover designs.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I like crime fiction so I am going to plump for Kate Atkinson. I particularly like her Jackson Brodie novels. They are engaging, witty, intelligent and, to add a cherry to the cake, have a crime at their centre. I love her idiosynchratic characters and the very believable way they relate to one another.

Do you have any suggestions for writers just starting out?

Write because you want to - not because you believe it's the road to fame or fortune.  And don't put it off.  Just grit your teeth just start.

What is your favorite quote?

George Orwell said:
“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon which one can neither resist nor understand…”

What does writing mean to you?

I love it and loathe it.

Tell us 5 random things about you the person, not the author:

1) My first love was Prince Rupert, cavalier commander in the royalist army of his uncle, King Charles1, after I read the book 'The Stranger Prince' by Margaret Irwin.
2) One of my first jobs was selling wigs.
3) I attend a weekly life drawing class (drawing the naked body).
4) I have a friend who's been inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
5) I live in a 300 year old cottage in the Cotswold hills (UK).

Where to connect online

Twitter: @gilliallan

Genre: Unconventional 'grown up' romance.
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