Winner of Woman's Weekly's poll for Favourite Romantic Novel 1960-2010
Shortlisted for the Robin Jenkins Literary Award
and Romantic Novel of the Year 2009
It is with great pleasure that I introduce the author LINDA GILLARD
, who has kindly taken time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions.....
Linda is the successful author of several novels - her most recent titles are now available as e-books :
Her latest eagerly awaited e-book UNTYING THE KNOT
is due out at the beginning of September.
What inspired you to become an author?
It wasn’t something I ever planned. I’d had careers as an actress, a journalist and then a teacher, but I had a very unhappy time as a teacher and had a nervous breakdown. While convalescing, I did a lot of reading and I started writing fiction because I couldn’t find the sort of book I wanted to read. So I decided to write one for myself.
That became my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY which was published in 2005. I had no intention of trying to get it published. It was a love story and the heroine was 47, so I never thought there was the slightest chance of it being published. But I really enjoyed writing it and got the writing bug. I had a sense that this was something that I could be good at, that it was what I should actually be doing with my life. So I joined an online writers group and they encouraged me to try and get an agent because they thought the book was good enough to publish.
So that’s what I did. And I’m now about to publish my fifth novel, UNTYING THE KNOT and finish writing my sixth.
What comes first – the plot, or the people?
People, always. I don’t even need a plot. I can start writing if I’ve got a few interesting characters and a situation I think sound promising. Character is plot as far as I’m concerned.
The book doesn’t really take off until the hero has come to life. I sometimes find my heroines come together much later. It takes me longer to get to know them for some reason – perhaps because I find male characters much easier and more interesting to write.
I think every novel has started with a central character – often the hero – who has a dilemma or a big issue in their life. Because I tend to write about women in their 40s, they have a colourful history. They’ve been around the block a few times!
Do your characters arrived fully formed, or do you base them on people you know?
They don’t come fully formed but I don’t base them on people I know. Obviously you lift aspects of your characters from people you know and I do that for some of my subsidiary characters. Over the years I’ve met a lot of middle-aged romantic novelists, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to write Louisa, the paranormal romance author in STAR GAZING. I’ve known a few climbers, so it was easy to write Gavin in EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. But most of my main characters – blind Marianne in STAR GAZING; Hugh, the troubled priest and Rory the concert pianist in A LIFETIME BURNING; Magnus the bomb disposal expert in UNTYING THE KNOT – are unlike anyone I’ve actually known. They’re partly the product of research, but mostly imagination.
Having said all that, I do base my characters physically on real people, but not people I know. I start with an idea – a vague one – of what my characters look like and then I look for pictures that will help me visualize them more clearly.
I use photos of people I find in magazines or on the web. I used to cut them out and make a sort of scrapbook for the novel, but now I save photos I find online and have a slide-show on my desktop. I use actors, musicians, writers – it can be anyone. They just have to look right! I’m currently writing a supernatural romance and my ghost hero is based physically on a dancer who’s extremely pale and has bright red hair.
I’d written about all kinds of love over the years but realised I’d never written much about marriage. I’d also never written about divorce. So I decided my hero and heroine would be a divorced couple. The twist would be, they never should have divorced, because five years on, they’re still in love with each other and can’t move on. That seemed a promising scenario, but I still had to find an interesting hero and heroine (and my readers have very high expectations of my heroes!)
Sometimes these things just fall into your lap. Driving through the Glasgow suburbs one day, I saw a white van parked on the drive of an ordinary house. The lettering on the side of the van said “Bomb Disposal Unit”. My ever-curious brain immediately started asking questions. Was this where a bomb disposal technician lived?... What sort of a man does that kind of job… Then my novelist’s brain kicked in with more questions. What sort of boy grows up to become a man who will dedicate his life to the most dangerous job in the world? And what sort of woman would marry a man like that? And what would their marriage be like?... Answering those questions was a novel. I hadn’t done much research into bomb disposal before learning that the extraordinary men (and some women) who do this job don’t use the layman’s term “bomb squad”. They refer to working in “Explosive Ordnance Disposal” or EOD. In the trade, this also stands for “Everyone’s divorced” because of the toll the job takes on marriage.
None of my novels has ever come together as a concept more quickly or easily than UNTYING THE KNOT. But strangely, none has taken longer or been more difficult to write!
Do you find that writing comes easily to you?
Yes, I do, in as much as writer’s block is almost unknown to me and I’m never stuck for ideas. (My problem is rather having too many ideas and having to decide how many of them can be crammed into a single novel!) Drafting comes more easily now I’ve learned to accept that many pages of rubbish are generated in the production of a novel. (Margaret Atwood said something helpful on this subject and every author should have it pinned up over their desk: (Margaret Atwood said something helpful on this subject and every author should have it pinned up over their desk: “A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The waste-basket has evolved for a reason.”)
The hard graft for me is in the editing. I spend much longer editing my work than writing the first draft. I work very hard at dialogue, trying to make it sound authentic, giving every character his/her own voice. Readers often say they like my characters because they’re “believable”. One of the reasons readers believe in them is they don’t all sound the same.
Do you write books for yourself, or other people?
Definitely for myself, even though I now have a considerable following. I think it just so happens that my fans like the kind of books I like to write! I started writing fiction to entertain myself. I was dissatisfied with the heroes and heroines I found in women’s commercial fiction. I was 47 at the time, married with teenage children and I couldn’t really relate to all those nice-but-dippy young women obsessing about shoes, chocolate and finding a man. Grumpy, arrogant alpha males didn’t ring my bell either. (Good looks aren’t enough for me. I like heroes to be funny, kind, heroic-but-flawed. To judge from the devoted following my heroes now have, a lot of women share my taste in fictional men!)
I thought it had to be possible to write something more realistic, yet still maintain the romance. I think that’s what I’ve done in my novels. They aren’t “romances”, they’re love stories, grounded in a reality – sometimes a very tough reality – that belongs more to literary fiction than the Romance genre.
Who are your favourite authors?
In alphabetical order: Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Dickens, Daphne du Maurier, Dorothy Dunnett, Penelope Fitzgerald, Margaret Forster, Georgette Heyer, Patrick O’ Brian, Gillian Philip, Shakespeare, Mary Stewart, P G Wodehouse.
What is your favourite classic novel?
Ooh, that’s a tough one... Not sure I could choose just one. If I did, it would be MANSFIELD PARK, WUTHERING HEIGHTS or VILLETTE. Those 3 books have had a huge influence on m. I think you can see traces of them in my novels – respectively, HOUSE OF SILENCE, A LIFETIME BURNING and STAR GAZING.
What are you reading at the moment, and where do you read?
I sit in a very comfy armchair in my study, which has a wonderful view of Brodick Bay, the mountain Goat Fell and on a good day, the Scottish mainland. (I live on the Isle of Arran.)
I usually have several books on the go – some for research, some for pleasure. At the moment I’m reading (for pleasure and research) a book on geology: THE HIDDEN LANDSCAPE by Richard Fortey. He writes wonderfully. I’m also reading a novel, THE SEASON OF SECOND CHANCES by Diane Meier.
If you could give one piece of advice to a budding author what would it be, and why?
Write for writing’s sake. Don’t expect publication or financial reward – you are very unlikely to get either. Writing is its own reward anyway. (When you feel angry about your unsolicited manuscript being rejected, remember: nobody asked you to submit it!
Thank you so much Linda for giving such insightful answers - jaffa and I delighted that you could visit our blog, and we wish you every success with the launch of your forthcoming e-book UNTYING THE KNOT - can't wait to read and review it.