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Interview with Linda Gillard + Star Gazing & Emotional Geology Giveaway!

A little less than two months ago, I discovered Linda Gillard's work. Through a fellow blogger's review, I decided I definitely wanted to give her most recent novel, Star Gazing, a go and I ordered it immediately. The writing took my breath away, as did the two wonderful main characters, who were so very different from the ones I've been used to reading. I wanted nothing more than to spend every waking minute with them. To say nothing of the beautiful Scottish setting. I was so delighted when Linda contacted me shortly after my review, offering to send a copy of her first book--Emotional Geology--for review as well. Little did I know this book would immediately jump to my best of the year list and would find a very special place in my heart. Even before I'd finished it, I hoped Ms. Gillard would agree to an interview. These books deserve a much wider readership than they have met with thus far and I am determined to do what I can to help spread the word! Please welcome, Linda Gillard!
I’m fascinated by your road to publication. You became a published author at age 53. Tell us what inspired you to start writing and what your experience has been like?
Writing is my fourth career. I’ve been an actress and a journalist and I stayed home for ten years raising two children. Then I re-trained as a teacher, but after a few years I suffered a breakdown brought on by stress and overwork. Eventually I was diagnosed with mild bipolar. I decided if I went back to teaching I’d probably become ill again.
I was 47 and as far as I was concerned, I was on the scrap heap. But once on the correct medication, I stabilized and with the help of a supportive psychiatrist, I began to rebuild my life. I had a lot of time on my hands, so I read and I sewed a lot of patchwork quilts. One of the books I read was Louise deSalvo’s WRITING AS A WAY OF HEALING. One paragraph of that changed my life. It said, 
“I didn't know that you could write simply to take care of yourself, even if you have no desire to publish your work. I didn't know that if you want to become a writer, eventually you'll learn through writing - and only through writing - all you need to know about your craft. And that while learning, you're engaging in soul-satisfying, deeply nurturing labour. I didn't know that if you want to write and don't, because you don't feel worthy enough or able enough, not writing will eventually begin to erase who you are.”
I realised that was how I felt. Erased. I laid the book aside and, as if in a trance, walked over to my PC, sat down and started to type. I wrote about  “a woman alone in a light, white room”. I could see the room and sense the atmosphere. I could see a woman and she was writing a letter, but I didn’t know who she was, or who she was writing to. With no thought of publication or even of writing well, I just started typing the first page of what was to become my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY.
Your protagonists tend to be women over the age of 40. I found this unutterably refreshing in both Star Gazing and Emotional Geology. What drove this decision and have you run up against any opposition to focusing on slightly older characters?
When I was convalescing I read all sorts of fiction but I struggled to find any that reflected my life and experience. There was very little that featured women of my age. Romantic heroines over forty simply did not exist. Mature women appeared only as somebody’s mother or somebody’s wife and they never had sex, unless it was for comic effect. So as a matter of principle I made my heroine 47, my own age.
(This was around 2000, but I’m not sure things are much better now. Most books are bought and read by women over 40, but the publishing world is still convinced we like to read about women much younger than ourselves.)
When EG was eventually published by an imprint that specialized in novels aimed at older women, the books were dismissed by the media as “Romance for Wrinklies”, “Grey-Lit”, even “Hag-Lit”.  (The ageism and misogyny of British culture beggars belief but hey, they used to burn us as witches, so things are definitely looking up.)
Your settings are fully fledged characters in and of themselves! Your love for them comes across the page in vivid texture and color. Does this aspect of your writing come easily and how do you go about setting the scene in your stories?
I’m glad you can “see” the settings! I think of descriptive writing as my weak spot. I avoid descriptive passages and opt instead for what I call “telling detail”- concrete detail that tells you something important about the setting.
I sort of ducked the issue in STAR GAZING. Trying to write about somewhere as beautiful as the Isle of Skye is daunting. What can you say that hasn’t already been said? I decided I’d write about the landscape, but from an unusual point of view, or ratherno point of view. My heroine, Marianne would be congenitally blind, with no visual frame of reference at all.
But even before I wrote STAR GAZING, I found our cultural obsession with visuals pretty limiting (eg attractive characters defined mostly by their appearance.) I’ve always tried to use all my senses when writing and I try to make readers use theirs. In STAR GAZING blind Marianne first experiences the hero, Keir, as a smell of hawthorn blossom. He’s a very big man and when she eventually gets to touch him, he reminds her of the trees she loves to hold.) I think that is so much more exciting than telling the reader he’s tall dark and handsome.
Emotional Geology was your first novel, a fact that still floors me. What about these characters, this story, made it a novel you had to write?
What I wrote - instinctively and therapeutically - was an alternative autobiography, what my life might have been like under very different circumstances. I was married; my heroine, Rose was single. I quilted as a hobby; she was a professional textile artist. I lived in a suburb; she lived on the bleak and remote Hebridean island of North Uist (which I knew from family holidays on the west coast of Scotland.)
The hero, Calum, was a gifted and dedicated teacher who’d cracked up after being assaulted by a pupil. He became the repository for all I wanted to say about teaching and teachers. Calum was my valediction to a profession that I’d regarded as my vocation.
Calum was also a poet and I used his dialogues with a Roseto explore the relationship between creativity and bipolar. (I was desperate to find an upside to my illness!)
But to be honest, I don’t really know where the book came from. I didn’t plan at all. I didn’t even know how it was going to end. I was too ill to do more than write a few pages at a time – just a paragraph on bad days – but I got hooked on writing and soon fell madly in love with my hero! After that it almost felt as if I was “channeling” the story. The book took on a life of its own.
Did you have an audience in mind for your books from the beginning or do you merely write to please yourself?
I just wanted to write the sort of book I wanted to read, but couldn’t find. Bookshops were awash with chick lit, which had nothing to say to me. I was an unemployed 47-year old mother of teenagers! So I set out to write a thinking-woman’s love story that tackled real issues. I wanted to put a creative woman in the spotlight and ignore her age, just look at her heart and mind and I was able to do this, with passion and paint-stripper honesty, because I knew my novel would never, ever be published! My mentally ill romantic heroine was 47 – and so was I! A less commercial proposition would be hard to imagine.
I had no idea my novel was any more than a personal and therapeutic fantasy until I joined a writers’ e-group and they said, “Youmust try to get this published.”
Both Rose (in Emotional Geology) and Marianne (in Star Gazing) live their lives with the odds stacked against them. Rose is struggling to live with bipolar disorder and recover from a recent breakdown and Marianne is blind and has been since birth. I love them both for their determination and irascibility and strength. What inspired you to gift your heroines with such weighty challenges and what kind of response have you gotten from readers?
I’m no good at devising plots, so I make character create the plot. They say there are only seven kinds of plot anyway, so it’s a question of finding an unusual angle from which to tell your story. STAR GAZING is just a boy-meets-girl story, apart from the fact that she’s 45, widowed and blind. But that changes everything!
I think I’ve always been interested in heroes (male & female) and heroism. I like to write about moral and physical courage, people fighting their demons, within and without. I studied drama at university and then I was an actress, so perhaps I instinctively write meaty parts for actresses! (EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and STAR GAZING have both been optioned for films.)
Readers have mostly loved my spiky, obstinate and flawed heroines, but a few have questioned their fierce independence and some of the choices they make. Everyone loves that they are older – even young women. Some have said my books give them positive role models for what it’s like to be a woman in your 40s and 50s. (Readers love Louisa, Marianne’s 52-year old sister who writes vampire romance and has a Goth toy boy!)
But I’ve had a few battles with editors who wanted me to make my heroines “nicer”. The assumption in commercial women’s fiction is that, for a book to work, readers must identify with the heroine and apparently readers only identify with nice women. Flawed female protagonists are the province of literary fiction. Apparently.
(photo: Adam Burton)
Is there an Emotional Geology or a Star Gazing soundtrack?
There’s no EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY soundtrack because the novel is so much about silence and the gentle background noises that make up what we think of as “silence”: the wind, the sound of the sea, a pen scratching on paper, a man breathing as he sleeps beside you… There are a lot of sound effects in EG, but there’s no music.
STAR GAZING does have a soundtrack because the hero, Keir is constantly referring to pieces of music to describe things to blind Marianne. They share a love of music, so he translates visuals into sound pictures for her and that really opens up her world.
If SG had a theme tune it would be the Concerto for Birds and Orchestra by Rautavaara, which Keir posts to Marianne from Arctic Norway. (It’s a real piece of music. Some readers think I’ve made it up!) This is the music I used to play all the time, to get me in the right frame of mind for writing. It evokes a cold, northern landscape that I associate with Skye in winter, but it also represents the frozen emotional wasteland that Marianne inhabits at the beginning of the book.
What’s the one book and/or series you’ve been gushing about nonstop lately?
I keep recommending Sally Brampton’s SHOOT THE DAMN DOG, a memoir about her experience of serious depression. (The dog of the title is the “black dog” of depression.) I recommend it both as an example of excellent writing and as a self-help book. It’s immensely readable and positive.
And just for fun, what’s the first word that comes to mind when I say:
Rose: quartz
Books: friends (because I think of  books as friends.)
Calum: legs
Music: colours
Keir: Gerard (Butler)
Writing: pencil
Marianne: thaw
The Brontes: passion
Sexy: Calum
Skye: homesick
Love: story
Home: books
Thanks so much, Linda!

***
And now for the giveaway! We're giving away copies of both Star Gazing and Emotional Geology today to one lucky commenter. All you have to do is leave a comment stating your favorite spiky, obstinate female protagonist. This giveaway is open internationally! To anywhere The Book Depository ships. The giveaway will be open for one week and will close at midnight on Thursday, October 14th. I'll announce the winner the next day. Please be sure to leave me a way of contacting you.

Comments

  1. I have so many spiky, obstinate female protagonists that I love! There first character that came to mind was Kate Daniels, but I also really like Sophie (Howl's Moving Castle) and Tara (Saving Francesca/The Piper's Son).
    Thanks for the chance to win!
    melodiousrevelry (at) gmail (dot) com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous6:56 PM

    My old favorite is Eve Dallas and her inner turmoil (snarliness) as she starts to gain friends in her life.

    Regards, Ruth (CO)

    ReplyDelete
  3. That was such a great interview! I'm curious to read these books now (especially after learning about the author's personal journey-wow!).

    One of my favorite spiky heroines is Jessica Darling from Megan McCafferty's series. She has a penchant for snarky retorts and she always does what she wants, despite what others may think.

    piratepenguinreads(at)gmail(dot)com

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm 48 and I would like to thank you for featuring older protagonists in a romance. That's so incredibly rare.

    As for spiky, obstinate females, I've just finished the second and third books of Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate and that would describe the heroine, Alexia Tarabotti perfectly. These books are all kinds of wonderful and so funny that you find yourself cracking up in public.

    jen at delux dot com

    ReplyDelete
  5. Harriet Vane in the Peter Wimsey mysteries is my favorite spiky, obstinate female character. These books sound wonderful!

    Liz

    P.S. I thought I had posted this once but it's not showing up. I apologize if this is a duplicate posting.

    ReplyDelete
  6. One of my favorite spiky, obstinate female protagonist is Anita Blake. The early Anita Blake not the mess she is now. She was strong, didn't take crap from anyone and was stuck in her ways. I loved her.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Don't enter me because I have both books, and have read them, and loved them! How wonderfully refreshing it is to find plots that aren't the same old tired themes, and unique characters to boot! I do hope publishers feature more of this author, because these two books are among the best I've read in the past two years!

    ReplyDelete
  8. "spiky, obstinate female" - well beat Monza Murcatto in Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold !

    Thanks for the giveaway.

    Carol T

    buddytho {at} gmail DOT com

    ReplyDelete
  9. I have more than one, and here are some:

    Kate Daniels
    Eve Dallas
    Taylor Markham
    Philippa Sommerville
    Mercy Thompson
    Alanna
    Anne Shirley
    Attolia
    Rose Hathaway
    Lizzie Bennett

    Thanks for the giveaway!

    j.brol (at) yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete
  10. Don't enter me for the draw as - ahem - I have a few copies of these books already, but I must cast my vote for MANSFIELD PARK's Fanny Price, the Austen heroine readers love to hate. But I love her and admire her. (I mean, would you have the moral fibre to turn down that dazzling cad Henry Crawford?...)

    ReplyDelete
  11. A spiky, obstinate female protagonist I particularly enjoy is Surreal SaDiablo from Anne Bishop's Black Jewels books. I just wouldn't call her "spiky" to her face, that's all.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'd love to win these books, I've been fascinated by them since you first reviewed Star Gazing!

    My favorite "spiky, obstinate" heroine is Jane Eyre. She doesn't have high social standing but she doesn't let anyone push her around or tell her what to do, and refuses to do wrong even when the only alternative is to run away from the man she loves.

    (Like Liz I know I left a comment yesterday but now it's not showing up, so please disregard one of these if this ends up being a duplicate post!)

    ReplyDelete
  13. becky jack in shannon hale's "the actor and the housewife" was delightfully obstinate. plus, the dialogue in that book is to die for!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anonymous1:41 PM

    My first thought as favorite "spiky, obstinate" heroine was Elizabeth Bennett.

    I also love Sookie Stackhouse, Mercy Thompson, Alexia Tarabotti (who is most definitely spiky and obstinate), Sarah Agnes Prine, Ann Farquharson (from White Rose Rebel), Mary Russell and probably bunches of others, but that's who is coming to mind at the moment.

    queen_celebrian (at) hotmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  15. My favorite spiky, obstinate female protagonist has to be Desdemona from the Midnighters Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. She is just so much fun! I love being in her head, hearing her hate on the others and how easy it is for her to come up with the thirteen letter words. Also, She kick butt!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I think Kate Daniels is up there with spiky and obstinate. And Lee from Moira Moore's Heroes series!

    ReplyDelete
  17. For spiky and obstinate I love Elizabeth Bennet.
    Another favourite female is Thursday Next but she is determined and resourceful rather than spiky and obstinate.

    eva.s.black[@]gmail[.]com

    ReplyDelete
  18. seeing how I am currently reading The Dark Road to Darjeeling - I have to say Lady Julia Grey. :o) Love her. Love you. Have a fabulous day!

    ReplyDelete
  19. It's been a long time since I read it, but the first one that came to my mind is Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With the Wind. That reminds me that I've been meaning to read that book again. :) Thanks for the giveaway.
    peacelily_2006(at)yahoo(dot)com

    ReplyDelete
  20. Great giveaway! Thanks for the chance!

    I think my favorite spiky obstinate female protagonist must be Jane Austens Emma :)

    countrystars95@yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete
  21. At the moment, my favorites are Katniss Everdeen and Hermione Granger.

    I'm sure these are subject to change! ;)

    You can reach me at bookwormjo at gmail dot com.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Marijana7:53 PM

    Eve Dallas is an old favourite but a couple of new favourites would have to be:
    - the Queen of Attolia (what a wonderfully strong female) and
    - Milagro from Marta Acosta's Casa Dracula series.

    okanovic.marijanagmailcom

    ReplyDelete
  23. Marijana7:56 PM

    contact details for above comment came out strange :(

    okanovic (dot) marijana (at) gmail (dot) com

    ReplyDelete

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