I'm thrilled to be welcoming Gilli Allan, the author of 'Torn' to Bookworm Ink. Gilli writes contemorary romance and 'Torn', her third book, is available on Kindle.What started you writing and is it something you always wanted to do?
I think I was always a writer.
I made up stories in my head from as far back as I can remember.
I hardly ever played formal games but was forever play-acting. I forced my friends to take the roles I gave them and we’d play out the scenarios I’d devised, about princes & princesses, fairies, or cowboys and red Indians.
My older sister loved Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.
Influenced by the latter’s Regency romances, she decided to write her own.
I was still at primary school, so she couldn’t have been more than 15 or 16.
I was an avid reader and it seemed to me a brilliant idea to write the book you wanted to read. It’s what I still do.
The story I then started, aged 10 or 11, was set in ‘the olden days’. It was about a group of ladies - one of them, my teenage heroine - who were visiting a lighthouse, set on a rocky islet. They had to get there by boat.
The weather deteriorated and while the women were temporarily trapped there, the lighthouse-keeper’s 16 year old son went out into the storm, for some unspecified reason and fell on the rocks, injuring himself. My young heroine nursed him. At this point, a few laboriously written pages in, my imagination failed
I wrote copiously and continuously throughout secondary school, but never completed anything. My notebooks were massively illustrated and doodled on.
But I NEVER dreamed of becoming a writer.
After all, writers were clever, educated people who had always gone to Oxford or Cambridge. Though I’d got into grammar school I scraped along in the D stream.
The only subject I was demonstrably good at was art.
So art was the career I was aiming for. I left school at 16 with the minimum number of O levels necessary to get me to Art College. Do you write full-time or do you have another career?
I’ve worked as a shop assistant, a beauty consultant, a bar maid ... and a job where a band of girls were deposited at various tourist hot spots, where we were supposed to approach couples we suspected were American tourists. We had to hook them with the promise of a free tour of London and a free lunch at the Hilton. The catch was that when they’d eaten their lunch, they were subjected to a high-power pitch, selling real estate in Florida.
I was a shy kid.
I found it hard to talk to strangers.
So why I thought I could do any of these jobs, let alone the last, is inexplicable. I was pretty poor at all of them and was very relieved when, by a fluke and a coincidence, I found my dream job as an illustrator in an advertising design studio.
I didn’t start writing again until after I’d had my son, Tom.
I wasn’t desperate to get back into the advertising rat race and I fancied doing something that would allow me to stay at home with Tom, while he was little. That’s when I had the brainwave. ‘I could write a romance!’ I’m slightly ashamed to say I’ve not done a day’s paid work since then, other than some evening bar work in our local squash club. Describe your typical writing day.
I’m glad you ask about a typical “writing day”.
There are too many days in my life when, typically, no creative writing gets done at all! But if I am in a writing phase, and it’s going well, I can start immediately after breakfast and work through till six, hardly leaving my desk.
And that can go on day after day after day.
Then I have to be disciplined about the other things in my life, like the need to do a bit of shopping, go to my art-class or even to have shower!
And I can edit endlessly. What inspired you to write ‘Torn’?
Whenever I start the process of developing ideas for a new book I will always begin by reviewing my own life. I can honestly say that some real experience appears in every book I’ve written. This doesn’t mean that every book is autobiographical.
None of them are.
The autobiographical elements might be quite insignificant, used as a starting point or as a method to explore the emotions of the characters. An incident can never be slotted into a story exactly as it happened to me.
I always find I have to alter it, to shade and embroider. I went through this process with TORN.
But if anyone wants to know which bits in the book are real, I am afraid I have to answer, ‘That’s for me to know and you, the reader, to guess.’
The spark which started TORN, happened while travelling to Somerset by car.
I was a passenger on the nearside and was looking out at the passing scene.
We passed a turning on the left.
In the moment or two I had to take it in I saw the road led steeply down to the heart of a village.
The road we were on had obviously been widened and made into the A road, to by-pass the narrow village centre.
At that moment the random thought which went through my head was:
‘I bet those villagers were pleased.’
But then I thought, ‘But I doubt the people who lived up here were so chuffed to have the main road re-routed past them.’
I went on to reflect that life is actually never that simple or black and white, and........
The whole story grew from there.
In TORN, Jess has taken her 3 yr old son and moved away from London intent on escaping her past.
She expects life in the country to be simple, peaceful and undemanding. Here she will be able to concentrate on being a good mother.
But there’s conflict over a proposed bypass, conflict between friends with very different agendas, conflict between her own nature and her good intentions. And she’s torn between the suitable man and the unsuitable boy. What projects are you working on now?
I have just been offered a contract by a new e-publisher, Lysandra Press, for my latest book Life Class. So there may be some more editing work I’ll need to get on with for them. But I’m planning that my next book will be set in and around the world of academia and archaeology.
I’m never sure of the plot, the underlying themes or where and how a story is going, until it’s finished. So it’s a bit too soon for the elevator pitch.
But maybe something like - ‘Educating Rita meets Time Team.’?
What do you think? How do you publicise your work?
I am on Twitter and FaceBook, and several email loops for writers of women’s (romantic) fiction. And I have a blog.
I try to ‘big myself up’ when I have some good news.
But mostly I’m just trying to create a presence, to be friendly, and to mention my book from time to time, hoping people remember TORN by Gilli Allan when they come to make a book-buying choice. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
When you are introduced as ‘a writer’ people often respond by saying that they’ve often thought about writing a book themselves.
My advice is always: If you’re really serious, don’t wait.
Start now. It’s what I did.
The idea that I might actually try to write for publication came to me while I was ironing. I suddenly thought: ‘I used to write romances when I was a teenager, I’m sure I could knock off a Mills & Boon now.’
(Famous last words!
It’s not easy, and like so many writers who’ve tried, I was rejected very firmly.)
Recalling the advice from English teachers that I would write better if I confined myself to what I knew, I thought back over my life.
For me it was a no-brainer. The event chose itself.
It was something I had often considered writing about, but........
I was an artist. How, where, why would I write about this experience?
Suddenly I had a vehicle. So, by the time I’d finished the ironing, I had my starting point ‘miscarriage’. Even though I suspected that the subject - and the way I planned to weave it into a romance - would probably disqualify the book from consideration by M & B, I knew I had to do it anyway. You have to be a bit obsessive to a writer!
As soon as the ironing was put away I found a notebook and a pen and started.
That book - Just Before Dawn - was the first I ever finished and was accepted by a publisher very quickly.
It is too easy to let yourself be put off from writing until you’ve got the time, until the children have gone to school, left home, until you’ve retired.
In my view the ‘start now’ principle is the best one.
You can always find
time or make
time. What is your favourite work of fiction?
I’m sorry, this is going to sound incredibly pretentious and I’ve no idea if, reading the book for the first time today, I’d feel the same. But cross my heart, my favourite novel is Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment.
When I claim this, I mean that it is the book which had the biggest impact on me.
I first read it when I was about 16 (before leaving school and going to Art College). I still have my school library copy somewhere, which I never returned, re-reading it five times before I was twenty.
The other novel(s) that had a similar effect on me was the Gormenghast trilogy, by Mervyn Peake.
Favourite authors recently are Kate Atkinson and C J Sansom.Which author had the greatest influence on you as a child?
This is a hard one.
I was given all the A A Milne Christopher Robin stories and poems when I was young, but my enormous love for these developed more in my mid-teens.
Thinking back, the book which left the strongest impression when I first read it was probably Heidi, by Johanna Spyri. I was given it on my eighth birthday, around the time I suddenly ‘got the hang’ of reading.
(And once I’d started I never looked back.)
It’s special for me because it was one of the first books I read to myself after I became a fluent reader. I can even still recall the smell of it. You recently appeared at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, was this the first festival you’ve spoken at? Is it something you’d like to do again?
I cannot, in all conscience, allow readers of this interview to think I am some kind of literary celebrity - I wish! The event I appeared at was on the Festival fringe. The Daffodil restaurant in Cheltenham was hosting writers to talk and read, every afternoon throughout the festival, while their audience took tea.
It was the first festival, the first anything
, I’ve spoken at.
I was very nervous. But nowadays writers have to be able to get out there and talk to the public. So I prepared well and gave a short talk about myself, my writing ‘journey’ and an overview of the changes in publishing since I started.
I then did an introduction of TORN, giving the audience a bit of the back-story, and sketching in the first few chapters up to the passage I intended to read.
In case you’re wondering, the reason I didn’t read from Chapter One is because it describes an aggressive drunken altercation outside a pub. I try to write honestly and don’t pull my punches.
So there was no way I was going to read this unexpurgated passage to ladies taking afternoon tea in Cheltenham!
I was hugely relieved when it was all over and am now confident I could do a talk and / or a reading again. I am not saying I was particularly good at it, but I managed to get through it without hyper-ventilating, freezing, fainting or losing my place.
I’d still be nervous but it’s one of those things, once you’ve done it you know you could do again. So I would accept any feasible project that came my way. Finally, and most importantly, you’ve lost your wallet, who do you enlist to help you find it, Poirot or Miss Marple?
Definitely Miss Marple.
And not any old Miss Marple.
I want the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple, from those classic old black & white films. Never bettered. Gilli has a blog at: http://gilliallan.blogspot.com/2011/04/extract-from-torn-out-now-as-e-book-on.htmland can be found on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=1182311866) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/gilliallan)