I “met” author Gillian Philip via Linda Gillard, as they are fellow writers in Scotland. Gillian will be attending the BookCrossing Unconvention in July 2009 and I have two bookrings running at the moment for Bad Faith, kindly sent to me by Strident Publishing, and two copies of Crossing the Line out with their first readers at the moment. Here’s an interview we conducted electronically to celebrate the launch of Crossing The Line!

BAD FAITH Strident Publishing October 2008
CROSSING THE LINE Bloomsbury April 2009
DARKE ACADEMY: SECRET LIVES (Gabriella Poole) Hodder August 2009

LB: Why did you start writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?

GP: As long as I can remember! From when I was very young I’d sit in my room for hours, writing stories in which I figured together with a lot of horses, the Man from UNCLE and Captain Scarlet. I had my first imaginary friend early on (he was a Russian spy). Then as I got older, I got more self-conscious about writing, and more hung up about plotting, so more and more I told my stories in my head. It took me ages to realise that I was still writing – I just needed to sit on my backside and put the words on paper (or a laptop screen).

I also found that just as I did in my head, I could start a story and see where it took me; I didn’t have to worry about the dreaded Plot. Since then it has never stopped being fun. It’s sometimes impossibly frustrating and difficult, but it’s always fun!

LB: Who is your favourite author?

GP: That’s such a tough question. I have read almost everything by Ruth Rendell and PD James, and I can always rely on them for a great read. But for epic stories combined with incredible characters, I’d say Mary Renault. Her Alexander trilogy hit me between the eyes. I loved it and even though he was often an unsympathetic character, I loved him.

LB: If you could take a character from literature and write them into a book of yours, who would it be?

GP: I’m tempted to say Mary Renault’s Alexander the Great. But I have a certain antihero of my own, who is as yet unpublished. He’s a violent, stroppy, truculent faery and I’m head over heels in love with him. It would be fabulous fun to get him together with Bernard Cornwell’s Uhtred Ragnarsson (from his Alfred series), with whom I am also pretty much in love. Sparks would fly, but once they stopped scrapping they’d be great mates.

LB: Bad Faith is a Young Adults book. Did you choose this age group to write for or did the book just come out like that? Is it a marketing decision by your publisher? Do you think it’s only for "Young Adults"?

GP: Writing for Young Adults was a conscious choice. I was always going into the children’s section in bookshops to find books for my own kids, and I was drawn to the YA shelves. There was such an incredible quality of writing, such a breadth of genres, and the stories were inventive and pacy. And though the styles were often quite literary, the emphasis was always on storytelling. I knew that was the kind of book I wanted to write. That doesn’t mean they’re only for Young Adults, though! I don’t believe in ‘writing down’ to teenagers (or indeed any child) and I don’t compromise language or themes or character development to make them more ‘age-appropriate’ (whatever that means). I write books I’d like to read myself, whether as a teenager or an adult, and I hope anyone over the age of 12 will read my novels. There’s a statement I saw on a YA publisher’s site – Young Adult is a point of view, not a reading level. I like that.

LB: How do you write? In pencil, first thing in the morning at a special desk, in a coffee shop…?

GP: At home I write straight onto my laptop. I try to do it first thing after the school run… but a little emailing and Facebooking usually gets in the way. I have my own little study which is a terrific place to hide away when I really need to concentrate – but often I’m in the kitchen instead (it’s warmer), either sitting at the kitchen table or standing at the worktop. I seem to do a lot of work standing up…

When I’m out and about I keep notebooks for jotting down ideas in longhand. They are the one thing I’m terribly precious about. They’re cheap and very basic A5 pads, narrow-ruled, that slot into a plastic folder. I can only find the right ones abroad, so I buy stacks at a time. And the pen has to be a very fine black fibre-tip. I can’t get my thoughts straight with a biro. I know how sad that sounds.

LB: What do you think of book blogging and bloggers. Are they all just ignorant folk who only write good reviews, as the "official" reviewers seem to think? Is there a value in what they do, for authors?

GP: I don’t know what we’d do without book bloggers: as far as I’m concerned they are jewels. It’s very, very hard to get reviewed in a national newspaper. Besides, the review pages are always the first to be cut in a revamp (I was so disappointed when the Saturday Times recently got rid of its wonderful Books supplement). Book bloggers are always passionate about their subject, and they certainly don’t write only positive
reviews – they can be very incisive.

LB: Tell us about your next book. What’s in the pipeline after that?

GP: In April Bloomsbury publish ‘Crossing the Line’. It’s about a guy called Nick who has done some terrible things, but is trying to turn his life around. That’s not easy because a boy died, and the girl he is in love and lust with is the dead boy’s sister. Meanwhile Nick’s having to keep half an eye on his own deranged sister and her imaginary friend, especially when a dangerous figure reappears from Nick’s past.

Crossing the Line was the first book I wrote from an exclusively male viewpoint, and I absolutely loved doing it. Bad things happen, and in places it was difficult to write, but Nick was always vivid in my head and had his own very clear opinions, and he drove the story along all by himself.

What’s next…? Just now I’m juggling two stories in my head, but one set of characters has scrambled up on top of the others and jumped the queue. I’d started to write one book when this crowd of upstarts came along, told me I was writing the wrong story, and demanded I write theirs. Who am I to argue? – so this lot will be next. I find it hard to describe the story – it exists in a rough and fragile state in my brain – but the working title is Winter Jinx.

Thanks, Liz, for great interview questions!

LB: And thank you for your excellent answers! We’re all looking forward to meeting you at the Unconvention!