Author interview with Paul Magrs

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Paul Magrs is one of the authors I trust.  You know, you zoom in on their name on a shelf, and you know that whatever you pick up, you will enjoy.  Funnily enough, one of my other trusted authors is Anne Tyler (see below) but it is fairly rare even in a voracious reader like me.  I came across Paul’s books a while ago now and they are wonderful.  Rooted in the North of England but appealing to everyone, his real skill, I think, is in taking  a group of disparate characters – gay lads, goth girls, feisty grannies; shop workers, tattooed men, oh and the odd Bride of Frankenstein – and however odd their adventures are, they are still real.  Real, funny, sometimes macabre (but I still ache to know how that brain-eating adventure ended!) and always a good read.  The oddest things are told in a deadpan manner that reminds me of another favourite, Jane Gardam, and there is always warmth and humour, however bittersweet the story.

There are several stand-alone books – I can recommend All The Rage, about a lost 80s pop group, and Exchange, about a couple of lonely teens and a truly magical book shop – as well as the Brenda & Effie series set in Whitby and the Iris Wildthyme series (which I haven’t read – yet).  He’s also written Doctor Who novels and plays!

 

Paul Magrs teaches creative writing as well as continuing his flourishing writing career, and he has an excellent website at www.paulmagrs.com – and I was thrilled when he agreed to do one of my irregular series of author interviews.

 

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

 

PM: I would say that I really began when I was nine. My teacher at school read us the two Dodie Smith ‘Dalmatian’ books and I was determined to write a third. I had a blue plastic ‘Petite’ typewriter at home and I hammered out a shaggy dog tale. I ran out of black ribbon and had to do half of it in red. Then I wrote a story about our class field trip in the Yorkshire Dales, which I sent to Penguin Books – and they were very nice and encouraging! It just seemed the natural thing to me – to write stuff and try to get it published.

 

LB: Who is your favourite author?

 

PM: I think my favourite novelist has to be Anne Tyler. I’ve been reading her since I was twenty and I’ve read all of her books several times over. I’ve learned such a lot from her. She’s so modest, so understated, and wise about people. When I published a novel called ‘Modern Love’ in 2000 my friend Carol Ann kept on at me until I sent it to Anne Tyler. Some time later I got a wonderful postcard from her saying how much she liked it and how it was just the kind of thing she liked to read for herself. I was delighted, as you can imagine.

 

LB: You’ve already written some characters from literature into your books (I’m thinking the Brenda and Effie series here) but if you could pick one more to introduce into a book, who would it be and why?

 

PM: I like taking characters from earlier books and giving them new adventures. I think I’d love to write a Sherlock Holmes story. I imagine they’re fiendishly difficult to do.

 

LB: Who is your own favourite character?

 

PM: Too many to mention. Paddington Bear, probably. Michael Bond’s ‘Paddington’ series is one of my favourite sets of books ever.

 

LB: Some of your books are marketed for "young adults", some are adult. Is there a reason? Did you choose this, or is it down to your publishers? Who do you feel is your audience? Who do you write for when you pick up your pencil or settle down to the keyboard?

 

PM: That’s to do with which publisher I’m writing for: Headline Review publish my novels for grown-ups and Simon and Schuster my ‘young adult’ books. Of course there is massive overlap in terms of themes and style and audience. Sometimes I don’t know what the distinctions are all about. They’re all just novels, by me. I write about friendship, love, fantasy and time, whoever I’m writing for.

 

LB: How do you write? In pencil in a special notebook, sitting in a cafe…?

 

PM: Sometimes I love to do just that. I like lots of noise about me and nice coffee and people to eavesdrop on. Other times, I get up at 6 a.m. and go straight to my desk and hammer away at the laptop until I have a thousand words done. Some days are more

businesslike and serious than others.

 

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 (we) do, for authors?

 

PM: I love book-bloggers and bloggers of all kinds. I’m an obsessive book blogger myself. What they often have that reviewers in print and newspapers don’t have, is a genuine enthusiasm for the books and the genre they’re dealing with. They are doing this out of love. That’s bound to make it quite different and often, much more engaging than ‘official’ reviewers. And book bloggers have been very good to me. I love it when people get enthusiastic and spread the word about my books!

 

LB: In "Exchange", there’s a scene which seems to mention BookCrossing –

"’I’ve heard about this’, said Simon. ‘Where they leave them in cafes and on buses and you pick them up, read them, leave your message and liberate them again, for someone else to find…’".  Was this deliberate? Have you had a lot of messages from excited BookCrossers about this?

 

PM: Yes!  It was a deliberate reference to something I find very interesting. And I did indeed get lots of messages from BookCrossers! For myself, I find it very hard to give books away. I wish I could. Our house is overflowing.

 

LB: Little does Paul know the Horrible Truth – that BookCrossers, far from getting rid of books, usually end up with EVEN MORE! 

 

Thank you, Paul, for those insights – look out, readers, for my reviews of the first two Brenda and Effie books, coming soon – and we look forward to many more magical volumes.

Interview with Gillian Philip, author of Blind Faith and Crossing The Line

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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
http://www.gillianphilip.com

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!

Interview with Catherine O’Flynn, author of “What Was Lost”

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Catherine O'Flynn, author of the prize-winning "What Was Lost", is Birmingham born 
and bred.  Rather than setting her first novel in London, or overseas, she chose to 
set it in Birmingham, and it was published by local firm Tindal Street Press in January  2007. 
Prior to the publication of "What Was Lost" Catherine had a variety of jobs including   deputy manager of a record shop, post woman, web editor, teacher and mystery shopper.  She still lives and works in Birmingham.
"What Was Lost" was long listed for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and the
Orange Prize for Fiction, and shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. It won the Jelf Group First Novel Award at the Guildford Book Festival and the First Novel prize at the Costa Book Awards in January 2008. In April 2008 she was named Newcomer of the Year at the Galaxy British Book Awards. I met Catherine at the Birmingham Book Festival quiz a few years back, but it was only when I went to a talk she did at the University English Department that I plucked up the courage to get my book signed and ask if she'd do an interview. And she said yes!

LB: What inspired you to write "What Was Lost"?

CO’F: I was working at Merry Hill Shopping Centre and became fascinated by the place. Obviously I’d been in many shopping centres over the years as a shopper, but only when I worked in one did I start to see the strangeness – the contrast between the daytime hordes and the nocturnal silence, the differing conditions for workers and shoppers, the feeling of always being watched, the industrial past buried beneath it. It both fascinated and appalled me. One day I heard a story that an image of a child had been seen on the centre’s CCTV monitors in the middle of the night. The child was nowhere to be found – the image was a ghost or a dream or a hallucination on the part of the security guard. Something about that image really resonated with me, it seemed to bring together a lot of the thoughts I’d been having about the centre, about its malevolence, its melancholy and the sense in which people were lost there in quite profound ways. That was the start of writing the novel. 

LB: I *knew* it was Merry Hill!  Have you always wanted to be a writer?

CO’F: No, I don’t think it ever even occurred to me as something real people did. I enjoyed writing and I thought that meant journalism, but after half heartedly trying that for just a couple of years I realised I lacked virtually all the qualities necessary – chief amongst them a sense that there was any point to it (well particularly to the kind of stuff I was doing). I was never very career minded, so I drifted off into various odd jobs, ending up in the shopping centre.

LB: Why Birmingham as a setting? What reaction have you had to your use of the city as a background to the book?

CO’F: Birmingham is the place I know best but it’s also somewhere that fascinates me, in particular the city’s compulsive urge to constantly reinvent itself. To grow up here is to to grow up in a constant state of nostalgia for all the things that have gone or are in the process of vanishing. I wanted to write about the landscape I remembered from my childhood in Nechells –that interim period between the industrial and post-industrial phases when my dad’s shop (which we lived above) was surrounded by wasteland and empty factories. I suppose it was bleak, but I’m very wistful about that landscape – it was a wonderful playground for a child. I wanted to record it.

LB:   How would *you* describe your book?  It doesn’t really fit into any genres, does it!

CO’F: I never really thought about genre when I was writing it. It was one of the many ways in which I was entirely clueless,  I just wanted to tell that particular story. I didn’t realise how important genre was to the book industry.

So I can’t describe it in terms of genre, only in terms of its story, as that’s what it is to me.

LB:  Who is your favourite author?  And your favourite character in a  novel?

CO’F: I’m incapable of picking just one author. Some of my favourites are David Foster Wallace, Kurt Vonnegut, Mervyn Peake, Cormac McCarthy, Gordon Burn, Patricia Highsmith, Toni Morrison, Alice Munroe, Kazuo Ishiguro.

Similarly I don’t have a single favourite character, but I  have a great fondness for Rudy Waltz, Kurt Vonnegut’s narrator in ‘Deadeye Dick’. Vonnegut advised writers to make awful things happen to their characters, and I think poor Rudy bears the brunt of this.

LB:  If you could steal one character from fiction to put into your own books, who would it be?

CO’F: I think there are too many possibilities. Today the answer is Ignatius J. Reilly. 

LB: What is your opinion of book blogs and "word-of-mouth" as opposed to"official" means of marketing and promotion?

CO’F: Everyone knows how easy it is for a book to sink without trace if it doesn’t have a hefty marketing budget behind it or if it fails to make the chain store promotions. Book bloggers who seek out books, who see beyond the big promotions and who can then write clearly and honestly about those books and enthuse other readers about them are a powerful antidote to that. I feel the same way about passionately run independent bookstores. ‘What Was Lost’ really benefitted from the support of members of both those communities who definitely helped bring it to wider notice.

LB: What’s next? Do you have something new in the pipeline?

CO’F: I’m just finishing my second novel. I think I’m obliged to refer to it as the ‘disappointing second novel’ as that tends to be the pattern. I had ridiculous good fortune with the first one so I’m probably due a bit of a kicking with this one. It’s set in Birmingham and it’s concerned primarily with ageing and how we treat old things – both people and buildings.

This answer demonstrates why I should never write back cover blurb.

LB: Don’t believe that for a second! And I’m sure we’re all looking forward to it! Thank you for a great interview!

[sorry about the layout – the interview works OK but LJ is playing around with my line feeds!]

Interview with D. J. Murphy, author of A Thousand Veils

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I came across D. J. Murphy when his wife posted on LibraryThing, asking how best to publicise a book and get it into libraries and build a buzz about it.  When I found out the subject matter (an Iraqi woman poet trying to escape persecution) I offered to take a copy, read, review and share it via BookCrossing.

My review of the book is here and it is available on a BookRing now – contact me in the usual way to sign up.

When I started my author interviews section, I offered to do one with D. J. Murphy. He agreed, and here is our interview!

LB: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

 

DJM: One of my earliest childhood memories is a birthday when my parents presented me with a rather large stack of children’s books they had ordered specially for me.  And so, from a very early age, I’ve been an avid reader.  And, as many such readers, for a very long time I harbored a hidden wish to write my own fiction.  Thirty years ago I even began a novel, a kind of inchoate A Thousand Veils, with its central character Charles (the same name as the hero of my novel) and an international intrigue its focus.  Because of the demands of my corporate law practice on Wall Street, though, I was obliged to put it aside after I had written two chapters. Then, many years later, after building up a very successful international corporate law practice with firms in New York and the Midwest, I had the occasion to handle a few pro bono publico cases for refugees seeking asylum in America– Jews from Ukraine, Croatians from war-torn Bosnia, Arabs from the Middle East. After the last such case, I recounted to my wife how moved I had been by the story of a refugee for whom I had succeed in obtaining political asylum.  A financially astute economist, she offered me the possibility that I retire early (at 52 years of age) and write a novel inspired by the case.  And so I did.  It really was my first meaningful chance to throw my full energies into a writing project. It took me a good eight years to exorcise the devil, get the story down, polish and veneer the cabinetry  (as Susan Sontag would have put it), and have the book edited.

 

LB: So… why write this book?

 

DJM: I assume you mean this particular book, with its particular focus and characters.  Well, as a lawyer I had worked for a long time in the Middle East and with Arab clients, having made 22 trips to Saudi Arabia alone.  I had also lived and practiced my profession on Wall Street, in Paris, and with clients from all over the world.  And I had represented Arabs in my pro bono practice and otherwise.   And so, as I began to write the novel in 1999, I had the idea to create the character of a Muslim writer, a poet, who is persecuted by the regime in her native country, much as was my refugee client to whom I alluded earlier.  I was well along in the writing when 9/11 took place.  By that time I had left New York, but my brother, a lawyer who worked in the World Trade Center, survived it, and suffered its after-effects.  Then, of course, we had the War in Iraq in 2003.  Soon afterwards, we began to see in America a surge of prejudice against Arabs and Muslims.  I had known, and had grown to respect, their culture and religion during my time working with them. 

 

With this experience in mind, I decided to create Muslim characters who are in every sense “ordinary”–real people endowed with all the human virtues, foibles, frailties, and attributes that Allah, God, Gilgamesh or whoever had bestowed upon them.  And, judging from the enthusiastic response of my readers, I believe that I succeeded.  When I delivered the first draft of the novel to my editor in New York, Danelle McCafferty, Danelle (who edits for Tom Robbins, Nora Roberts, and other writers esteemed for their character development) said, “Don’t change a hair on her beautiful head.”   I had gotten it right.

LB: Which writers have inspired you? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from a fellow-writer?

 

DJM: Hemingway, first, because of his ability to create scenes and imbue his storylines with momentum and force.  But also Thomas Mann, because of his ability to create character through serious dialogue, without making it seem tendentious or preachy.  I wanted to say a lot about Muslims in my novel, but my editor forbade me to “teach or preach.”  So, a novel like The Magic Mountain, which I’ve read a number of times through my life, worked a great influence on me.  In fact, I very much was thinking of the exchanges between Settembrini and Hans Castorp when I sequestered Charles and Fatima in their mountain hideaway in the French Alps.

 

And enjoying dual Irish and American nationality, I’m happy to say that James Joyce is one of my literary heroes.  Indeed, in writing the first scene in my novel, with the sand drifting down and down on Baghdad, I had in mind that marvelous scene in The Dead of the snow falling on Dublin.  Like all Irishmen, I love Joyce’s acute ear, his sense of play, in using words.  I believe that the reader should have the pleasure of the text itself, besides of course the narrative and the characters.     

LB: What is your favourite book?

 

DJM: I have many, but if forced to choose, I’d pick The Great Gatsby.  I love how Fitzgerald juxtaposes characters who exude a sort of benign amorality, even evil, with others who present themselves as essentially innocent, even a bit naïve.  I’m fascinated by the problem of evil, especially as it transcends culture and religion.  (Notice that there are “good” Muslims in the novel as there are “bad”  And although you might say that A Thousand Veils, like The Great Gatsy, is in a real sense Manichaean, I believe that few motifs in a novel can be as compelling in the reader’s mind as the cataclysmic struggle between good and evil.  What intrigues readers more than anything else is whether in the end evil will prevail and, related to this, whether the heroine or hero will ultimately fall in one moral category or the other.  In A Thousand Veils, for a long time I leave the reader wondering whether Charles will have the capacity to evolve into a “good” character in order to thwart the evil Saddam and save Fatima.  And whether evil prevails in the end I leave to my readers.        

LB : If you could pick a character from literature and fiction in general to use in a book, who would it be?

 

DJM: Without hesitation, I’d pick Emma in Madame Bovary.  Flaubert succeeded in creating a character who (much as the character of Fatima in A Thousand Veils) is almost unbelievably conflicted, torn between her own need for independence and self-realization, on one hand, and the constraints of her society, on the other.  And because French society in her time and place was experiencing pervasive changes in its view of women and their role and status, the pressures on Emma were enormous, and ultimately explain and rationalize her tragedy.  Throughout Madame Bovary, the reader is kept guessing how Emma will, or can, ever reconcile her personal and societal values, ensnared as she was among them.  I like that ambivalence in a character, and I’d be intrigued to use Emma in a book of mine.  As it turns out, and perhaps not too surprisingly, Fatima experiences the same sort of struggle, tries to break free of the constraints of her society, culture and religion, and internalizes the same guilt and remorse as Emma as she succeeds.  And, pace Flaubert, tragedy again is the result.  But this time, the story ends on an upbeat note.

LB: Looking back at A Thousand Veils, would you have done anything differently? Changed a detail, a plot point?

 

DJM: No.  I did 21 drafts over eight years so I really had a good chance to work out the plot points, not to mention the details, well in advance.  Recently I read that Hemingway produced 18 drafts of For Whom the Bell Tolls.   

LB: Why self-publish?

 

DJM: I made the mistake of not quitting my law practice when I had written the first two chapters of my novel thirty years ago, instead of becoming a successful lawyer.  I think I’ve might have led a happier, certainly less stressful, existence. Oh, and not to have been the butt of all those lawyer jokes!  These days, when I’m asked to fill in the immigration papers in some foreign country, I proudly inscribe “Writer” in the profession category.

 

Well, as I was only a successful lawyer, no publisher would take up my book, as good as it is.  So, I did the only honorable thing and exposed it to the public eye on my own nickel and with my own devices.  (Actually, I’m on the waiting lists of a few publishers.)  But in my mind I’ll never peddle my novel to every inhabitant of the planet anyway, so I’m content with my readership as it is.  Many of my readers have observed that A Thousand Veils would make a good film.  As I did write it with an eye toward its cinematic potential, I would strongly agree.   

LB: What are your thoughts on book blogging in general? Some reviewers are very "sniffy", saying bloggers aren’t trained literature experts, or that they always post positive reviews. What do you think?

 

DJM: Bloggers are like the audience in a grand theatre.  They cheer and boo and get restless and chortle and heckle as they will.  They are as important to authors like me as the audience is to the performers at a majestic piece of grand opera. And, no, as observers on the human scene, they are sometimes critical, sometimes jubilant, sometimes utterly ridiculous, sometimes even profound, but always worth reading and heeding.  I like them.  And applaud them for what they do.

LB: Thank you for an interesting and insightful interview!

An interview with Linda Gillard Part (2) – Linda interviews Liz

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Hello again!

As I mentioned in my interview with Linda here , Linda thought it would  be fun to turn the tables and intervew me about my life as a reader! So -here goes!

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Linda interviews Liz

LINDA: Why do you read? How long do you think you could go without opening a book?

LIZ: I read because I have to (like writers write?!).  I have always taken comfort and joy from reading and loved the places it took me.  I can’t go long without reading.  There is a book in my bag at all times.  I did do a sort of reverse challenge one year, when my Other Half bet me I couldn’t read “only” 2 books per week for a year.  I managed until June that year and he accepted the bet was off – I could hardly bear it, and I didn’t do more quality things with the time I had “free”, just read more magazines and watched more TV!

LINDA: Do you have a favourite book?

LIZ: The books I go back to are the childhood classics – Noel Streatfeild, pony books, Frances Hodgson Burnett, etc.  Then there’s the perennial favourites – Middlemarch is a lovely one to re-read and I loved A Suitable Boy and enjoyed re-reading it 12 years after the first time.  I love travel writing and could read Paul Theroux over and over again. 

LINDA: What sort of thing makes you buy/borrow a book?

LIZ: Recommendation from friends is a big one, especially these days.  There are some that, even if they don’t look promising, I will read if friends have read and enjoyed them.  One example is your own A Lifetime Burning, which I didn’t fancy much cover- or blurb-wise but was persuaded into.  A later example is an Icelandic crime novel I picked up the other day.  If Ali and Audrey enjoyed it, chances are I will!

I do go by the cover, too.  A few paisleys or a minaret, and I’m there.  More about that later…
 
LINDA: What makes you put a book back on the shelf?/What makes you give up on a book?

LIZ: I don’t like the “chick-litty” covers – all that pink and curly writing, however there have been some books with those covers which are not like that at all (Debbie Macomber comes to mind – simple romance, she is not, but she is marketed as such).  I will give up on a book (and I’ve only recently been able to put a book down rather than go through to the bitter end) if the writing is very poor, if there’s a lot of upsetting violence, if I can see there is a horrible animal death, or, in the case of the last two non-fiction books I’ve read, the information is outdated and subscribes to views or attitudes I am not interested in.
 
LINDA: What do you think about book covers? How much information do you want about a book on a cover and blurb? (I get incensed by blurbs that tell you big things about the plot when the author has spent 40 pages building up suspense! When I gave my daughter TWILIGHT to read, I forbade her to read the blurb on the back.)

LIZ: Covers are important in providing information on genre etc.  As I said above, I have rejected books with covers implying something they’re not, so I try to see through that.  I have also pounced on books with minarets or paisleys, then found they’re not so good.  The blurb on the back can be very annoying – either too much information or skewed to what the blurb-writer thinks the audience is.  I don’t really like the author quotations on books – I don’t really trust them as a) they could be extracted from a longer comment, and b) the author may be one I don’t like or doesn’t turn out to be similar to the author in hand.
 
LINDA:  What do you think about the proposal to age-band books for children? (Bear in mind most children’s books are bought by adults for children.)

LIZ: I think this is a difficult one.  With the plethora of books out there, especially this trend for magical themed books (which can get a bit violent or graphic) then I think there is a need for guidance.  But children’s reading ages differ hugely and I would hate to think of a child put off by a younger or older guide age.  I think people should be encouraged to consult the librarian or children’s bookseller – or maybe there should be information available nearby or on a PC, without having it splashed all over the book.  I would hate to have felt I couldn’t have read The Hobbit aged 7 as it was marked 14 or older, and would feel a bit odd clutching my Bali Rai novel if it had a teenage age in big letters on the back, so what would the kids of today feel like?
 
LINDA: If you could commission a book to be written specially for you what sort of book would it be? (Genre, style, no of pages, author – dead or alive.)

LIZ: A new, endless series of Debbie Macomber novels set in a small town, which appeared effortlessly in my house and I didn’t have to wait a year for the next one.  Or one last Iris Murdoch, from when she was at the height of her powers.
 
LINDA: If you were a book what book would you be?

LIZ: I often feel like I’m in a David Lodge or Barbara Pym novel so one of those – I think on reflection, a Pym, as I battle on in the background, in a sea of mad academic types!

[Note from Linda G: Well, I think you’re COLD COMFORT FARM, Liz: Flora Poste – practical, funny but with a romantic streak – organizing a family of batty eccentrics with great good humour and common sense!]

Thanks, Linda – that was fun!
 

An Interview with Linda Gillard

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Introducing Linda Gillard:

Linda Gillard now lives in Glasgow, but has spent the last seven years living on the Isle of Skye.  Having been through three careers, as an actor, journalist and teacher, she wrote her first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, which was published by Transita in 2005.  Linda’s second novel A LIFETIME BURNING was published in 2006, also by Transita.  Her third novel, STAR GAZING, set on the Isle of Skye and in Edinburgh, was published by Piatkus in 2008.  STAR GAZING has been short-listed for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Novel of the Year. (We find out the result on February 10th).

More about Linda and her books can be found here.

I met Linda through my work bringing Transita and BookCrossing together, which got Transita’s books well-known and BookCrossed (and purchased!) all over the world.  Linda is a generous author – generous with contact with her readers and with connecting with the wider public.  She has given talks and run hugely popular writers’ workshops at BookCrossing Conventions, as well as appearing at local meetings and maintaining contact with her fans.  I was privileged to read STAR GAZING in manuscript form and am looking forward to a long and happy association with Linda and her novels.

When I suggested to Linda that I run an interview with her on my blog, she agreed then turned the tables and suggested that she also interview me, as a reader!  The first article will be me interviewing Linda; watch this space for Linda interviewing me

Liz Interviews Linda:

LIZ: Why did you start writing? Why do you continue?

LINDA: I’ve always written and my work has always been about words. As a child I wrote stories and made my own comics and as I grew up I became a great letter-writer. I wrote a short time-travel romance in my teens and I did literary A-levels and a Drama and German degree, so I was writing essays about plot, character and style for years. My first career was as an actress but then I took up journalism, so that was my first professional writing. I did that for 12 years and I also started writing unpublished novels. (I completed my first when my kids were 4 and 2, so I tend to give people a Paddington hard stare when they come out with the old chestnut, “I’d love to write a novel, if only I had the time.”)

When I was 40 I trained as a teacher. I only taught for a few years before cracking up with overwork and stress and when I was recovering, I did a lot of reading. I wasn’t too impressed with what was on offer in the way of contemporary women’s fiction, so I decided I’d write what I wanted to read and couldn’t find in bookshops. I never intended it for publication but that book was published as EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, my first novel.

Why do I keep writing? Well, it certainly isn’t for the money! (The vast majority of authors earn very little from their books.) I’m addicted to writing fiction. I was addicted even before I’d finished EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and I started writing my second novel two weeks after I’d finished my first. I love creating other people, other worlds, and I always fall madly in love with my heroes. I love the intellectual demands of writing, the moral, intellectual and artistic challenges.

One of the things that keeps me at it is the wonderful feedback I get from readers, especially BookCrossers, many of whom are fans of my books. It’s very gratifying to be able to talk about your characters with readers and find out how they felt about them. I think some of the happiest moments of my life have been spent talking to my readers. People care so much about books and stories. It’s wonderful!

LIZ: Who is your favourite character out of all of the characters in your published books?

LINDA: Hmmm, very hard to choose… It’s like asking a mother which of her children she loves most! The character who has haunted me the most is Rory Dunbar, the anti-hero of my second novel, A LIFETIME BURNING. He really got under my skin and I missed him dreadfully when I finished writing the book.

I’m very fond of Garth the Goth in my third novel, STAR GAZING. Garth was meant to be just a minor character but he practically stole the book. He was a treat to write and made me laugh out loud.

The romantic hero I lusted after the most was Calum, the teacher-poet in EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. He seems to have ticked a lot of boxes for female readers. 😉

LIZ: And your least favourite?

LINDA: I don’t think I’ve ever created a character I didn’t like. It’s a case of “Love the sinner, not the sin.” A LIFETIME BURNING’s Rory was in some ways a monster, but as their creator, you even love the characters who do awful things. I think my least successful character might be Megan in EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. She was a bit sketchy. If I could re-write that book I’d develop her a bit more, tell more of her story.

LIZ: Who is your favourite character in literature?

LINDA: Hamlet. I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare, especially HAMLET. (And yes, I did see David Tennant play it last year!)

LIZ: Which character from literature do you wish you could have had in your novels?

LINDA: The delectable Francis Crawford, hero of Dorothy Dunnett’s six-book series, THE LYMOND CHRONICLES. He wouldn’t fit in at all! He’s a swashbuckling 16th-century Scots adventurer. But for Francis, I’d re-write. 😉

LIZ: Would you change anything in any of your books? A character, a scene, a plot device?

LINDA: No, I don’t think so, apart from amplifying Megan as I mentioned above. I agonised about some things at the time – the manner of Flora’s death for example in A LIFETIME BURNING – but I’m happy with the artistic decisions I made.

I might remove some of the swearing in EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. (Climbers can be foul-mouthed at times!) It’s not excessive, but what little there is upset some people. It was nothing compared to what you get in a crime novel or adult movie, but much to my surprise, there were adverse comments about it from some readers. I now think very carefully before I use words that will offend some people but I’d still use them if I thought the character would. Evidently some readers get really put off or just distracted by so-called “bad language”. That surprised me when you consider what you can hear these days, standing at a bus stop.

LIZ: What do you think about book blogs? Some newspapers and commentators have been a bit "sniffy" about the credentials of book bloggers as opposed to "professional" reviewers. What do you think?

LINDA: I love book blogs, even though they make me buy far more books than I shall live long enough to read. Book blogs are the best thing to have happened in the book world since BookCrossing.

Book bloggers have been very good to me, giving all my books positive reviews – some of them raves. Since the literary press have completely ignored me, I don’t know how readers would have found out about me without the kind offices of BookCrossers and book bloggers. But I’m not a fan just because they like me. I love blogs because the reviews are for the most part intelligent, entertaining and fair. Bloggers judge a book for what it is and are mercifully unimpressed by hype and the cult of celebrity. 

What I want from a book review is some idea of what happens (but no spoilers) and a clear idea of what a book is like – its intended readership, style, length, whether it’s easy to read or demanding. Many’s the time I’ve read a newspaper review of a book and I’ve got to the end and still didn’t know whether the reviewer thought the book was good. Useless! Bloggers give you all the information you need and the fact they’ve chosen to review a book tells you it’s probably worth reading.

I know bloggers have been slated for giving only positive reviews but this doesn’t bother me. There’s enough negativity in the world without anyone needing to add to the sum. If a book is bad, ignore it and praise a better one. Anyway, if you get to know a blogger’s style you can tell which books are the real winners. The passion for a great book comes across. It’s a wonderful thing: to share your enthusiasm for books with other book lovers, perhaps even make the career of an unknown writer who might otherwise have sunk without trace.

I’m sure there must be some rubbish blogs out there (though I‘ve never actually found one), but the standard of reviewing is generally high. I think they do a brilliant job of writing about books without spoilers. (My books are tricky to review for that reason. It’s hard to say anything at all about the plot of A LIFETIME BURNING without giving something away – but the bloggers managed!) I don’t think you need credentials to review books, you just need to love books and have a talent for communicating your enthusiasm. That’s what sells books – personal recommendation – so I don’t know why publishers have been slow to wake up to the marketing potential of blogs. My publisher wouldn’t send review copies to bloggers, so I sent them out myself. I was confident of my product and I knew blog reviews would sell copies and spread the word. Now my publishers have seen all my good reviews, I think they might be more willing to send copies to bloggers in future.

LIZ: Thank you Linda for sharing your thoughts and insights with us!