Tuesday, March 24, 2009

**Interview With YA Author: Gillian Philip**

After reading Crossing The Line, I made contact with the author, Gillian Philip and begged her to pop by for an author interivew. And she agreed, which thrilled me no end.

Photo by Les Hester

1. Please introduce yourself to us.

I’m an obsessive writer and I’ve been writing all my life – give or take a few periods of denial, when I tried to do – ahem - ‘proper’ jobs. I live in the north-east Highlands of Scotland with my husband, seven-year-old twins, a Labrador and two cats. I lived in Barbados for twelve years – that’s where I started writing professionally (I couldn’t get a work permit, so I contributed short stories to women’s magazines back home). But Scotland is definitely my natural habitat – as are Young Adult novels. I discovered them in the children’s section of bookshops after my kids were born, and that’s when I found what I truly wanted to write.

2. What is Bad Faith all about?

It’s the story of a girl called Cassandra, who has a dodgy leg, a dodgy boyfriend, and a seriously dodgy memory. Bad Faith is set in a state ruled by theocratic government, and Cass’s father is a respected cleric, so she’s had a privileged life. But after a car accident, there’s a period in her life she has trouble remembering – and her family seems to be harbouring some terrible secrets.

Then Cass and her infidel boyfriend Ming find the corpse of a missing bishop - and decide that he has to stay missing. That’s when things really start to go wrong...

3. Tell us a bit about your newest novel, Crossing the Line.

It’s about a boy called Nick Geddes who has done some terrible things. After the killing of a boy a year ago he’s trying to turn his life round, but it’s complicated. Nick is in love and lust with the dead boy’s sister, but he’s also having to keep an eye on his own deranged sister and her imaginary friend. Things take a turn for the worse when a dangerous figure reappears from Nick’s past.

4. How did the story for Crossing the Line come to you?

I always have trouble thinking back to the exact moment a story started. I do remember the spark of a particularly shocking knife murder a few years ago. The characters grew in my head when I was out for a walk one day – Allie started out as a boy, and I never knew Nick was such a thug till I started to write him. But they took over, the way characters do, and told me their stories. Lola Nan was very vociferous!

5. Both Allie and Nick are fantastic characters – do you think you will at a later stage return to their lives?

I don’t think so. Never say never, but I think their stories have been told now. I hope their lives go well. Maybe they’ll let me know...

6. Tell us a bit more about the Darke Academy and when we can expect to see it in the shops.

The Darke Academy is a school with secrets. It’s a truly international school in that it moves to a different location every term, and the students come from all over the world. But as my scholarship heroine discovers, they are an even more cosmopolitan bunch than they seem on the surface. And the school brings a whole new meaning to the term student body.

I collaborated on the Darke Academy series with Hothouse Fiction – they are the company responsible for the Darkside books, which I thought were terrific. Hothouse provided the outline and I wrote the story with input from the editors. It was a new and different way for me to work, and I enjoyed it a lot.

7. What is your writing day like?

I’m terrible at getting started. I have a coffee, and then another. I fill the dishwasher. I do emails, I go on Facebook. Anything rather than write. But once I get started I try to stay in my chair and focused. And if it’s going well – whoosh. I can write through till evening. That doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s amazing.

8. What do you do to relax and unwind?

Write. I know, that sounds sad! Well, I do love to go for long walks, and if I can motivate myself, a workout at the gym is fantastic. But if I’m not writing, I feel so guilty that it’s best just to get back to it. I love movies, especially thrillers or good superhero movies or epics, but about halfway through I’ll think of something for my story, and I’ll be hankering after my laptop so much I can’t concentrate.

9. Does music play an important part of you, writing scenes / creating characters.

Absolutely. I like to have a whole unique soundtrack for each book, and I’ll play it over and over again to get me into the right mindset. Songs can be a wonderful trigger for atmosphere and theme. I got four books out of John Cale singing Hallelujah...

Image from Gillian's website

10. I notice on your site that you are very active doing talks and workshops at schools and libraries – how do you prepare for them and what do you talk about?

I’d like to be even more active! I really enjoy doing talks and workshops, getting feedback from readers. I like to talk about my own writing process, about how I got started and also why it took so long for me – all the things that get in the way of being a writer. If someone can write and wants to write, they shouldn’t waste time not writing (like I did). All you have to do is start. I find that ideas and plots come when I get started, not before, so I talk about that, about breaking down the barriers between the writer and the story.

11. Who is the most famous person you’ve met in your “job” as an author?

Oh – hard question! I’m lucky enough to be a member of a children’s writers’ internet group, where I’ve ‘met’ terrific authors like Susan Price and Mary Hoffman and Leslie Wilson and many others... Oh, and I’ve met Ian Rankin in the flesh, but I was far too starstruck to do more than mumble.

12. Are there any “how to” books that you have on your shelf that’s helped you with your own writing?

The best writing book I’ve ever read is On Writing by Stephen King. He’s realistic, he’s helpful, he’s so readable... and he’s very entertaining.

13. Will you be touring for Crossing the Line (she asks, desperately wanting her copy signed)?

I hope I’ll be getting out and about, definitely!

14. You specifically write for the young adult market – what made you choose this “sub-genre” (if you can call it that) in children’s literature.

I was drawn to the YA shelves when I was looking for books for my own children. There was such a great range of stories, such terrific plots and characters, so many wonderful authors; I’d discovered what I wanted to write. There’s a lot of scope for crossing boundaries in YA fiction, and it’s a great, open-minded, passionate audience to write for. One thing it’s not about is ‘writing down’. I like to steal a quote from YA imprint Flux Books – ‘Young Adult is a point of view, not a reading level.’

15. Do you have favourite movies / books that influence your writing at all?

Lots! I see my books inside my head as if I’m watching a movie, and I try to leave out the parts where I’d wander away to get some more popcorn...
I try not to read much fiction while I’m immersed in my own stories, because I’m afraid of the style ‘leaking’ and affecting mine. But there are so many authors I love – Bernard Cornwell, Malorie Blackman, Ruth Rendell... and I’m completely in awe of Russell T. Davies. That man is my idol.

16. Finally, any recommendations on either “how to” books or favourite authors / books, that influenced you and your career decisions.

There are so many ‘how-to’ books – I can’t recommend better than Stephen King’s – but it’s too easy to get hung up on reading them all. You can take good advice, but the only way to learn how to write is to sit down and do it, and do it again, and do it again. Get objective feedback – pay for it if necessary; there are lots of companies that provide manuscript services. You have to be determined, and you have to have talent, and you have to be willing to listen to criticism and take rejection – but if you have all that, don’t ever be discouraged by naysayers.


Luisa at Chicklish said...

Fascinating interview - thanks!

prophecygirl said...

LOL - I just posted an interview with her too! How weird...

Yours is cool, yey for Gillian!

Anonymous said...

Great interview.

Totally loved the quote, ‘Young Adult is a point of view, not a reading level.’

I'll be stealing that one! and sharing it with a few adult friends of mine. People sometimes look a little nonplused when we're talking about YA books ... especially as we get seriously animated at times. When asked why a fortysomething reads so many YA novels - in stead of replying 'Why not!?' and all that that reply entails - I'll steal that quote, thank you. Genius.

Will definately be looking out for Gillian Philip's novels now.

Liz said...

@Chicklish - why thank you, young miss!

@Prophecygirl - I don't think we could have asked for a nicer interviewee!

@Wend - I agree, that quote is awesome and will definitely be using it in future. It also makes me feel more confident about where I would like to see my OWN writing go!

Sadako said...

Thanks for posting. I hadn't heard of this but I really want to read Darke Academy and also Bad Faith now!