Guest Blog: Linda Gillard chimes in on #HowIWrite

Two years ago, I sat on a panel at the London Book Fair with the fabulous Linda Gillard. I was utterly charmed by her grace, wit, and artistic integrity, promptly bought three of her books, and have been a devoted fan ever since. Linda appears as a guest on writing blogs far and wide. Delighted to tag her here for the #HowIWrite Q&A that's currently trending:

What are you writing?
I’m planning my eighth novel. It will be about reconciliation and healing. I think the main character (and possibly the narrator) will be an old, neglected garden that surrounds a once-grand Victorian country house, now a nursing home. The garden has witnessed the rise and fall of family fortunes for more than a century and has now fallen into decay, but it has stories to tell about the original inhabitants of the estate.

In the present day, my forty-something heroine comes home to look after her elderly artist mother who can no longer paint or live independently. Mother and daughter get to know each other again as they restore a remnant of the old garden. In the process, they discover the poignant story of the man who had to abandon the garden – and the woman he loved – to go off to war in 1914.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?
It’s different because it doesn’t belong to any genre, or rather no single genre. I’ve written a three-generation family saga, a country house mystery, two ghost stories and three love stories where the hero or heroine is disabled or mentally ill – not exactly “romances”. Three of those novels are literary fiction, but I’d describe the others as commercial women’s fiction (though some of my best reviews have come from men!)

I’m a marketing department’s nightmare. But for me it’s not about genre, it’s about the story and the characters.

Why do you write what you do? 
To find out what I think. I don’t know what I think until I see what I say and I’ve never written a novel knowing how it will end. (If I knew, I doubt I’d write it.) I’m looking for answers to all the questions that rattle around in my head. It’s really a form of control freakery. Telling stories is my way of imposing order on the mental and emotional chaos within.

But I can’t shoehorn my books into a particular genre. I don’t see life like that and I want my fiction to have some bearing on real life. The stories are fiction, but I hope when you read them, you think, “Oh, yes. That’s so true...” And that’s what I try to do. Tell true lies.

How does your writing process work?
The genesis of a novel is a combination of visual things and questions – “what-ifs?” The ideas usually come with people attached to them and snatches of dialogue.

Often I don’t know the significance of these visions. I don’t understand what I’ve written, or rather why I've written it. I think you need to be able to trust what you've written, trust the process, trust yourself as a writer. That requires a leap of faith.

When I’m plotting, I just keep asking “What if…?”, making situations and relationships as complicated as possible. My plot, such as it is, arises out of those. But really, not a lot happens in my books. There’s no action in EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, but readers tell me they’re up all night finishing it. It must be because so much has happened in the past. The novel is an excavation – sometimes an exhumation!

I always find what goes on inside the mind of a character much more interesting than what goes on outside it, so I don’t actually need a plot to start writing, just a situation and some characters.


Linda Gillard lives in the Scottish Highlands and has been an actress, journalist and teacher. She’s the author of seven novels, including Star Gazing, which was short-listed in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and the Robin Jenkins Literary Award (for writing that promotes the Scottish landscape), and House of Silence, a Kindle bestseller selected by Amazon as one of their Top Ten Best of 2011 in the Indie Author category. Linda’s latest is Cauldstane, a contemporary ghost story set in a decaying Highland castle. Find Linda on Facebook and check out some of her wise writing advice.

My personal nomination for your next summer read: Emotional Geology, an offbeat, award-winning love story that showcases this author’s mad skills with character, dialogue, and throat-burning emotion.

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