House of Silence, discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.
DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about House of Silence?
LINDA GILLARD: It’s my fourth published novel and it’s mixed-genre—a mystery, a family drama, a rom-com and a love story. This is the “blurb” I wrote for it…
“My friends describe me as frighteningly sensible, not at all the sort of woman who would fall for an actor. And his home. And his family.”
Orphaned by drink, drugs and rock n’ roll, Gwen Rowland is invited to spend Christmas at her boyfriend Alfie's family home, Creake Hall—a ramshackle Tudor manor in Norfolk. She's excited about the prospect of a proper holiday with a proper family, but soon after she arrives, Gwen senses something isn't quite right. Alfie acts strangely toward his family and is reluctant to talk about the past. His mother, a celebrated children's author, keeps to her room, living in a twilight world, unable to distinguish between past and present, fact and fiction. And then there's the enigma of an old family photograph...
When Gwen discovers fragments of forgotten family letters sewn into an old patchwork quilt, she starts to piece together the jigsaw of the past and realises there's more to the family history than she's been told. It seems there are things people don’t want her to know. And one of those people is Alfie…
DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
LINDA GILLARD: I work a lot with photos for inspiration, mostly photos in magazines or online. I gather together a selection of photos that physically represent each main character—it doesn’t matter who they are. It’s a bit like auditioning actors for roles.
I started doing this when I was writing my first novel, Emotional Geology. I had a heroine the same age as me and I couldn’t get my own physical appearance out of my head when I was writing. So I looked for a photo of someone who could represent my heroine and I found one in a magazine. That worked so well, I’ve done it ever since. If I work with photos of real people, it stops me resorting to physical stereotypes.
I also make sure each character has a different “voice”. I think a reader should be able to tell who’s speaking without the dialogue being attributed, so I tinker a lot, making sure it sounds natural and appropriate to the character. In some books all the characters sound the same, regardless of age, gender or background.
DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?
LINDA GILLARD: I don’t really have one as I know people of all ages and both genders read my books. But I suppose my ideal reader would read my book as carefully as I wrote it (maybe they’d read it twice!) and they’d feel as if the characters had become friends.
DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?
LINDA GILLARD: I became a novelist by accident. I’d been an actress, journalist and teacher before I took up writing fiction and I’d become very ill as a result of stress and overwork as a teacher. When I was convalescing, I did a lot of reading. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find any commercial women’s fiction that reflected my life and interests. (This was the UK in 1999 and I was 47.) I couldn’t relate to chick lit, which was very big at the time. I couldn’t find any heroines over 40. Older women were always somebody’s mother or somebody’s wife and they never got the guy.
So I started writing the sort of book I wanted to read. I made my heroine 47—on principle! This was suicide in terms of finding a publisher, but I didn’t care. I was just writing to amuse myself.
I got the writing bug and joined a writer’s e-group. They encouraged me to try to get my novel published. I didn’t think I stood a chance. As well as being 47, my heroine also suffered from bipolar affective disorder (manic depression), but I found an agent who loved the book (actually I think she loved the hero!) and eventually we found a publisher. That book became my first novel, Emotional Geology.
DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?
LINDA GILLARD: I draft in longhand, in pencil on lined A4 paper. I can write straight on to the screen but I think I write better when I feel a connection with paper and pencil. I’m also far too ready to delete when I type. I lose confidence in what I have to say. I like the fact that when I write on paper I have the whole process recorded. I also like the scratchy sound of pencil moving across paper!
I type up my draft, print it out, edit by hand, then enter my corrections, many times, until I’m happy. I find I can’t really move on to the next chapter until I’m happy with the previous one. I never do a draft of the whole novel, then go back and re-write it, which is what most people do. By the time I’ve finished my draft, the novel is more or less ready. I do more editing of course (mostly cutting) but I don’t re-write to any great extent.
I’m a great believer in creative cutting. I work on the principle that every word has to earn its place and work hard. My motto is, “If it can be cut, it should be cut.” I know some writers resent cutting their work but I feel, if I’m cutting, the book is getting stronger and better.
DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?
LINDA GILLARD: Authors who have inspired me are (in alphabetical order) Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, Daphne du Maurier, Dorothy Dunnett, Margaret Forster, Georgette Heyer, Patrick O’ Brian, Mary Renault, Shakespeare and Mary Stewart.
DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?
LINDA GILLARD: The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett.
DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?
LINDA GILLARD: I give up a lot of writing time to promote my books, but I have mixed feelings about it. I’d rather be writing. You have to find a balance. I’ve worked hard to promote my novels with guest blogs and interviews and I’ve joined in discussions on many book forums. Participating in those took a lot of time, but it was great for building up a following.
About 90% of what you do in terms of self-promotion is a waste of time—sending out press releases no one reads, doing library or bookshop events attended by a handful of people. The trouble is about 10% of what you do is really valuable, you just don’t know in advance which 10%! So I’ve been generous with my time when there appeared to be no immediate reward for me in terms of sales, because one thing often leads to another. Readers who are active on one book forum tend to be active on several.
I believe in casting your bread upon the waters. I’ve given away a lot of books but I have faith in my product. I know from experience that if people read one of my novels, they’ll want to read the others, so promoting one is actually promoting all of them.
DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?
LINDA GILLARD: I was dropped by my publisher. My editor had moved on to another company and sales of my previous book, Star Gazing, had apparently been disappointing, even though it was short-listed for several awards. I couldn’t find another publisher for my fourth novel so, with my agent’s approval, I decided I would publish it on Kindle.
I had a sizeable following and fans had been pleading with me for a new novel for 3 years. I knew I had a market for a new book but no editor wanted to publish it. (They said this was because the novel was mixed-genre and therefore difficult to market.)
And then the ebook revolution happened and I realised Kindle was the answer. I paid a designer to do a cover, but I knew I’d recoup that cost in sales. I also knew I’d acquire new readers with a Kindle book and they would turn to my out of print back-list, so I decided I would also publish those books on Kindle later this year.
DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?
LINDA GILLARD: You need an immaculate Word doc to start with if you want to avoid glitches. Make sure your book is properly laid out, punctuated and spell-checked. Get a good cover. Your cover is going to do a lot of the selling for you and it’s the first thing your reader connects with. Remember the cover has to work as a thumbnail, so don’t get too fussy.
Be prepared to put in a lot of time promoting your book online if you want to sell. Talk about it on book forums, get book bloggers to review it, offer to do guest blogs and interviews. I’ve found Facebook very useful, but I haven’t bothered with Twitter.
DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
House of Silence was recently published as a Kindle ebook.
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