It’s been a bit quiet recently on the blog – for which, my apologies. I’m working on a ‘how-to’ book about self-publishing, I’m selling my house, I’m freelancing to pay the bills and, inevitably, I’m buying a house too.
Normal service is resumed with this interview with Jean Gill, a Welsh author, poet and photographer who has published some 19 books (spanning poetry, novels, 12th century thrillers and, yes, a goat’s cheese recipe book) and who resides in France. She was also the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Wales, fact fans.
Huge thanks to Jean for her time providing the answers. You’ll find various links to her site and excellent books at the end of the piece, but her newest launch, Song Hereafter, the final part of her The Troubadours quartet, launches today.
Harry Scott: How long have you been writing?
Jean Gill: Since I was about seven. I wrote a dire melodrama of twelve chapters called Jill’s Stables when I was eleven. My first book, poetry, was published in 1988.
HS: How long did it take you to find a writing system and a place that you were happy with?
JG: The system changes all the time according to what I’m writing and any new software I’m using but since we moved to Provence fourteen years ago, I write either at my desk in a corner of the living-room or outdoors in the garden on the laptop.
HS: Please describe, in physical terms, what you see where you write – tell us what’s on your desk, your view, what’s nearby.
JG: In the photo you can see the view from my desk. I keep an ‘inspiration shelf’ beyond which is the view of my garden and the landscape beyond that. My ‘inspiration’ objects include gifts from the children and grandchildren (the dragon, dogs, cat and home-grown crystals) and natural treasures (skulls, an antler, feathers and a queen bee cell on bee-made honeycomb).
HS: Why did you choose this place and what are the benefits?
JG: It has the right ambience. I can look at my inspiration shelf or outdoors and muse. I can play music, loud. My dogs keep me company and although I’m lost in my writing world, I’m not shut away. I suppose it’s a form of ‘open door management’ like in my old professional days.
HS: Are you able to write with other people nearby or do you require solitude?
JG: I prefer to be alone (apart from the dogs) but don’t mind visits from my husband, who knows to avoid interruptions unless bearing tea, biscuits and interesting information.
HS: How did you decide on your writing place? How did you get to that stage and what else did you try?
JG: When we bought the house I knew straight away where my corner would be. I like a window in front of me as I write and I wanted to be in the heart of the house, not hidden away. In the old days, with children, I preferred to shut myself away but I still liked a window.
HS: What’s your writing schedule – how do you break up your day and do you have a favourite time to write?
JG: I’m a morning person and rarely write for more than 3 hours. I’ll walk the dogs with my husband and then settle to write until lunch-time. I need time in between writing, for the story to evolve and for my own health.
HS: Do you listen to music or anything else while you write?
JG: Yes, I often listen to music – anything from 12th century troubadours to Metallica. The troubadour music is good for context and atmosphere when I’m writing about that period but any music I like adds to the enjoyment of writing. I enjoy writing.
HS: What’s the most unusual place you’ve ever written?
JG: Good question! My poems always start hand-written and I’ve scribbled them on receipts when queuing for the till in a supermarket, or while waiting at the doctor’s. I wrote the opening passage to a novel at a garage, waiting for my car to be fixed, entered it (the passage, not the car) for The Mail on Sunday’s competition and it won ‘Highly Commended.’
HS: Do you have different writing places for different kinds of book?
JG: Poetry happens when it chooses and where it chooses, always hand-written. For my historical novels, I spend a year on research and letting the story brew before I settle to a daily writing routine. When I was working, I used to write during school holidays, sometimes away from home, and I would choose a corner with a window.
HS: What do you write your first draft on?
JG: Paper for poetry and a PC or laptop for prose. I use Microsoft Word because I hate learning new technology – I’d rather spend the time writing.
HS: Does your writing/preparation method affect your space – is it full of post-its and scribbled notes, or is it pared back and minimalist?
JG: It’s a total mess, full of research books and notes, some post-its, but of course I know where everything is and NOBODY TOUCHES MY DESK!
HS: Do you have any kind of mascots or good luck charms to hand?
JG: No. When I was a child I used to feel my Parker fountain pen was like Sparkie’s magic piano and would help me pass exams.
HS: Do you have a particular type of clothing that you have to wear, or any other superstitions or rituals that go with your writing?
JG: No, but I’m always afraid the magic will disappear. It does feel like magic.
HS: What’s the perfect drink to write with?
JG: Regular fill-ups of tea or coffee. I love wine but for me that’s relaxation in the evening, not good for writing at all.
Writing with dogs to hand – I know exactly how Jean feels. Mine sometimes tries to type on my laptop. Jean has won awards galore, and you can follow her writing life and see some excellent dog pictures over at her site. To buy her books, head over to her Amazon author page. She’s on twitter @writerjeangill and has a Facebook page for her The Troubadours series. Thanks again to Jean for taking time out and best of luck with your launch.