Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Bookworm’s Fantasy! I hope you’re all doing well. Today I’m so excited to be posting my interview with author Gillian McAllister exclusively for this blog! Those of you who read my blog regularly will probably already know that McAllister is one of my all-time favourite authors – I really admire her work and hope to write like her some day! You can find my review for her debut ‘Everything But The Truth’ here and my review for her second novel ‘Anything You Do Say’ here. Thanks so much to Gillian for answering my questions! So, here goes…
About the Author
Gillian McAllister lives in Birmingham, UK. She works in the Law field as well as writing novels. Her first novel, ‘Everything But The Truth’, was published in March 2017. Her second novel, ‘Anything You Do Say’, was released on 19th October 2017.
1) Could you tell me a bit about your writing journey, specifically your journey to becoming published? Did you receive rejections, and how did you bounce back from these?
Absolutely. It was pretty turbulent at times. I queried some agents in late 2013 with a very messy book. I got a few full requests but ultimately received rejections. Really, I agreed with them. I didn’t understand genre or the markets at the time, so didn’t really understand that – these days – your book has to have a crystal clear ‘hook’. I took them on board – they were very useful – and to be honest I had found the whole process of trying to get an agent so exciting that I was eager to try again! I planned out a book with a better hook, wrote it in 8 months, and got signed with my agent, Clare, with that book.
I think if rejections are numerous and some bring up the same themes or criticisms you will do well to listen. An awful lot of getting published is about luck and timing, but not all of it. Sometimes, you have to work harder to become more knowledgeable, or more sellable in a crowded market.
2) If you had to describe each of your novels (Everything But The Truth and Anything You Do Say) in just three words, which words would you choose?
Hmm, great question! Everything But The Truth: A Whopping Secret.
Anything You Do Say: Sliding Doors Crime.
3) How long does it usually take you to write a novel and what is the process from start to finish?
I deliver roughly every ten months and I use every day of that ten months, though now that I am edited (and copy edited) the process involves a little bit more plate spinning than it used to. Now that I’m in the rhythm of it, it seems to go a little like this:
I spend a month planning a novel, talking to people, writing down ideas, staring at a story board, etc. Then I write a first draft in three months (or less; I do aim for less). It’s quick and dirty and contains only the bare bones of how I want the novel to be. Usually around this time I have to put it aside for edits on my previous manuscript, which is good, as after a first draft is an excellent time to have some space from it.
Then I index card my plot and become very critical. This time is THE WORST, as everybody in my family will attest. I am insufferable. It’s also a really vital time, as it’s the time when I confront what isn’t working in my book and what is. I look at plot, primarily, but also pace, structure, characterisation, motivations etc. I then make a giant to do list, or sometimes make two lists, one which is each scene in the book as it is and the second with how I want the book to be. That was what I did with my third novel and it worked quite well. I then spend three/four/five months working my way sequentially through it.
Usually in the middle of this I get copy edits, which take a few weeks, and then page proofs, which take about a week.
Then I often do a few weeks on what I call a character edit, which is where I go through and thread in character traits, deepen relationships and reasons for actions, etc.
Next, I do a prose edit, which is where I try to read about 3000 words per day, tinkering with the actual micro detail of it; the words and the metaphors and the sentence structure.
Finally, I read it through, which takes about a week.
I make that ten months, pretty much!
4) I understand you were a lawyer prior to becoming a published author. How do you think this has aided your writing? Do you believe that having “life experiences” makes your writing more authentic?
I was and am still a practising lawyer. I think anybody would agree that going out into the world most days is beneficial for writing. Getting away from the text and out into society is often just what I need – both for plot-anxiety and for inspiration. I think my job probably does lend me an air of authenticity, even though I don’t work in criminal law. I can certainly find things out quite easily about the justice system when surrounded by lawyers.
5) There’s obviously a big market currently for Thriller and Crime novels. What would you say you’re interested in, or wish to portray in your writing, that makes you different to other authors of the genre?
Well, I think my thrillers have quite big hearts. Usually there are family or relationship angles, and I shy away from huge violent showdowns in favour of (what I hope are) more nuanced plots. I’m not sure I know too many writers who are writing thrillers with both a legal and a relationship angle, as I am. I also think my structures are quite interesting – maybe. My second, Anything You Do Say, is a Sliding Doors structure about a woman who does/doesn’t hand herself in after committing a crime on the way home from a night out. And my third, No Further Questions, is a courtroom drama in which each witness called gives evidence in their own chapter, with their own voice, in flashback form, slowly piecing together the picture of what the defendant did or didn’t do.
6) What have you been working on recently?
I’m working on my fourth novel, which is called Beyond Reasonable Doubt.
7) So, you’re a Birmingham-based author, and I’m a Birmingham-based reader! Would you ever consider writing a Thriller set in the city?
Funny you should say – book four is my first midlands-set thriller!
8) Which books have you been reading recently that you’d recommend to others?
I recently very much enjoyed The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard, which is out in March 2018.
9) Tell me a bit more about you. What are your hobbies and interests, aside from reading and writing?
There’s a world outside writing? That’s a funny old question, because I’m in the incredibly fortunate position of my hobby having become my job – well, one of my jobs. Writing used to fill every spare moment for me, but now I try to keep it in more of a 9-5 box (I fail miserably, of course, because I love it too much: I snuck off to write on Boxing Day this year!). I’m pretty normal, really. I like reading a lot. I like to dabble with reading about in literary theory, feminism, politics. I have a lot of time for music and incessantly google lyrics. I have five baths a week. I’m getting a Golden Retriever in 2018. I am an avid but awful baker. I am crap at watching telly.
10) And finally, do you have any tips or advice for fellow writers?
Most definitely: finish the first draft. No matter what your brain is telling you. It will put all sorts of obstacles in the way but you have to ignore them and go straight on through to the end of the damn, as Hemingway said. Then, and only then, can you start to shape it. Oh, and probably to accept the time it takes and the sacrifices: if you make your peace with it taking around about a year, and missing out (by definition) on other things throughout that year, you’ll have that amazing moment in twelve months’ time when you think: oh, I finished that thing that didn’t exist a year ago, and I’m very glad I did that. (Rather than: oh shit, it’s been another year – will I ever write a novel? – this was me until 2013).