Tuesday, 9 April 2013

An Interview with Elizabeth Gill, Author of the Recently Released Novel ‘Miss Appleby’s Academy’.

Elizabeth Gill has written all her life. She can remember scribbling in lined notebooks before she was able to do joined-up writing. Elizabeth had a poem published in a local newspaper when she was about ten and after that nothing, until she had a short story published in her mid twenties. Elizabeth had her first novel published when she was thirty and since then has had forty books published, the last twenty being family sagas.

A very warm welcome to you Elizabeth, and can I thank you, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today.
Thank you, Calum. I am delighted that you have asked me to do this.

For the benefit of our International readers can you tell us a bit about the part of the world that you are currently resident in and why do you like living there?
I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and love north east England to obsession. I live in Durham City which has the most wonderful cathedral and castle, winding cobbled streets and a wide river. My family came from nearby Weardale which has stone farmhouses, tiny square fields and thousands of sheep. I have a static caravan where I go in the summer to write. My mother’s family were farmers and my father’s family have always been in business of varying kinds. We tend not to like working for other people.

Can I ask what sort of books did you like reading as a child?
I started with Mary Mouse, two pictures on a page, reading to my mother while she ironed. I used to make up the story because I think I was three at the time and couldn’t read. Enid Blyton was my world. Noddy, Big Ears, the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. My favourite book was ‘Five Go to Mystery Moor’. I set up a club with my friends in the loft over the garage.

Do you think the books that you read as a child have influenced your writing in any way?
The novels which I read as a young teenager influenced me most. This was the time that I read ‘Devil Water’ by Anya Seton which is a historical novel set in Northumberland and this book alone made me want to write. Also I read Wuthering Heights when I was fourteen and began reading the Bronte’s and D.H.Lawrence. These of course are all books set in the North and have the same kinds of themes that I have tried to follow from the very start of my writing career.

Do you have a set routine when you are working on a novel?
I’m always working on a novel. I write mostly in the evenings, make dinner, drink wine, light candles and play some music. When the music goes off I work for a couple of hours but if I’m editing I work all day. I also work weekends and I go to inspiring places like castles and museums and I carry a notebook and a camera.

Where do you do your writing best?
I can work in most places, on trains, in cafes, in bed but in the evenings I have a little room which looks out over the garden.

What else apart from your obvious interest in history helped you decide to actually write your latest novel ‘Miss Appleby’s Academy’?
I went to school in upstate New York when I was seventeen, it was a boarding school. My writing friend, Leah Fleming, suggested to me that I should write something about America. When I first started writing Miss Appleby I went home to the little pit village where I lived when I was a child and the history society were having an exhibition. I had been thinking of writing about a woman who started up a school and there was a school in the village in 1900 and the idea was born. I did a lot of research into the life of Emily Dickinson to get the background of New England. I also read the work of Dorothy Canwell Fisher who was an educational reformer as well as a novelist and took a lot of my ideas from her and from the Montessori methods and then since I didn't like school, I imagined what a really good school would have in it and what kind of things would be taught.

When you are writing a novel, how do you place yourself into the time period that you are actually writing about?
I don’t, it finds itself. I think the best way is just not to be afraid. The subject comes uninvited too. A few years ago I wrote a footballing background book and have no interest in football, though I did live next to a football field when I was a child. I don’t think people have ever been any different than they are now. They don’t alter, so really it’s only the things around them like inventions which alter.

How do you go about imagining, developing and give real lives and personalities to the characters that we read about within in your books?

Lacking the main man in the book I've just written, I thought him up during a very boring concert in the cathedral. The character develops as you go along and situations occur.  You write and then everything comes – eventually!

Did you ever encounter any difficulties in getting you books accepted and published?
I’ve had more publishers than some people have had hot dinners. It’s a case of as somebody said, was it the golfer, Jack Nicklaus?  The harder I work the luckier I get. I wrote six novels before I had one published. I must have written another dozen in between times. I worked for Robert Hale, writing six short historicals and then fourteen romances, then I worked for Hodder and Stoughton and wrote six books for them, then Severn House, twelve I think and  Miss Appleby is my first book with Quercus.

Did you have to undertake any research for your novels?

Always, and not always things which turn out to be relevant!  I  thought my next novel was partly set in the fishing industry and read ten books before seeing it wasn’t so, mind you it isn’t ever lost, it will probably come in useful later. Research is fun and is much easier than writing. I usually have half the library at home, use the internet, go to places and generally take in everything. I go to talks at various societies.

What is your favorite book and why?
This varies.  At the moment it’s ‘Bring up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel. I also love C.J.Sansom, Ian Rankin and Peter Robinson. They’re all very good writers, plotters and character wise.

Do you have any other hobbies or interests that you enjoy in order to give you a break from your normal routine and your writing?

I love classical music. I like opera. I also go to the cinema a lot.

Can you give us a hint about any other books that you may have in the making at the moment?
I am about to begin with the edits for my next book and I have already begun the novel after that. The one I am about to edit concerns a  woman who wants to be a lawyer and the next a doctor so there is a pattern, I am writing about women going into men’s worlds.

Is there a time of year when you write more easily than at other times?

Living here and having awful weather suits me. I don’t like the heat, I don’t care for summer but luckily the weather is foul in Durham. I like it when rain pours down the windows and the fire has to be on and it’s dark a lot of the time. Being born up on the tops I am used to a howling gale and lots of snow.

Elizabeth, I have been absolutely delighted and very honoured that you agreed to be interviewed for my literary site. I would also like to thank-you again for taking the time to speak to us today.

Thank you so much, Calum, I know how busy you are and am very pleased you asked me to take part.

Recently Released by Quercus:-

If you would like to find out more about Elizabeth Gill and her writing, the link to her website is given below:


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