The superb author Gillian Philip has kindly agreed to be interviewed by me - very excited here!
I'm in awe of the variety of writing you do - besides your fantasy Firebrand, which I loved, and your new contemporary thriller The Opposite of Amber, there's the dystopian future of Bad Faith and the Darke Academy series and several others including short stories... what's your favourite genre to write?
Honestly? Truly? I have to whisper ‘fantasy’ because I don’t want to hurt the other characters’ feelings. Mind you, even in my contemporary or crime books, I often find I’m unable to resist bringing in an element of fantasy or the supernatural. The book I’m writing at the moment has turned quite unintentionally into a ghost story.
I think I like that extra bit of scope that fantasy (or a small fantasy element) gives to your plot. And if a book isn’t completely in the fantasy genre, I like playing with the idea that a plot element could be supernatural...or it could have a perfectly rational explanation. I like letting readers decide for themselves.
If you could collaborate with any author, living or dead, who would you choose?
I am not bad at collaborating, as I work with editorial teams at Hothouse and Working Partners, and that kind of writing is very much a team effort. But I’m not sure I’d like to collaborate with another writer on the same book. I’m far too inclined to want my own way. But I would dearly have loved to work with Russell T Davies on a series of Doctor Who. He never got hung up on the details of science, to put it gently, but I adored his stories. I loved his focus on the characters, on the who and the why.
I know you've done lots of talks and workshops at schools - how easy do you find it to get children engaged with the process of writing? (As a maths teacher, I'm assuming you find it a lot easier than I do to get their attention!)
I guess it’ll be much the same in both cases – depends a lot on the class and the children! I’m sure I have it easier because if a school is going to spend money on a session, they tend to send along the pupils who are already keen on creative writing. I’ve had some fantastic experiences in schools and I love doing them, so I’ve been lucky so far. But I have friends who have had terrible school experiences, and have been treated badly – by the schools, not by their pupils! The names of those schools do get passed round other writers... but so do the names of wonderful schools.
Like you, I would write FAR more if I spent less time on Twitter. On the plus side, it gets my blog ramblings out there into the world. How useful do you find Twitter and the rest of the net in publicising your books?
I mess about far too much on Twitter and Facebook – but on the other hand, like you say, it’s a wonderful way of getting your name out into the world. I’ve met so many terrific friends online I can’t possibly regret the time I spend there. And though it’s hard to quantify the publicity generated, I know I have gained readers, especially through Twitter. A couple of my characters even have their own Twitter accounts (sethmacgregor and KateNicNiven), though they get a bit unruly if I don’t keep my eye on them.
I keep thinking I should start a blog, and I do take part in some joint blogs, but I can’t help thinking that if I took a blog of my own seriously, it would be much more of a distraction than Twitter or Facebook. Besides, I don’t think I have anything unique to say that other bloggers aren’t saying already (and I can already retweet or share other people’s articles) – or that I can’t say in my fiction. One of these days I’ll give it a shot, though, to see if I’m really missing out.
Okay, I keep feeling I should stick to writing-type questions but I'm dying to know where you got the incredibly gorgeous manga style picture you use as the background to your fantastic website! Can you put me out of my misery and tell me please?
That was simply a freebie website design available on the net! I loved it as soon as I saw it, but I didn’t expect it to be as big a hit as it has been. Lots of people admire it, and I feel quite guilty that I can’t explain its special meaning in my work.
I’m rather reluctant to lose it, but I am currently having a website redesign, and I’m hoping to persuade Lawrence Mann – the cover artist for the Rebel Angels books – to do me a design for the website that might be more individual and relevant, but have a similar ‘feel’ to the manga girl. He’s a fantastic artist and designer so here’s hoping!
While whenever I get excited about a literary adaptation I end up massively disappointed by the results, there's still part of me which is forever optimistic whenever I read a book that it could end up being done really well as a TV series or film. Are there any of your novels which you could see working on screen, and if so, any particular actors, actresses or directors you think would be a great fit for them?
Oh, I’m terrible. I’m constantly casting my characters and directing the movie in my head. Also, I have discussions (verging on arguments) with friends about the appropriate actors. When there’s a character I see clearly in my head, I can never understand why someone else’s picture of them is completely different – but at the same time, that’s the fun and fascination of a book. I LOVE it that everyone ‘sees’ a book differently.
But anyway... yes. I always thought Gabriel Byrne should play Cass’s father in Bad Faith. Nick in Crossing the Line is a young Nathan Fillion. And I never knew what Seth in Firebrand looked like till I saw Billy Crudup in Stage Beauty (sometimes in a frock. Seth resents this). I was recently convinced by a friend that Alexander Skarsgard should play Conal. And just yesterday I saw Finn from Bloodstone, but grown up like she is in the next book – she was playing Jackson Brodie’s estranged wife in Case Histories. Oh yes, and Tilda Swinton plays a character in the current book I’m writing. You see? I’m terrible. But I suppose everybody does it. Even as I write this, Ian Rankin is on Twitter discussing the casting of a character with his followers.
Oh, and I think Kevin Macdonald would direct a good Firebrand...
What advice would you give to authors just starting out?
Persevere – that’s the most important thing. And I mean, persevere with writing, and rewriting, and rewriting – not with just sending out the same manuscript over and over again. If you’re lucky enough to get objective feedback, listen to it! – but trust your instincts too. Getting published isn’t impossible, as some people would have you believe, but it does take hard work as well as talent. Just keep writing!
If you could ask any other author any question, what would you ask and who would you ask it to?
“Where do you get your ideas from?” No, I’m joking, honest. I want to ask Cornelia Funke if she’s ever felt just a twinge of nervousness when reading Inkheart aloud.
Do you listen to music when writing? If so, what were the soundtracks
to the Opposite of Amber and/or Firebrand?
I don’t listen while I’m writing, but I need to find a soundtrack for each book, and I’ll listen to it over and over again while I’m cooking the story in my head.
The Opposite of Amber had a very retro soundtrack. That wasn’t deliberate; I just happened to be listening to the radio one day when I recognised Jinn’s favourite song: 24 Hours From Tulsa by Gene Pitney. After that, the rest of the songs came thick and fast. The girls had two versions of Spanish Harlem, one very creepy one by Phil Spector. And the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations played quite an important part at a certain point in the plot. Ruby of course had Ruby by the Kaiser Chiefs and Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town – The Killers’ version.
My soundtrack for the whole Rebel Angels series is colossal, probably because there’s a different soundtrack for each of the four books. A lot of contemporary Gaelic and Scottish rock, obviously – especially Peatbog Faeries and The Silencers and Travis – but all mixed up with the Jam, Elbow, Bruce Springsteen... John Cale’s version of Hallelujah... Nick Drake’s Northern Sky...Mary Coughlan’s version of Ride On...Aqualung’s Strange and Beautiful...you have to stop me now, or I’ll never shut up.
Thank you for such fantastic questions!
A pleasure - glad you enjoyed them and thank you for your wonderful answers!