Judith is the author of twelve historical novels: The Heretic Wind: the life of Mary Tudor. Sisters of Arden, The Beaufort Chronicle (three book series), The Winchester Goose, The Kiss of the Concubine, Intractable Heart and A Song of Sixpence. Medieval novels are Peaceweaver, The Song of Heledd, and The Forest Dwellers. All In paperback and on Kindle and some are on audible. Judith also writes historical blogs and articles. Find out more on www.judithmarnopp.com
I cannot tell you how excited I
am to have you as a guest author on my blog today, Linda, thank you so much for
agreeing to come.
The first book I read of yours
was UNTYING THE KNOT and I was immediately impressed with your authorial
voice, your multi-faceted characters and the competent manner in which you
addressed the issue of post traumatic stress. I have since read everything
available by you and I’m still not sure which is my favourite as each one is so
different. I find you and your books so interesting it was dead easy for me to
think up questions for you.
the Scottish isles form a backdrop for many of your novels. Do you have
connections with the area?
I’ve lived in Scotland since 2000 and for most of
those years I’ve lived in the Highlands. I spent six years on the Isle of Skye,
the setting for two of my novels, STAR GAZING and THE GLASS GUARDIAN.
your books feature textile artists and the insightful way you describe the art
suggests to me that you have some knowledge of this art form. Is that correct?
Yes, I love textiles
of all kinds and I’ve made a lot of quilts and wall-hangings (most of which
I’ve given away as I’m never satisfied with what I make.) Making two of my
heroines textile artists (in EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and UNTYING THE KNOT) is a sort
of wish-fulfilment fantasy. Rose and Fay are both much more skilled with fabric
& thread than I’ll ever be!
‘Sometimes we think we’re over the worst, we
think we’ve finally put the past behind us, then – wham! – we run up against
something, some memory, some feeling we thought we’d buried long ago and we’re
back where we started. The wounds are open and bleeding again. It’s a cyclical
process - a sort of spiral in fact - and it takes a long time to get to the end
of it.’This is from The House of Silence and the theme of
healing shows up a lot in your work, a shattered soul pieced back together like
a patchwork. Do you think that by illustrating the painful process of healing,
whether physical or mental, you are in some small way, helping real sufferers
to overcome similar problems?
I am, because readers get in touch with me to tell me. A troubled teenager
contacted me after reading EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY to say that she’d managed to stop
self-harming and had started writing poetry instead. (The narrative of EMOTIONAL
GEOLOGY includes poems written by me and the hero is a poet.) EG features a
bipolar heroine and over the years people have contacted me to say they didn’t
realise someone in their family was bipolar until they read the novel. At an
author event a woman approached me with a copy of EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and,
with tears in her eyes said, “My husband was bipolar and took his life. Now
when I want someone to know what it was like living with a manic depressive, I
can show them your book.”
I’ve written about depression and
post-traumatic stress disorder because I’ve had my fair share of mental health
problems and they interest me, but I also think mental health is a very big
issue about which most people are woefully ignorant. (I wrote EMOTIONAL
GEOLOGY in response to a survey that indicated 26% of the people questioned
thought mental illness wasn’t a genuine illness.) I’ve also tried to highlight
the problems of carers and the strain that mental illness puts on marriage and
families. UNTYING THE KNOT looks at what happens when the carer cracks.
In EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY the two main characters are drawn together
through their art and they work together toward mutual healing. How important
is your own creativity and how much of it is ‘therapy’ for you?
I think all writing is to some extent
therapeutic. I put a lot of myself into my novels, but they aren’t
autobiographical. They do express my personal concerns.
Readers assume because I’ve lived on islands that I must have written
EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY (set on a Hebridean island) while I was living on Skye, but I
wrote it in a Norwich suburb while recovering from a mental breakdown. I was
dreaming of living on a remote island, rebuilding a shattered life and I wrote
about someone doing that. It was pure fantasy. But a couple of years later, I
decided to live the dream and moved to Skye.
Creativity is very important to me and to my
mental health. I get cranky when I’m notwriting. I’ve had careers as an actress,
journalist and teacher, so I’ve always worked with words and ideas.
first Linda Gillard novel I read was UNTYING
THE KNOT and I was immediately struck by the realistically drawn
characters. Where do you find them, are they based on people you know or have
No, I make them up - even the congenitally
blind heroine of STAR GAZING. I can’t think of any character I’ve created who’s
based on a real person, though obviously as a writer you steal bits and pieces
from people you know or have read about. Real people have inspired some of the characters I’ve created. (Flora in A LIFETIME
BURNING arose from a radio interview in which John Peel talked to a female
I do base all my major characters physically on real people. I collect
photos of people who look something like the character I’ve imagined. I used to
make a scrapbook for a novel with photos of characters and settings, but now I
use the internet and have desktop collages.
I prefer to work with photos of real people
because I don’t think I’m very good at description. If I have a clear picture
in my head of the character’s appearance, I’m less likely to be vague or fall
in to descriptive clichés. Once I’ve nailed what a character looks like, in
detail, I feel free to get on with creating his/her personality (which of
course has no bearing on the person whose appearance I’ve “borrowed”.)
As to where my characters come from – I’ve no
idea! My son once referred to my writing as playing with my imaginary friends,
which is a pretty good description of what I do. I’m only interested in writing
about people I like or find interesting, so I think I just make up people I
want to spend time with. (And it’s a lot
of time. I might spend two years working on a book, so my characters need to be
complex to absorb me for that length of time.)
heroines are grown ups, not nubile twenty-somethings. What made you decide to
feature the problems of older women?
It’s a lot to do with the age I was when I
started writing fiction. I was 47 and couldn’t find the sort of thing I wanted
to read. (Bookshops which were awash with chick-lit at the time.) I was fed up
with middle-aged women being portrayed as somebody’s mother/somebody’s wife and
only allowed to pull the hero if they were thin and attractive. So I decided
I’d write a thinking-woman’s romance that dealt with real issues, had
believable characters, a gorgeous hero, but no easy answers. That book was my
first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. I wanted to put an intelligent, creative woman
in the spotlight and ignore her age, just look at her heart and mind. As a
matter of principle, I made her the same age as me – 47.
I’ve continued to feature women in their forties because I think it’s an
interesting age, a watershed decade. Women have completed their families and
many are starting a new career or a new relationship. By the time a woman
reaches her 40s, she’s gained a lot of life experience - some of it painful -
and she knows there’s rather more to life than finding Mr. Right.
I’ve been dying to ask you
where your male characters come from. They are fabulous. Anyone you know or are
they just wishful thinking?
Just wishful thinking! But as I mentioned earlier, I do always have a physical prototype in mind – someone who
exists but has nothing to do with my character. When I created a ghost hero for
THE GLASS GUARDIAN it took a while to find my idea of an attractive ghost! But
I came across Edward Watson, a flame-haired classical dancer whose pale,
ethereal looks were perfect. There’s something quite unearthly about him and
this helped me visualise my ghost.
I think it was novelist Kate Saunders who said, the secret of creating
an appealing romantic hero is to put a woman’s mind inside a man’s body. I
think that’s often what I do. My heroes and heroines become friends before they
become lovers. There’s a lot of talk and sharing of experiences. There’s
usually humour too and often that’s a front masking a horrific past or guilty
If there’s a recipe for a Gillard hero, it’s
a kind, complex, sensitive and vulnerable man, with a wacky sense of humour.
consider you to be a brave writer, a bit of a risk taker – and I love that
about you. But tackling a taboo subject like incest in A LIFETIME BURNING was a particularly bold move. Can you tell us
how that came about?
The incest was just a by-product of what I
wanted to write about, which was twins who were so close, they almost didn’t
have separate identities. I’m not a twin but I’ve always been interested in
twins and I did a lot of research which was fascinating
I considered writing about same-sex twins, so
incest wasn’t on my agenda originally, but in the end I decided to write about
boy/girl twins, so their sexual feelings for each other became a possible
issue. But sex (when they’re 22) doesn’t bring the twins together, it drives
them apart for ever because the union they crave isn’t sexual, it’s something they had as children and it’s gone for
ever - that sense of being two halves of one person. Aristotle defined
friendship as “a single soul dwelling in two bodies” and that’s what A LIFETIME
BURNING is about - trying to be a complete human being.
The twins’ love is just one thread in a very
complex story that covers sixty years and the book examines many different
kinds of love, including forbidden love. I don’t think it was particularly
brave to put incest centre stage. It was possibly brave to do that without any
hint of judgement. ALB upset a few
readers and I think they’d have found it an easier read if I’d condemned the
twins for their unnatural love. But I don’t. Nor do I condone incest. I just
present the story and leave readers to come to their own conclusions.
this multi-genre world how would you categorize your own work?
I think it’s impossible to categorise my books.
They’re very different from each other and each book blends different genres.
When asked, I say I write contemporary fiction, aimed mostly (but not
exclusively) at women. I think some of my books verge on literary fiction, but
of an accessible kind. If my books belong to any category, I think it’s a
non-existent genre called Rattling Good Yarns!
they are certainly that! Can you tell us something about your experiences in
changing from traditional to self-publishing? What pros and cons you have
Genre issues have always been a problem for me
professionally. Publishers didn’t know how to market my books and tried to
pigeonhole me as a writer of romance. Two out of three of my paperbacks were
handicapped by unappealing covers and I’d had a title foisted on me which I
hated. For years I’d been told my books would be hard to sell and I’d been
asked to simplify storylines and make female characters more likeable. So I
When I was dropped by my publisher (“disappointing
sales”), my agent tried to find me a new one, but after two years of
rejections, I decided to indy-publish. I put HOUSE OF SILENCE on Kindle where
it rapidly became a bestseller. I put four more novels on Kindle and they sold
E-publishing on Kindle has found me thousands
of new readers. I now enjoy complete artistic freedom, I have covers I love and I earn a modest living from my
writing. So I won’t be going back to traditional publishing. Why would I? It
was just getting in the way of my books finding their readers.
Thank you, so much for spending time with us,
Linda. I am very grateful. I’m sure my readers will join me in wishing you lots
of luck with your future projects. I am not the only one waiting for your next
release. You can find more information about Linda Gillard and her books on her