On Fiction Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Gill Thompson

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Oceans Between Us final image

Gill Thompson

My name is Gill Thompson. I have an M.A in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester, gaining a distinction for the extract from The Oceans Between Us which I submitted for my dissertation. The first three chapters of the novel were long listed for the Mslexia novel award 2015. The Oceans Between Us was published by Headline on 21st March.

I have written many short stories including The Christmas Wish List which was published in Yours and The Six Ages of Woman which won the Flash Fiction prize at the University of Winchester’s Writing Festival. I was runner up in the Thresholds’ International Short Story competition for my essay on Katherine Mansfield. I am a regular contributor of articles on literary and linguistic topics to emag, and I have also had an article published in Running magazine.
I have a B.A (Hons) in English Language and Literature and I have taught this subject at A level for many years.
I live with my family in West Sussex, UK.

Website: http://www.wordkindling.co.uk
Twitter: @wordkindling
Facebook: wordkindling

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write fiction?

I am an avid reader, often devouring two or three novels a week. I love to be able to escape into different fictional worlds and have always wanted to create a similar experience for others. Writing a novel has probably been a fifty-year-old ambition. As a child I was forever starting to write novels about the Tudors. If I had persisted I might have given Philippa Gregory a run for her money! My ambition to write continued into adulthood but life kept getting in the way – study, work, family… Then my father died and with the small legacy he left me I enrolled on a Creative Writing M.A at the University of Chichester. It was the best thing I ever did. My father had always believed in me as a writer and I am so grateful he enabled me to fulfil my ambition – although sad he never lived to know I would finally be published. My debut novel, ‘The Oceans Between Us’ came out this March.

2. Who introduced you to reading fiction?

I don’t really know. As a child I was always read bedtime stories so I suppose that started things off. Later on I joined a local library and spent most of my school holidays borrowing books and helping the librarians. I feel very sorry that libraries are in decline. They are such a wonderful resource for so many people. I doubt if I would have become a writer without my early library-fostered experience of being a reader.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older writers?

That’s an interesting question! If by ‘older writers’ you mean ‘of advanced age’ I find that very reassuring. I am nearing retirement age myself so it’s immensely comforting to know that people like Judith Kerr were writing into their nineties. If, however, you mean the legacy of writers from the past, I suppose very. My day job is as an English Literature teacher to ‘A’ Level students. I am vey conscious of the literary canon and the influence it has. If it wasn’t for people like Samuel Richardson, Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding and Jane Austen we might never have had novels at all. It’s often said that fundamental human nature doesn’t change, and even Shakespeare can give me ideas for my own characterisation. Mind you, teaching so many brilliant texts can be daunting. I’m conscious other authors have done things so much better than I can, but it doesn’t stop me striving for excellence. One day I might get there!

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I wish I had one! As I said in my previous answer, I am a teacher by day (although thankfully part-time now). I also have two lively granddaughters I look after two days a week so that doesn’t leave much time to write. When I have a deadline to meet I tend to start early in the morning. I’ve often woken up at the crack of dawn with ideas of what I want to write about that day, so it’s a question of sitting down and giving some sort of narrative shape to those early thoughts. One of the many problems with historical fiction, the genre I’ve found myself writing, is the amount of research that is needed, so I often have to stop to check facts or read up on something. With a fair wind following I can write 2,000 – 3,000 words a day. I usually run out of steam by mid afternoon, so I tend to do something more practical for a while like cooking or gardening before returning in the early evening to read through and edit what I’ve written.

5. What motivates you to write?

Initially it was the desire to tell a story. My first novel was about a child migrant to Australia, a story I’d stumbled upon when I first heard Gordon Brown apologise to ex child migrants back in 2010. These children, some as young as four, had been lured to a land ten thousand miles away, ostensibly to lead a better life, but in reality to satisfy racial governmental agendas. Many were lied to, told they were orphans when their parents were still alive; many were consigned to years of misery and abuse; few were ever to see their parents again. The account horrified me, and after many years of research and correspondence with ex child migrants, I started to base a novel around this event. The compulsion to tell what had happened, albeit through a fictional narrative, drove me onwards. It’s gratifying that many of the reviews for ‘The Oceans Between Us’ comment that the reader was unaware of this practice, and grateful for being enlightened. I felt the child migrant story was a story that had to be told, and I’m very grateful for being allowed to tell it.

Since the book was first taken up though, I have to say what drives me now is fear! As a teacher, I’m a stickler for deadlines, but I’m always anxious I won’t finish things in time. When I was just writing for myself I had all the time in the world, but I’m now very conscious I need to meet publishing schedules. It’s all quite stressful.

6. What is your work ethic?

See above! Very strong. I’ve waited so long for this opportunity that I certainly don’t intend to squander it, so I work hard to keep on target and produce the best work I can.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I didn’t really set out to write historical fiction, but looking back I did read a lot in that genre. Jean Plaidy and Georgette Heyer were favourites. I always wanted to write something that moved people, and perhaps even changed the way they viewed historical events. I remember being very affected by ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee and I loved the Brontes. Although very different writers I thought they all had something powerful to say about human experience and behaviour.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I loved Kate Atkinson for what she does with structure and form. Some of the new wave of Irish writers, like Eimear McBride and Anna Burns, are brilliant pioneers of stylistic change. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Ian McEwan, but when he’s on top form – such as in ‘Enduring Love’ and ‘The Child in Time’ I think he is excellent.

9. Why do you write?

To create a legacy …to make my family proud…. to exercise a talent I believe I’ve been given…to move…to inform… because I (mainly) enjoy it.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I think you need to be a reader first. That’s your training ground and the way to perfect your skill. It’s helpful to read like a writer – ‘unpicking’ books to see what authors have done with structure, style and form. I also think it’s helpful to do a course. My Masters in Creative Writing put me in touch with some wonderful teachers and fellow students. They really helped me progress in my writing. Joining a workshop group is a good way to test out your writing in a safe environment, and discuss the process with others. Finally, there are competitions. The entrance fees are often inexpensive and it’s a great way to pit your work against others. For a bit more money you can often buy into a critique which can be very useful. And if you win a prize it’s a wonderful encouragement to continue and a validation of your writing.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I’ve just sent back the proof pages of ‘The Child on Platform One,’ my second novel, which comes out next March. It was written to quite a tight deadline so I have decided to give myself the summer off. I’ll do some gentle reading over the next few weeks to see if I can get an idea for book three, then in the autumn, hopefully with some inspiration, I’ll start writing again.

2 thoughts on “On Fiction Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Gill Thompson

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