In the free-for-all that is the world of publishing today, Gilli Allan has tried most things. Her first two novels were traditionally published … then she went indie … and now she has signed a three-book deal with Accent Press. I’ve known Gilli for some time, so I have followed some of this journey. Let’s find out more!
Hello Jenny, it’s great to be here. I began many books in my youth, but never completed anything. It was only when I was at home with my young son that I made the serious decision to try again. My intention was to write a genre romance aimed at Mills & Boon, but the story grabbed me and took over. Just Before Dawn is about a rather innocent country girl who arrives to live and work in London. Her first real boyfriend is a bit of a lad, who leaves her pregnant. Unsurprisingly M&B rejected it, but this book quickly found a newly established publisher, Love Stories – characterised at the time as the ‘thinking woman’s Mills & Boon’. LS was started by the literary agent, Anne Dewe, who felt there was a niche in the market for unconventional, un-clichéd romantic fiction. LS also took my second novel, Desires and Dreams. This one was an even darker, but deeply emotional tale.
Sadly, my publisher eventually stopped trading. If there was a niche, it was one that the big publishers and distributors wanted to keep secret. Either that or the world wasn’t ready for my brand of romantic fiction!
Progress after that was difficult and I couldn’t find a publisher, or even a literary agent (for more than a few months). And so, with the advent of the Kindle and self-publishing, I leapt on that bandwagon. I independently published Torn, Fly or Fall and Life Class – but I was very happy when, last summer, Accent Press offered to republish these three titles. Fly or Fall is the second to be released.
So what inspired Fly or Fall?
It wasn’t so much inspiration as ‘life’. Inspiration (a very shy creature) pops out at random and never when you want it to. Fly or Fall was not the book’s original title – it’s been through several over the years – and the book wasn’t finished until after I’d written two further stand-alone novels.
My second book was in the process of being published and I was actively searching around for a new story. As I had done in the past and still do now, I considered my own life. What had happened to me that might provide a starting point? We’d moved house a few years previously. I began to wonder if there was a story there. Maybe a woman who didn’t want to move was somehow forced into it by her husband. I began to write, not sure yet where I was going with the story. Then out of the blue my husband received a job offer in a different part of the country and I was faced with the same dilemma I’d given my heroine.
The prospect of this uprooting wasn’t the only reason the book was shelved, but it was a major one. After all, I was about to live the experience, perhaps I’d better wait and see how I was affected by a move I supported but hadn’t instigated. A few years ago (a long time since it was begun) I dug out and dusted off this book. When I read it again, I knew it had legs. Not only did I have a whole lot more experience of moving house, of feeling isolated and cut off, I had a wealth of other experiences I could feed into the story. I updated it and gave it its new title.
It sounds as though the provess was a bit convoluted! What’s your normal writing method?
I always find that beginning a new book is ghastly. Plots only reveal themselves to me gradually, when I am already in the process of writing. (The denouement of Torn, only resolved itself when I was within two chapters of the end.) Before I start I will have the characters plus their sketchy back-stories, as well as the initial scenario in which they come together, but that’s it. Typically, I have to commit to writing a book while I still have only the faintest notion of where it’s going and how it’s all going to turn out.
There is always something else that is more urgent or appealing. Emails need answering, there’s shopping, ironing or gardening to do. Trying to write the opening chapters of a new book compares to a weary trudge through an impenetrable forest, in deep fog, with a sucking bog underfoot … until the story begins to come alive. Once that has happened, routine and discipline is what I have to impose on the rest of my life. Forget the housework and the social networking; writing down the story which is unfolding in my imagination is totally compulsive. It is all I want to do.
I was once told that to be a writer you have to have an obsessive personality. I’m not sure if it’s true of everyone, but it’s certainly true of me.
You mentioned your characters there – tell us a bit more about them. Do you see yourself in any of them?
As all the characters are my own creation I relate to every one of them! But, in answer to the spirit of your question, I am no different from other writers who doubtless say that their characters are composites – a bit of him and a bit of her. For me it is usually an unconscious process, but when I’ve finished a book I can often find that there are facets of me in many of the main protagonists, both male and female.
Hmm. I’m going to have to study them carefully! What are you working on at the moment?
It’s a culture clash novel. The elevator pitch is Time Team meets Educating Rita. Or TOWIE meets academia. The premise I started with of a slightly fusty, academic archaeologist meeting and crossing swords with an Events Organiser is unlikely to remain unmodified, however.
Ooh, it sounds good! Do you have any top tips for authors?
If I had any fail-safe tips I’d have employed them myself and be a best seller by now! All I know is that no one succeeds in this business without being able to take the knock-backs and keep coming back for more, a bit like one of those wobbly men with a silly grin on his face. You have to be persistent to the point of obstinacy, even bloody-minded. You have to believe in yourself. And – this may seem obvious – you have actually got to do it. It’s no good thinking about it, talking about it, reading articles about it, going to workshops, but keeping your notes in a drawer. It’s no good waiting till you’ve got more time, the children are off your hands, you’ve gone part-time or you’ve retired. You have to put your money where your mouth is and just do it. Now!
Now there’s a piece of solid, sensible advice! Thank you so much for being my guest, Gilli, and good luck with your books.
About Gilli Allan
Gilli Allan started to write in childhood, a hobby only abandoned when real life supplanted the fiction. Gilli didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge but, after just enough exam passes to squeak in, she attended Croydon Art College. She didn’t work on any of the broadsheets, in publishing or television. Instead she was a shop assistant, a beauty consultant and a barmaid before landing her dream job as an illustrator in advertising. It was only when she was at home with her young son that Gilli began writing seriously. Her first two novels were quickly published, but when her publisher ceased to trade, Gilli went independent.
Over the years, Gilli has been a school governor, a contributor to local newspapers, and a driving force behind the community shop in her Gloucestershire village. Still a keen artist, she designs Christmas cards and has begun book illustration. Gilli is particularly delighted to have recently gained a new mainstream publisher –Accent Press. Fly or Fall is the second book to be published in the three book deal.
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Wife and mother, Nell fears change, but it is forced upon her by her manipulative husband, Trevor. Finding herself in a new world of flirtation and casual infidelity, her principles are undermined and she’s tempted. Should she emulate the behaviour of her new friends or stick with the safe and familiar?
But everything Nell has accepted at face value has a dark side. Everyone – even her nearest and dearest – has been lying. She’s even deceived herself. The presentiment of disaster, first felt as a tremor at the start of the story, rumbles into a full blown earthquake. When the dust settles, nothing is as it previously seemed. And when an unlikely love blossoms from the wreckage of her life, she believes it is doomed.