Do you find that inspiration strikes you in specific places or do ideas come to you everywhere?
I think perhaps I'm not really a typical author in this way. I tend to get one idea a year, like clockwork, in the dog days of the summer/early autumn, and then I write that and only that. Novels are made up of more than one concept, though, and I do see and write things down often. I went to the cinema last Friday, for example, and I saw a boy, maybe nine, at the Pic N Mix. He turned to his Mum and said, 'I'm just amazed at all the choice!' - he - and his backstory, which I invented - went straight into my novel.
What do you usually do after you get the first spark of a fresh idea, is it straight to the computer to write the first chapter or straight to a notebook to start planning?
Oh, no. That would be a disaster for me. I'm not a very instinctive plotter, and there's no way I would hit all the plot beats if I didn't plan. I need a pretty intense structure and a clear way forwards, otherwise my characters go for endless coffees and long walks where they 'think things through.'
How long does your first draft usually take to write?
3 months. I don't allow any more. I'm a big fan of getting it down and fixing it later. This - I have observed - is the single biggest barrier to aspiring writers, and I don't wish to let myself get caught up in the perfectionism. As Hemingway said, you have to go straight on through to the end of the damn thing.
Do you celebrate when you finish your first draft and if so how?
I have a week off, usually. Or, I used to, but usually, there are a whole load of things to do. Often my edits come on the previous book. Or there is a backlog of articles, emails I said I would send, VAT returns...I try to consume some popular culture, too, to up the well. A film (I watched The Godfather after I finished the first draft of my second novel, Anything You Do Say, and it really influenced a subsequent draft), some TV, books, though I am never not reading a book.
Is it straight to editing or do you leave your manuscript a while before you pick up the red pen?
I do tend to go straight to editing. I was always in such a rush, when I started out: to finish, to send to agents, to get published...I found it quite disheartening to be told to wait a few weeks. I have not ever really found (contrary to most advice, and so I am wary of saying this!) that I can see my manuscript with clearer eyes thanks to a break, either. The method I do swear by for this is producing a 'visual' of the book, either using tables on the computer or index carding each scene; anything that allows you to see the narrative. That is how I fix my first draft.
How long do you spend editing before your book is handed over to the printers?
Oh, God. How long's a piece of string? I used to do a rough first draft, a structural edit for my second draft, a polish for my third, and then a read-through on my Kindle. These days, the process is a bit more complicated. With book two, I did two structural re-writes of my own, because one part of the narrative wasn't behaving itself. With book three, I have multiple narrators, so I had to slot in an edit where I concentrated on their (hopefully!) distinct voices. As I tackle more ambitious projects, the drafts seem to multiply. After this, I send to those 'in the know', and of course I get more edits then. I do one or two structural rewrites with my editor, then copy edits, then page proofs, then proof-reader queries. After that, I never look at it again. Barely even a quick flick when I receive my author copy, so paranoid I am that it will contain a horrendous error I failed to spot!
At what point, prior to publication do you find the nerves start to kick in or do you not get nervous in the approach to publication?
Well, to be honest, I am the sort of person who can be nervous about opening a packet of crisps, so I am always in some heightened state of whatever. I used to wonder why some writers were terrified of publication, though (because I was jealous of them and couldn't see past that) and then, when my own approached, I realised: it's because we are worried it won't sell and/or it will be awfully received. So the first few weeks of it being out for review are especially tough (my God, I was obsessed with Goodreads the December just gone; I took up swimming so I had an hour a week in which I wasn't checking it). And the week of publication, and the first sales figure day, of course. Those are very tough. Exciting and scary, together.
How does it feel when the early reviews start to come in?
Ha, well, it's funny. I have high hopes it'll be different for my second because really, most published novels will have some five stars, lots of four and three, and some two and one. The pattern hardly varies and I hope I retain the perspective of that when my second is out. However, the first few bad reviews do sting. Like overhearing bad things said about yourself, only nobody will give you any sympathy. I think Sarah Perry once said, if you could walk down a corridor with the doors open, and in every single room somebody was gossiping about you - would you not stop to listen? And you do. And it hurts a little bit. But it is also often - more than often - very nice, too. And there is the paradox of being a novelist.
How long do you wait after finishing your book before starting on your next project?
I'm not very good at not writing. Writing a novel is sort of my thing. In the past, when I was a full-time lawyer (I am now part time) I would reach stages where I absolutely had to take a break, and I was craving an evening of television, a wasted day, a trip to the opticians in which I could sit quietly in the darkness and not be typing. Life is on more of an even keel now, timewise, and so I don't think I will need a month of almost catatonic downtime when I deliver. I will be finishing book three in September and I'll probably start planning book four in October.
And finally how do you celebrate publication day?
Well, in March, my novel was very well placed and I spent the entire day visiting all of the shops that stocked it. It was such fun, to see it in the wild, and I didn't stop getting goosebumps for months. Now, when I see it in Waterstones, it's like seeing an old friend, and I merely nod to it. I also had a launch, which I would recommend for marking the occasion, but probably not for general stress levels. This time, my novel's coming out in two stages - November for Kindle and January for paperback - so I think it will be somewhat watered down, which is welcome, really. It is intense when you 'come out' in fiction to the entire world on one day. This year, maybe I'll take a bath, a walk, and stay off my sodding Amazon ranks.
Thank you so much, Gillian for taking the time to answer my questions. You can purchase Gillian's debut book Everything but the Truth by clicking HERE
You can follow Gillian on Twitter here: @GillianMAuthor
ABOUT THE BOOK
Do you ever check your partner's phone?
Are you prepared for the consequences?
Everything but the Truth is Gillian McAllister's stunning breakthrough thriller about deceit, betrayal and one woman's compulsive need to uncover the truth.
It all started with the email.
Rachel didn't even mean to look. She loves Jack and she's pregnant with their child. She trusts him.
But now she's seen it, she can't undo that moment. Or the chain of events it has set in motion.
Why has Jack been lying about his past? Just what exactly is he hiding? And doesn't Rachel have a right to know the truth at any cost?