How did you get into writing, was it just a hobby to begin with for you?
I started writing fiction when I was 47. I was suffering from severe depression following a mental breakdown. I’d had to give up teaching and I couldn’t face my empty future, so I started writing a sort of alternative autobiography set in the Outer Hebrides. It turned into EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, my first novel.
I never planned to be a novelist. I didn’t even plan that first book. I just wrote and as I wrote, I noticed the pain stopped – all kinds of pain. Writing, it seemed, was morphine for the soul and in my case, just as addictive. I’ve published eight novels since 2005.
How and when did you know you were ‘good’?
I’d been a freelance journalist before training as a teacher, so I knew I could write, but I didn’t know I could write fiction. I got an inkling when I showed EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY to my online writing group. The others were hoping for publication, but I wasn’t. EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY was written just for me, as therapeutic entertainment.
When my writing pals had finished reading the draft of EG they insisted I send it to agents. I didn’t see it as any more than a very personal exploration of the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I thought the love story was a bit self-indulgent (I’d fallen in love with my hero), but my fellow authors said EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY had an important and positive message about mental illness.
With hindsight, I have to acknowledge they were right. It’s a book that has apparently changed lives and led to a better understanding of depression as a serious illness.
When and why did you decide you wanted your writing published?
I drifted into it. I approached agents reluctantly, expecting to prove my book was unpublishable, but one offered to take me on. I was astonished. By then I’d started a second novel and knew I’d found what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
What were your first steps towards publication?
My agent sent EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY round to editors. We got some interest but lots of rejections. Editors agreed I could write, but they thought the book wasn’t commercial because it didn’t belong to any clear genre. (My career has been dogged from the start by genre issues.) I could see their point. This was 2004, when chick lit was at its height and my romantic heroine was a 47-year old manic depressive.
But I was lucky. I went to a writers’ conference where I met a couple who were setting up a new imprint, Transita, publishing fiction aimed at older women. I told them about EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, they asked to read it, then they bought it.
|Linda's latest novel|
You’d think it would be seeing your book on a shelf in Waterstones or being shortlisted for awards, but I don’t think anything has made me prouder than the many warm, often moving emails I’ve had from readers, thanking me for my books and describing how they’ve changed their lives. It amazes me that my writing has made a difference to so many people, especially as I started off writing just for myself.
Any mistakes you wish, in hindsight, you had avoided?
I’m not sure it’s a mistake, but I wish I’d given more thought to whether or not to use a pseudonym. My name isn’t particularly commercial or memorable and there are two other authors called Linda Gillard. If I was starting up again, I’d choose something much more stylish!
What do you know now you wish you’d known at the start of your journey?
I wish I’d known finding a publisher has little to do with whether or not you’re a brilliant writer. I had so many “rave rejections” – emails praising my writing, characters and dialogue, which ended by saying my book didn’t fit the publisher’s list.
I also wish I’d known how useful it would be to number a GP, lawyer and policeman among my acquaintance. Every author needs to know such people. It saves hours of Googling.
If I’d known about the long hours, the mental and emotional exhaustion, the fact that each book is harder to write than the last, I might never have contacted an agent.
What top 3 tips would you offer new and up-coming authors hoping to publish?
That’s what I do now. The traditional route is painfully slow, badly paid and you have little artistic control. I had a very bumpy ride with my second publisher who bought my third novel, STAR GAZING, which was shortlisted for and won various awards. They asked me to re-write my mixed-genre fourth book, HOUSE OF SILENCE as a romance because it would be difficult to market. After much soul-searching, I declined to re-write and withdrew the manuscript, offering my next book instead, but they dropped me, citing “disappointing sales”. I went on to self-publish HOUSE OF SILENCE, making more money and reaching a much wider audience with my “unmarketable” novel than my traditionally published books.
Promote by stealth.
Whether you self-publish or go the traditional route, you’ll have to promote your books and yourself. Instead of promoting your books, promote the issues, themes and settings. Cultivate relationships with readers. Engage with them on blogs, in discussion forums, on social media. In the course of chatting, tell people about your books – just a little to whet their appetite. Then, if they show interest, tell them more.
Don’t forget to write!
Achieving online visibility is the biggest challenge and there are no short cuts. Resign yourself to putting in a great deal of time seeking out potential readers, online and in person, because they’re unlikely to find you. See this as part of the job, but make sure it doesn’t become the job. The best and most lucrative use of your time will always be writing the next book.
For more information about Linda and her published novels, follow the links below:
Website - www.lindagillard.co.uk
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/LindaGillardAuthor?ref=hl