Sunday 15 April 2012


What is your name, where were you born and where do you live now?

My name’s Gill Paul, I was born in Glasgow and now live in London, near Hampstead Heath. I still feel very Scottish, though.

Did you always want to be a writer? If not what did you want to be?
I always wanted to write but got side-tracked along the way by studying medicine and working in publishing. I briefly entertained the idea of being a psychiatrist, a cancer researcher or a journalist. I now work as a writer of non-fiction as well as writing novels.

When did you first consider yourself as a "writer"?
I was overwhelmed when Hodder made an offer for my first novel back in 1999. I had to lie down on the carpet for a while to recover. I think that might be the first moment I actually believed I was a writer
What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarise it in less than 20 words what would you say?
Women and Children First. It’s about the shock and guilt of surviving the sinking of the Titanic then trying to rebuild your life again.

Who is your publisher? or do you self publish?
It’s published by HarperCollins/Avon Books. I’ve never tried self-publishing, because I’m sure I would be terrible at self-promotion.

What can we expect from you in the future?  ie More books of the same genre? Books of a different genre?
I’m writing another historical novel, due for publication in May 2013. This one is set in the 1960s and has a Mad Men vibe.

What genre would you place your books into?
Historical fiction.

What made you decide to write that genre of book?
I’ve always loved history, and I like reading historical fiction. I like novels that you learn something new from, and ones that transport you into another era.

Do you have a favourite character from your books? and why are they your favourite?
I love Reg Parton, the main character in Women and Children First, because he is vulnerable and flawed yet still a good person. He’s deeply traumatised by what he went through during the sinking of the Titanic and struggling with what we would now diagnose as post-traumatic stress disorder. I feel maternal towards him.

How long have you been writing?, and who or what inspired you to write?
I wrote all the time as a child, virtually from the moment I could hold a pencil. My parents weren’t literary but I was always encouraged by an aunt, who still reads everything I write at an early stage and gives me her very perceptive comments. A teacher called Mrs Drew was also encouraging in my final year at school.

Do you have anybody read your books and give you reviews before you officially release them?ie. Your partner, children, friends, reviewers you know?
I have a group of ‘readers’, most of them professional writers, who read and comment on my novels before I send them to my agent or publisher. There are about six of them just now, and they each contribute something different but equally valuable.

How do you come up with characters names and place names in your books?
If I need a name for a character, I’ll decide what year he or she was born then look at the excellent websites that list the most popular names in that year. Sometimes I change a character’s name at a later stage. Elmore Leonard once said that if you get stuck in your writing and your main character is called Jack, try changing his name to Fred and see what happens. I’ve paraphrased the advice, but it gives you new insights into your characters when you change their names. Because I write historical fiction, my place names are real ones.

Do you basic plot/plan for your book, before you actually begin writing it out? Or do you let the writing flow and see where it takes the story?
I write a long, detailed outline (the one for Women and Children First was over 30,000 words) so that by the time I start writing I have worked out the plot and characters. I’ve tried just starting to write and seeing where it goes, but I took too many detours that didn’t work and had to do a lot more rewriting and revising.
How do you market/promote your books?

I’m doing a lot of speeches about the Titanic around the centenary, in Belfast, Southampton and London. I’m tweeting and blogging as well. Basically I’m an obedient author and do whatever my publicist asks me to do!

What do you think makes a book a really good/bestseller ?
I think a strong compelling story is the most important thing. I buy novels by writers I’ve never come across simply because I am interested by the story described in the blurb. For example, I bought Room, by Emma Donoghue, as soon as I heard the plot because I needed to know how she had dealt with telling the story of a woman imprisoned in a room from her child’s point of view. It’s an extraordinary achievement.

Have you ever suffered from a "writer's block"? What did you do to get past the "block"?
I didn’t write fiction for many years before this current novel because I was earning a living writing non-fiction. I started a few novels then abandoned them because I didn’t feel passionate enough about them, so I suppose that counts as writer’s block. Sometimes your inner critic is too noisy and intrusive. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron helped to kickstart my fiction again, but mostly it was finding a subject I needed to write about.

What do you do to unwind and relax?Do you have a hobby?
I swim in the women’s pond on Hampstead Heath, cook (curries especially) and travel whenever I can. I also try to keep up with quite a large group of friends, and I’m often the one organizing parties and get-togethers. Party organizing is one of my hobbies, and so is match-making (I have limited success).
Have you ever based characters on people you know or based events on things that have happened to you?
I might start with a person or event I know, but it will change fundamentally before I’m finished. I don’t think anyone has ever recognized themselves in one of my novels, although my sister spotted that I had described her dog in my second novel.

What is your favourite book and Why?  Have you read it more than once?
This is hard, because I’d probably opt for different books on different days, but I love The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. She tells the story from the point of view of several different members of a family and each voice is unique and convincing. It’s a vast, terrifying, utterly absorbing novel and I’ve read it several times.

What are you currently reading? Are you enjoying it? What format is it?(ebook, hardback or paperback)
I’ve just finished Richard Davenport-Hines’ Titanic Lives in hardback. It’s an extraordinary work of research covering lots of Titanic passengers I hadn’t come across before, and it’s very well written.

Do you think ebooks will ever totally replace printed books?
I hope not. I love printed books and haven’t yet bought an e-book reader, but I can see that I will have to at some point because my home is bursting at the seams with books. I can’t believe art books will ever be replaced as a printed product, and I hope children’s books will survive so that future generations have the pleasure of turning physical pages.

Did you read a lot at school and write lots of stories or is being a writer something newer in your life?
I was quite a solitary child and my nose was always in a book. Either that or I was writing a magazine, full of stories, drawings, crosswords and jokes, which I distributed to our neighbours.

Did you have a favourite author as a child?
I loved the Nancy Drew books. I just googled to find the author and realise they were written by a variety of authors all under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene.

Do you have a treasured book from your childhood? If yes, what is it?
Heidi, by Johanna Spyri; and Daddy Long Legs, by Jean Webster.

What piece of advice would you give to a new writer?
I don’t think I’m in any position to give advice. Personally, I have followed the very traditional route of finding an agent who sold my books for me, but am in awe of writers who have self-published and self-marketed themselves into the bestseller list.

Do you or would you ever use a pen name?
I have done so, yes. It’s a strange feeling and I feel less attached to those books.

If you could invite three favourite writers to dinner, who would you invite and enjoy chatting with?
Graham Greene, Diana Athill and Samuel Beckett. (Does it matter that two of them are no longer alive? …)

Where can readers follow you?

Your blog details?
Your web site ?
Your facebook page?
Your Twitter details? @GillPaulAuthor

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