I have such a treat for you today! Tomorrow – 2nd November – sees the publication of the paperback edition of Another Woman’s Husband by Gill Paul, one of my very favourite books of this year, as you’ll be able to tell from my review. You might remember that her previous book, The Secret Wife, was one of my top favourites of last year too (review here). And if you were ever to ask me for my list of favourite authors, close to the top, along with Gill, you’ll always find the wonderful Louise Beech. I really did love her latest, Maria in the Moon, even if I found it a tad more challenging than I was expecting (review here) – and both How To Be Brave and The Mountain in My Shoe have a very special place in my heart. And as well as being two of my favourite authors, they’re also two of my favourite people in the world.
So when Gill told me that they’d been interviewing each other, and would I like to feature it… I shed a tear of pure joy. Welcome to Being Anne, ladies!
What are you trying to achieve with your novels? To entertain people? To make an impact? Make people change their minds on something? Or for therapy for yourself?
LOUISE – Seriously, all of the above. Aren’t I greedy? They are definitely therapy to me, and pure joy to write. And I want to entertain, inspire, make an impact… and yes, change the world, haha!
GILL – I love the way great historical novelists put themselves into the shoes of real characters and show us what the world looked like through their eyes, as Hilary Mantel so memorably did with Cromwell. That’s my goal, and I love everything about the process, from the research through to the final proofread.
What is your interesting writing quirk?
LOUISE – I edit as I go. Therefore, my complete first draft, which usually lands up at about 90,000 words, generally only loses (or gains) a few thousand words in later edits.
GILL – I edit dozens of times. Loads. I have a small (unpaid) team of trusted readers and always make changes based on their views. I also have a serious addiction to Post-It notes.
Do you ever agree with your one/two star reviews?
LOUISE – Yes. I do. They hurt. Can’t lie. The very articulate and intelligent low reviews hurt the most. But these are people’s opinions and so there is no right or wrong. Not everyone is going to like our work.
GILL – You very bravely made a poem out of yours, and I admire that, but it would cost too much in therapy if I looked at mine. I’m far too thin-skinned.
LOUISE – Trust me, making them into a humorous poem REALLY helped…
What do you do if you begin to lose faith in your manuscript?
LOUISE – Oh God… is it bad that I don’t lose faith in them?
GILL – I gave up halfway through a few manuscripts before completing the one that became my first published novel. Sometimes it’s the right decision, believe me!
When (and why) did you first know you were a writer?
GILL – I used to write a magazine when I was eight and distributed hand-drawn copies to all our neighbours. Sadly no one kept any, so my literary executors won’t be able to file them in the university archive one day (joke).
LOUISE – Ooooh, I love this! I too wrote from being about eight; mini novels in exercise pads, pictures and contents page included. At school, when they dropped me from being the school magazine editor for not conforming (ha!), I started my own mag and even persuaded a local corner shop to sell it.
GILL – You not conforming? Can’t imagine that…
LOUISE – Haha – I know, shocking…
When did you start describing yourself as a writer to people who asked at parties, and what did you reply if they then asked “Have I heard of you?”
LOUISE – Only recently. Part of me feels that until writing makes me enough money to give up my day job in the theatre (not yet) I can’t say that’s my main job. But then a writer is what I am. So now I say it and it gives me a lot of joy. If they asked, ‘Have I heard of you?’, I think I’d just say, ‘Well, you tell me…’
GILL – I’m ridiculously self-deprecating so if anyone asks “Have I heard of you?”’ I mumble “No, probably not, I’m sure my novels wouldn’t be your kind of thing…”
How different do you find it to write with expectation? As in, after being published. When you have an audience. Readers who like your work. How does it compare to writing without a book deal?
GILL – I usually get two-book deals, so after every second novel I have to pitch a new idea and cross my fingers someone wants to publish it. There’s no doubt the pressure is greater once you have a bunch of readers who like your work. The biggest pressure comes from me myself, though, because I want to get better with each novel. I don’t want to keep churning out the same thing, year after year.
LOUISE – I also enjoy that I get one- or two-book deals, and therefore still have freedom. I can’t write to conform. I just can’t. Not even my own, haha! The story comes to me, regardless of genre or what I’ve written before. I am now more mindful of readers being actual humans. Actual human people, who I’ve met and love. That said, I’m a rebel. I’ll write what I must.
Do you base your characters on real people, and do they ever recognise themselves? If so, do they mind?
LOUISE – I think we’re naturally influenced by those we love (and occasionally by those we don’t.) I do it without thinking. Nanny Eve in Maria in the Moon is definitely my beloved Granny. Little Conor in The Mountain in my Shoe was inspired by my son at that age. Of course, my grandfather inspired Grandad Colin in How to be Brave, that’s a given. But sometimes, long after, I look back and think, oh, that was so-and-so. And it might not always be a person I like, but we won’t go into that…
GILL – I use snippets rather than whole characters: unusual colour sense, or a phobia about expressing emotions, for example. On a couple of occasions, someone has asked me if a particular character was based on them and both times I was astonished because I hadn’t been thinking of them at all. When I’m writing about real historical characters, like Wallis Simpson and Princess Diana, I try to get across my own sense of them. Of course, no two people see a third in the same way, so it’s all subjective.
If you compared your writing style to another author, who would it be?
LOUISE – John Irving. I love his quirkiness. That he doesn’t fit a genre. The pure beauty in his words.
GILL – Do I have a style? There are dozens of authors I idolise – Barbara Kingsolver, Maggie O’Farrell, Sarah Waters, Dinah Jefferies, Rose Tremain, you – but I don’t think my work is necessarily like theirs. Pass.
How important do you think book covers are? How much input do you get into them?
GILL – They’re crucial in positioning a book in the market and attracting new readers. I’m so jealous of the gorgeous arty book covers you get from your lovely publisher. Mine ask for my ideas, which they then disregard completely to produce something they think looks “commercial”.
LOUISE – No matter what anyone says, we DO judge books by their covers, just as we initially judge a person by appearance. It doesn’t mean we keep that opinion. So, I think a cover is very important. I’m lucky that I have loved all of mine. Initially I get sent around five to seven, some similar, some different. Then we have to pick. Fortunately, my publisher Karen and I both instantly loved the one we chose for each of my three so far…
GILL – A shout-out for lovely Karen!
LOUISE – She’s the best!
All authors have to market their own books now. Do you ever feel awkward or shy about self-promotion?
LOUISE – I worry online about oversharing. About being too in people’s faces. But we have little choice if we’re to get our books out there. But in person, I love chatting to folks. Find it more enjoyable to be interviewed or chat to a reader at an event. (I’m an introvert would you believe? I LOVE my own company, need it regularly, and I was VERY shy as a child.)
GILL – I’m super-shy but marketing is something we all have to do in the modern world so, to quote an 80s bestseller, I just have to Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.
Tell us about what you’re working on right now?
GILL – I’m back in Russia with my beloved Romanovs. It felt like coming home, but I’ve set myself a massive challenge with the sheer amount of history it covers, and a second plot that takes place in Australia in the 1970s. It’s coming out in July 2018 in the UK, and the following year in the US.
LOUISE – Wow, I love this period, Gill. I can’t wait. I’m working on novel five. And there’s been a murder! Yes, I’ve been hanging around at too many crime festivals. Kate is working her last shift at WLCR, a radio station where she’s a presenter. The show’s theme is secrets. And oh, there are a few – not only who killed local pregnant woman Victoria Valbon, or what Kate’s boyfriend is hiding, but who her real father is too…
Time for a cocktail? What’s your favourite tipple? And how many can you knock back in one sitting?
LOUISE – Haha – not as many as I used to be able to! I love ALL cocktails. A Cosmopolitan always goes down well. Quite partial to a nice Gin Sling too. I just can’t cope with the hangover any more…
GILL – Here’s my Christmas cocktail recipe. Empty a bottle of sparkling wine/Prosecco into a big jug. Add half a carton of pomegranate juice and a slug of Grand Marnier. You can drink this all day while cooking a turkey dinner and feel a happy mellow buzz without falling over. Cheers!
Cheers ladies – and thank you so very much for joining me today!
About the authors
Gill Paul is an author of historical fiction, specialising in recent history. Her other novels include Women and Children First, about a young steward who works on the Titanic; The Affair, set in Rome in 1961–62 as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton fall in love while making Cleopatra; and No Place for a Lady, about two Victorian sisters who travel out to the Crimean War of 1854–56 and face challenges beyond anything they could have imagined.
Gill also writes historical non-fiction, and a series of Love Stories, each containing fourteen tales of real-life couples: how they met, why they fell for each other, and what happened in the end. Published around the world, this series includes Royal Love Stories, World War I Love Stories and Titanic Love Stories.
Gill was born in Glasgow and grew up there, apart from an eventful year at school in the US when she was ten. She studied Medicine at Glasgow University, then English Literature and History (she was a student for a long time), before moving to London to work in publishing. She started her own company producing books for publishers, along the way editing such luminaries as Griff Rhys Jones, John Suchet, and Eartha Kitt. She also writes on health, nutrition and relationships.
Gill swims year-round in an open-air pond – “It’s good for you so long as it doesn’t kill you”– and is a devotee of Pilates. She also particularly enjoys travelling on what she calls “research trips” and attempting to match-make for friends.
Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The sequel, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both books have been number one on Kindle, Audible and Kobo in USA/UK/AU. She regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines.
Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012. She is also part of the Mums’ Army on Lizzie and Carl’s BBC Radio Humberside Breakfast Show.