Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Welcome Wednesday says hi to Gilli Allan

It's always wonderful to have new visitors and that's what's happening today. I'm opening the door to Gilli Allan, who has come to share her thoughts on planning a novel. I'm finding a lot of similarities over how she works, and how I find myself writing my new works in progress, in as much as I'm basically a 'pantser' who lets images and ideas flood in from different stimuli... and sometimes that takes quite a while.

Gilli is also sharing information about her books -in particular - Fly or Fall. (Check details below for a Kindle countdown deal from today- 12th March 2014!)

I love the startling cover image!

Welcome Gilli, and over to you...

What is the key that opens up a story?
I envy the writers who are able to conjure up an entire story, producing a skeleton plot or a detailed synopsis, before they begin a book. It sounds easier than the way I work.  I think of my next book like a shuttered up house.  I may have some concept of the front elevation but I have very little idea of what is going on inside. What I need to do is find the key to unlock the front door.  I find the story by going from room to room, flinging open the shutters to let the light in to see what’s inside each one. 

The key to ‘TORN’ came to me on a car journey to Somerset. I was the passenger and I had just a split second to register a turning on my side - a lane sloping steeply down to the centre of a village.  Evidently the road we were on had been developed as a by-pass. ‘I bet those villagers were pleased to have the main road re-routed,’ I thought. ‘But what about the home-owners living along this road?’
 Life is rarely black and white. There are always two or more sides to every question. TORN grew from this single thought. A single mother takes her young son and runs away from an abusive relationship in London to find sanctuary in the country. She wants a quiet life with no entanglements, where she can devote herself to being a good mother. But there are stresses and strains here too, and the people she gets to know are on different sides of the argument about everything, from lifestyle to a proposed bypass. She is TORN between the suitable man and the unsuitable boy.  

I’ve attended a life class for many years and always thought it would make an interesting setting for a novel. And LIFE CLASS would be a good title. But I didn’t have a story.  I began to think about women I knew and the jobs they did.  I have a friend who, at the time, worked as a lab technician in an STI clinic.  This was the key that opened the door to my imagination. What if my heroine did this job? It might bring her into contact with many different people - some possibly known to her - at a vulnerable time in their lives. Tempting for her to make assumptions about sexuality and life-style.  Add into the mix her sister - a bored housewife, their art teacher - a sculptor, who feels a failure, and a damaged boy, who knows all about sex but nothing about love. They all need to confront past mistakes and accept that love has many faces.  

I first began writing FLY OR FALL many years before TORN or LIFE CLASS.  I had two books already main-stream published and I wanted to get on with the third.  As I had before, I began searching for the key to it by looking at my own life experiences.  I knew about moving house, the last time was only four years previously. How would I feel if I’d moved unwillingly? If it had all been my husband’s idea?  I began to think about a woman who dislikes change but after her invalid mother dies, she is persuaded, against her instincts, to move house from Battersea, in London, to an area where she knows no one. To further disrupt and depress her, the new house needs modernisation.  
I had some experience of ‘having work done’ on the house, but I’d never been propositioned by a builder.  I’d inferred from women I knew that this was a commonplace and sometimes welcome element of home improvements!  I don’t believe I gave out encouraging signals and, in truth, there’d never been a workman that I’d found remotely attractive, but what if....?  All these thoughts rumbled around in my head as the story progressed.  
I was now doing an evening bar job at my local squash club, and even though I’m fairly sure I still wasn’t giving out the right signals, bar maids are fair game it seems. It occurred to me that my heroine could take a similar job which would expose her to an entirely different world to the one she’d left behind in right-on, politically-correct Battersea. 
Gilli Allan
It was then that real life began to mirror events in my story rather than the other way around. My mother died unexpectedly and my husband was head-hunted. Suddenly my world had been turned upside down and I was faced with exactly the same dilemma I’d given my heroine.  The job was in Gloucestershire, a county neither my husband nor I had ever set foot in, let alone had friends in or connections to. But it was an extremely good opportunity; I had a portable career and I’d always fantasised about living in the ‘real’ country. 
Even though I supported our move, I found myself living through many of the events and emotions I’d imagined for my heroine - grief, displacement, loneliness and feeling like a fish out of water.  I put the still untitled book away and, though I admit to having tinkered with it over the years, I lost interest. Last year I decided to have another look at it. I’d only read the first chapter when the title Fly or Fall jumped out at me. This was the key I needed to revamp the book.  I could instantly see what wasn’t working and why. I knew how to re-write the story, to both bring it up-to-date and to give it a new, believable and satisfying conclusion.

All my books are available in paperback.
FLY OR FALL is on a ‘UK only’ Kindle Countdown from Wednesday 12 March, for 3 days. 
So, what about the query posed at the beginning of this piece - what is the key....? It can be many things - a momentary image, a real-life experience, something witnessed or recounted to me. It’s what happens next, where that opened door leads me, which is more fascinating.
twitter: @gilliallan

Thank you for such a great post, Gilli. It's a pleasure to welcome you, and the best of good wishes for your Kindle Countdown on Amazon.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for having me Nancy. The blog was a process of self-discovery for me too. Gillix


Thank you for reading my blog. Please pop your thoughts about this post in the comment box. :-)