An interview with Gillian Philip

Posted on August 23, 2012 by in News, Writing

In honour of this week’s launch of our new Erin Hunter series, Survivors, we invited Gillian Philip – writer on Survivors, Beast Quest, and upcoming WP series Rookery Island – to answer a couple of questions. You can follow Gillian on Facebook and Twitter.

You’re currently writing on three different WP series, as well as your own books – do you love being busy?

I do! Apart from anything else, having several deadlines really concentrates the mind – otherwise I could fritter away entire days on Facebook and Twitter. And I love that feeling of sinking into a book, getting to know the characters and not thinking about anything else.

Tell us about your own books. Are there any themes you find yourself returning to?

I love writing fantasy and crime, and tend to veer from one to the other. My three full-length crime novels so far are Bad Faith, Crossing The Line and The Opposite of Amber, and I’m just starting a new one with the working title Spitting Distance. I’m also three-quarters of the way through a fantasy series set in Scotland – Rebel Angelswhich is about the mythical Sithe of the Highlands (Wolfsbane, the third book, has just been published). I do love myth and legend, so the books are full of creatures like selkies (seal people) and kelpies (carnivorous water horses), but I try to update the myths and relate them to the modern world. It’s great fun writing those and I adore the characters.  My own books do tend to be a little violent, with plenty of betrayal and politics and revenge – but there’s redemption and romance too. I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for a love story…

How does writing for WP differ from writing your own books?

Mainly it’s the fact that I have a plot to work with! I’m really terrible at plotting my own books, so I don’t even try very hard – I’ll just take a few situations and characters and write until I find out what happens. With WP books the outline is there for me, so it’s a completely different way of working and it stretches different writing ‘muscles’, which is great. It’s still funny, though, how the characters have minds of their own and can veer off course or take unanticipated diversions. That can sometimes happen mid-book, and then, as you know, the editors will be on the email to me, or vice versa, and we’ll have to adjust the story slightly, or add a new detail. That’s fascinating!

We hear you visited Edinburgh this week. What’s your favourite thing you’ve seen?

I had a wonderful time just hanging out in Charlotte Square and meeting friends – and I finally met HM Castor, an author I really admire. Her book ‘VIII’, about Henry  VIII, was one of my favourite books last year, so I was a bit starstruck. And she signed a postcard for me!

Are you a computer lover or long-hand devotee? Do you write at home or on the go?

Usually I write at home, on the MacBook – I’m really lucky in having a gorgeous (if chaotic) study; I try to go in there and shut the door so there aren’t any distractions. But I keep a longhand notebook, too, to scribble down ideas (a full notebook once got eaten by the dog. Major crisis!). I like to go for long walks because they’re great for sparking ideas, but I usually forget my notebook. I’ve had to text myself several times…

How have you found the experience of joining such a well-known writing team?

Fantastic! The excitement around SURVIVORS is amazing, and very humbling. There’s a very strong sense of not wanting to let down existing Erin Hunter fans, who have a deep emotional investment in Erin’s books.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading ‘Warriors: A Dangerous Path’ (seriously, I’m not just saying that!) and absolutely loving it. And (I always have at least two books on the go) I’m also reading Sophie Hannah’s ‘Kind of Cruel’. She’s an amazing psychological crime writer and I’m crazy about her books.

Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring fiction writers?

Write what you absolutely need to write; write what you love. Then rewrite it, and rewrite it again, and put it away for a couple of months, then rewrite it again! You need loads of perseverance, but it’s worth it. And having just given advice, I’d add: yes, take advice (and listen to constructive feedback), but find your own way of working and be true to your story!

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