I am pleased to introduce Gilli Allan and her latest ebook release Life Class. I asked her the following questions.
1) You have your latest book coming out this month – Life Class tell us a about it?
LIFE CLASS is a story about art, life, love and learning lessons. The class meets once a week to draw the human figure. For four of those who attend, life hasn’t lived up to expectations. All have failed to achieve what they thought they wanted in life. Over the course of the book they gradually come to realise that it’s not just the naked model they need to study and understand. Their stories are very different, but they all have secrets they hide from the world and from themselves. By uncovering and coming to terms with the past, maybe they can move on to a different and unimagined future. Dory says she works in the sex trade, the clean-up end. She deals with the damage sex can cause. Her job has given her a jaundiced view of men, an attitude confirmed by the disintegration of her own relationship. She’s come back to her old home town and found a part-time job in the sexual health clinic. Her older sister, Fran, studied art as a young woman. She pushes Dory into enrolling for the life class which she herself attends. Dory wonders what she is doing here. The time seems right to pursue what she does really wants in life, if she can only work out what that is. Love doesn’t figure in her view of the future – she’s always been a clear eyed realist – yet she finds herself chasing a dream. Stefan is a single-minded loner, whose sole and overriding ambition is to make a living from his sculpture. But at the moment it’s a distant dream, He needs money now and finds a job as a part time art teacher. He has only taken it on in desperation, so it’s a blow to find the class regard his presence as an imposition. They seem to want their old teacher back. Love is an emotion he long ago closed off – it only leads to regret and shame – but it creeps up on him from more than one direction. Is it time to admit that letting others into his life is not defeat? Fran is a wife and a stay-at-home mother, without enough to keep her occupied. Of the two sisters, she’s always been the bossy one, the one who likes to organise everyone’s life for them. On a collision course with her mid-life crisis, Fran begins to crave the romance and excitement of her youth. A harmless crush, which leads nowhere, turns into a search for an old boyfriend. The on-line flirtation becomes scarily obsessive, putting everything she really loves at risk. Dominic is a damaged child who knows all about sex but nothing about love. Homeless and immature, he has been living a dangerous life. But if he can only find his mother perhaps he can make sense of his past. But perhaps it is a doomed quest and it’s time to look to the future? By accepting the help and love that’s on offer here and now, he has a chance to transform his life.
2)This is the second book you have self-published as an e-book. Why have you gone down this road?
I wrote many unfinished ‘novels’ as a young teenager. I bored my friends witless, I’m sure, by insisting on reading passages out to them in the break times of the girl’s grammar school I attended. An experience which wasn’t enhanced for them by the fact I couldn’t get through more than a few sentences without giggling and getting embarrassed by the rude bits. I was nothing like the bold, sassy teenagers of today! I worked in advertising, as an illustrator, and only started writing again – this time with the serious intention of finishing the book and getting it published – when I was at home with my three year old son, Tom. That book, Just Before Dawn, almost immediately found a newly established publisher. Called Love Stories, it was aiming to provide intelligent, unconventional, un-clichéd stories about love and relationships. My writing fitted this remit perfectly. After publishing my second novel, Desires & Dreams, Love Stories folded. It was unable to get the promotion, marketing and distribution to gain success for itself or its authors. It was a blow, but I reasoned that as I’d found my first publisher with very little trouble, I would be able to find another. Famous last words. The walls you need to climb to get a mainstream publishing deal grow higher and harder all the time. I know. I’ve beaten my head against them for long enough. This was why, after being given a Kindle for Christmas, 2010, I began to think about self-publishing. I am famously ‘untechnical’, and it was a very steep learning curve. But I managed it and I was published again. Briefly it felt good, but I soon realised that it is very hard to get sales if you’re not a ‘name’, or if your book doesn’t fit a sub-genre, easy to categorise and market. So, by late that summer, I was delighted to find an e-publisher, who wanted to take on my next book, LIFE CLASS. I signed a contract in the autumn, but by January this year they told me they’d stopped trading. This is why I self-published LIFE CLASS.
3) What is your process for writing? do you have any “must do” traditions?
I don’t really have any traditions as such. Because I haven’t been mainstream published for many years it’s made me lazy, or should I say, unfocused, about my writing life. When I am in full flow, I write all day, every day. The discipline I have to impose is on the rest of my life – making sure I’ve done the shopping, changed the beds and washed the undies. But this only happens when the work in progress has ‘caught fire’. It can be a long and arduous journey until that point. During that period, which I describe as like carving a block of granite with a teaspoon, I have to make myself go into the study, sit down and put fingers to keyboard.
4) Where do you get your inspiration from?
It’s different for different books. I am definitely not one of those writers whose brains are teeming with stories just waiting to be released. Inspiration, if it happens, is very welcome. The seed that began my book, TORN, was something I saw on a car journey. We passed a lane leading from the road we were travelling on down to a narrow village centre. I had just enough time to register the scene and then it was gone. It struck me that those villagers must have been pleased that the main road was rerouted. I then wondered how the people who lived along the road which presumably had been upgraded into the bypass felt about it. I went on to reflect that life is never simple or black and white. Other real experiences from different times in my own life then fed into the developing story – an altercation on Streatham High Road; a party I went to and its aftermath; an incident recounted to me by a friend who had taken her young child walking on a local hillside. When I write I will always use real experiences, if they fit, but nothing ever remains exactly as it really happened. These re-imagined episodes begin to form a skeleton in my mind’s eye, around which I can begin to weave a story. LIFE CLASS was a title waiting for a book. I myself attended art college and – after I got over the initial embarrassment – I enjoyed the life drawing classes very much. I stopped when I left college and went on, eventually, to work as an advertising illustrator. It was only when I was married and at home with my baby son, I resumed going to evening life classes. As soon as Tom was old enough to go to the college crèche, I changed to a day time class. And I’ve continued ever since. I won’t tell you how old Tom is now, but he’s not a baby. So the book had a long gestation. When I started to seriously think about developing the story, I considered the people I knew. I lighted upon a good friend of mine who did a very interesting and sometimes amusing job. I knew she would be happy to help me with my research. If I gave the heroine of my story a job like my friend’s, she would be coming into contact with people – maybe people she knew – at very vulnerable, embarrassing and possibly life-changing moments. More than that, she might make perfectly reasonable assumptions about those people, assumptions which could colour her view of them and give her an ethical dilemma. This was the crucial seed which turned on the ‘what if’ part of my brain. Life Class grew from those two elements – the job and the weekly class. Of course, from then on, other remembered incidents and experiences from my own life were absorbed into the story which, once I’d begun it, mixed into the cocktail, along with a generous helping of imagination.
5) What has been your favourite read of the last 12 months?
I read a great deal, and picking out a favourite is difficult. I prefer to read outside of my own genre. It’s more relaxing and enjoyable because I can switch off my inner editor. So – I think I’ll plump for C J Sansom’s, Heartstone. Sansom writes crime fiction set in the reign of Henry VIII. His hero is a lawyer, called Shardlake. C J Sansom must be good, because I don’t usually read historical fiction. But I wait in eager anticipation for the next book in his series.
6) When did you realise you could write books others would enjoy reading?
I didn’t. But once I’d begun that first serious attempt to write a book for publication – Just Before Dawn – I enjoyed the process so much, and fell so totally in love with my story, I felt sure others would love it too. It was the only book which came really easily. That experience was one I have never repeated. It was as if I had a hotline to the fiction fairy. All I needed to do was open the channel and the story fed down onto the page from goodness knows where. I wish I could find the route to the fiction fairy every time I write a book!
LIFE CLASS: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007XWFURQ