Today on the blog we get to visit with Gillian Philip, author of THE OPPOSITE OF AMBER. Gillian lives in the north-east highlands of Scotland, with one husband, two children, one labrador (Cluny), two psychotic cats (the Ghost and the Darkness), and four nervous fish. Her other novels include: BAD FAITH, CROSSING THE LINE, FIREBRAND, and more.
How did you come up with the interesting plot of The Opposite of Amber?
This was a story that crept up and surprised me. I remember the exact moment, too. I was actually working on another novel, which had ground to a halt; I just couldn’t think where to take it, and it was like beating my head off a fictional brick wall. So I decided to take the night off and watch television. There just happened to be a documentary on about a series of murders in England in 2006, and I was gripped. It didn’t have any interest in how the crimes were committed, or the police investigation, or the motives of the murderer – it focused on the women who were killed, and their families, and how their lives had brought them to these deaths, and the gaps those deaths had left in other people’s lives. That’s when the idea for The Opposite of Amber occurred to me, and Jinn and Ruby started forming in my head – two sisters who had taken very different and perhaps unexpected paths. The plot came later, as I was writing.
What was your road to your first publication like?
Long and winding! I almost gave up at one point – in fact I pretty much had given up. I’d wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember, and I’d had some success with short stories, but I had a bit of a mental block about writing a novel. I thought I couldn’t think of a ‘plot’ – when in fact I’m simply one of those writers who plots only in the vaguest terms before starting to write. I wish I’d known earlier that this isn’t unusual, and that a lot of writers work this way. I thought ‘real’ writers were terribly organised and planned everything in minute detail!
I’d also heard so many horror stories about the difficulty of getting published that I had a pretty defeatist attitude – I thought success was just too unlikely. I’d tried to write a few romances, but hadn’t been successful in selling them, so I rather gave up.
Then a few things came together: I returned to Scotland with my family (we’d been living abroad) and I found that ideas were suddenly and magically all over the place. I also discovered young adult fiction, and loved it so much I realised it was what I wanted to write. And on the strength of my published short stories I’d joined the Society of Authors, and through them found out about manuscript advice services. That meant I had somewhere to turn for support and practical advice, and I also discovered just how much editing and rewriting is necessary – and how much practice. I’d written another four books before an agent took me on, but by then I’d realised I had to be persistent. In 2008 I sold a book called Bad Faith to Scottish publisher Strident, and only a few months later my agent sold Crossing The Line to Bloomsbury. Since then I’ve written constantly.
Which of your books are you most proud of?
That’s a tough question! I’m proud of all of them in different ways, because they were all very different writing experiences with their own problems and their own paths to development. Perhaps I’m proudest of Firebrand, a fantasy set in sixteenth century Scotland, simply because the Rebel Angels series (of which it’s Book 1) took me years of dogged rewriting, and I never gave up on the characters. And I’m proud of Crossing The Line because it was longlisted and shortlisted for quite a few prizes. But to be honest I’m never 100% proud of any of them, because it doesn’t matter how much I edit and rewrite, there’s always something I wish I’d changed, something I wish I’d done better. I think every writer feels that!
Who are some of your favorite authors? Have any of them influenced your writing?
My answer to this one changes all the time, because my favourite author is often the one I’m reading at the particular moment! But the constants I keep going back to are Malorie Blackman (for her Noughts & Crosses series), Cornelia Funke, Philip Reeve... Alan Garner was my favourite when I was young. I love Mary Renault, and I adore E.F. Benson’s Mapp & Lucia books, which I’ve read so often I’ve lost count. Bernard Cornwell is my favourite for historical novels, especially the Alfred series – I’m in love with his character Uhtred Ragnarsson. I love P.D James, Ruth Rendell and Nicci French for crime novels, and Armistead Maupin for his Tales of the City... you see? Hopelessly confused.
As for whether they’ve influenced me – I suppose, inevitably, they have. But I don’t consciously imitate any of them, and I hope my tastes are broad enough that I don’t do it unconsciously, either!
What are some things you enjoy doing outside of writing?
I don’t spend as much time on other activities as I’d like or (when it comes to fitness) as I should! I love horseriding and fencing (epee), but haven’t done much of either lately. I’m also an enthusiastic walker, which is useful because a long walk is great for resolving writing issues or sorting out plotlines – it really does work like magic.
And my favourite thing to do in the evening is cuddle up with my nine-year-old twins, some popcorn and wine (the wine’s just for me...), and watch a movie.
Are you working on any new projects?
All the time! I’ve started another contemporary crime story, which I hope will be for Bloomsbury. I’m rewriting the second book in the Rebel Angels series for Strident, called Bloodstone. And I’m about to start the fourth book in a series called Darke Academy, which I write under a pen name for Hothouse Fiction, a book packaging company. Oh, and I’m hoping to write a long story, maybe a novella, that takes place in the Rebel Angels universe, and that could be available for download around the time of Bloodstone’s publication in August. I’m always curious about the backstories of those characters...