This is an interview with Linda Gillard, author of Emotional Geology which is our featured title this month.


LG : Madness, memory and mountaineering! It’s set on the remote, Gaelic-speaking island of North Uist and on the Isle of Skye (where I live), off the north-west coast of Scotland. It’s a strong, offbeat romance between a sexy, middle-aged, manic-depressive textile artist and an equally fragile younger man. The narrative style of the book is unusual – spare and kaleidoscopic – and some of the story is actually told in poems. The plot and the narrative are layered in time, a bit like an archaeological dig.

TW : Why did you write it?

LG : I became interested in the little-understood bi-polar affective disorder (popularly known as manic depression.) I wanted to write a book that would entertain but also educate readers about this terrifying illness. I see a real need for that. It’s been predicted that mental illness will be the epidemic of the 21st century, yet according to a recent Depression Alliance survey, 26% of the British population don’t believe mental illness is a genuine illness! EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY tackles some of the issues around managing bi-polar and the terrible toll mental illness can take on families and relationships.

TW : Quite a heavy read then?

LG : No, not at all! I actually wrote EG as a self-indulgent treat for myself. I was living alone on a hillside on Skye 2 miles from the nearest village. I couldn’t find the sort of thing I wanted to read in bookshops (which were awash with chick-lit at the time) so I wrote a thinking-woman’s romance that dealt with real issues and had likeable, believable characters. I gave myself two gorgeous sexy heroes who happened to be quite a bit younger than the heroine who was 47. There’s comic dialogue and tough issues in about equal measure and some great erotic writing. EG was written with passion and paint-stripper honesty because I knew the book would never be published and frankly, didn’t give a damn. Writing was its own reward as far as I was concerned. I had a wonderful time writing it and I think that communicates itself to the reader.

TW : Why did you opt for a middle-aged heroine?

LG : I was sick to death of middle-aged women being portrayed as somebody’s mother, somebody’s wife and only being allowed to pull the hero if they were well-preserved, thin and actually looked 39! Rose is attractive, but not beautiful. What draws men to her is her mind, which is as alluring as it is damaged. I made her 47 because that’s how old I was when I started the book and I made the hero younger because I was heavily into wish-fulfilment fantasy! But I also wanted to explore a relationship that didn’t play by all the usual rules. I wanted to put an intelligent, creative, attractive woman in the spotlight and ignore her age, just look at her heart and mind and I wanted my hero to do the same. I thought a younger man would be more likely to do that.

TW : What was the hardest part of the book to write?

LG : Oh, without doubt, the party scene – Calum’s 40th birthday (Ch. 11). I put it off for months! By the time I sat down to write it I was just dreading it. It was technically demanding - there were so many characters involved. I knew the scene had to drip sexual tension, but I also wanted it to be funny. So I did what I always do when I’ve got a difficult scene to write – I just tried to get through it in as few words as possible. So it came out as a sort of collage mainly of bits of dialogue. I hope it reads like wandering around at a real party, hearing snippets of conversation here and there.

TW : What was the easiest part to write?

LG : The hero, Calum. He wrote himself. I don’t really think I can take the credit for him - he just sprung into my mind, fully formed. It was just a question of getting him down on paper.

TW : You use a lot of dialogue. Some writers, especially when they’re starting out, find it hard to make dialogue convincing. Any tips?

LG : I prefer when I can to tell a story through dialogue. (I think I’m a failed scriptwriter actually!) It’s probably something to do with having been an actress – I’ve worked a lot with dialogue. My first drafts are often just dialogue - the page looks like a script. Then I go back and fill in, sometimes not very much. You can only get away with doing that if you have a different “voice” for each character. If they all sound the same, the reader gets confused. I edit and edit and edit my dialogue. I’m always cutting out words, thinning it out, so I’m left with as little as possible. To make dialogue convincing you have to have an observant, musical ear, you have to listen to how people speak – the rhythms, the pauses, the particular words they use. If you’re not sure, read it aloud. That’ll expose the flaws.

TW : Did you ever get stuck with EG and feel like giving up?

LG : I had to give up – twice! I moved house twice while writing EG and there was any amount of upheaval with both my kids leaving home and going off to university and my husband going off to work in the Outer Hebrides… And the Mac was packed away in an attic for months. Oh, it was a fun time… I took the book up again because I joined a writers’ e-group and needed something to swap with them so I dug out what was then half a novel, dusted it down and thought “Maybe I should persevere with this…” The e-group was wonderful. They encouraged me to finish the book and then send it to an agent. It wasn’t until I got reader feedback on EG that I knew I might possibly be on to something.

TW : How did you think of your title?

LG : That came quite early on. EG is a book in which nothing actually happens – another reason why I thought I’d never find a publisher. There are all sorts of tumultuous events but they’ve all happened in the past. What my characters are actually dealing with is fall-out. So I had the idea of using geology as a metaphor for what happened to them. Rock is a concrete record of the past, of what happened to the Earth – pressure build-up, seismic upheaval, meltdown, erosion - you are literally looking at layers of time. I think our minds and our memories are like that - a record of what we’ve been through, what we’ve survived, the toll it has taken. By excavating their past my characters are doing emotional geology.




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