is an interview with Linda Gillard, author of Emotional Geology
which is our featured title this month.
: What’s EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY about?
: 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.
: Why did you write it?
: 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.
: 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.
: 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
: 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.
: 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.
: You use a lot of dialogue. Some writers, especially when
they’re starting out, find it hard to make dialogue convincing.
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.
: 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.
: 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.
CAN READ AN EXTRACT FROM EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY BY CLICKING HERE