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Linda Gillard

THE TRYSTING TREE – The Untold Story by Linda Gillard

Today I’m delighted to be handing over my blog to the amazing novelist Linda Gillard, whose long awaited new book is out this week. Over to you, Linda …

My latest novel, THE TRYSTING TREE covers a century in the lives of three families, beginning in 1914. Whenever I finish a novel, I show it to a few people: my agent, husband and daughter, my 91-year old Mum (who has a sharp eye for typos) and several friends. Two of these early readers pointed out that there was a lot missing from the book. They meant scenes that were referred to, but not described. This was because much of the novel is told in the form of diaries and letters.

L in Madeira cropped

Re-reading, I was staggered to see how much important material I hadn’t written. It almost looked as if I hadn’t written any of the big scenes. Instead I’d written what comes before and what comes after. In some cases I hadn’t done more than refer to major events. I panicked. Would this be unsatisfactory for the reader? Was my approach superficial?

I was all set to think about inserting new scenes when I started to wonder why so much was missing. I realised I’d written a book where almost all the big events happen “offstage”. I’d set out to write a book about a family history, presented partly as oral history, but also as an incomplete archive that has been badly damaged by fire, a collection of letters, diaries and photographs that raise more questions than they answer, the biggest one being, why did someone try to destroy the archive?

After much discussion with my early readers, I decided not to re-write. There was so much missing, so much the characters didn’t or couldn’t know – but that, it seemed to me, was the point: the story was ultimately incomplete. The reader is left in no doubt about what happened, but the 21stC characters have to deduce a good deal from the evidence that survived the fire, filling in the blanks with imaginative guesswork.

Will this make for a satisfying read? I hope so. A family history is, after all, always incomplete. It’s random, often sketchy, biased and ultimately unsatisfactory, because we want a beginning, middle and end. But it’s the gaps that intrigue us. The mysteries. The untold story.

The Trysting Tree

All I know about my grandfather’s involvement in WWI is that when he came home, my grandmother burned all his clothes and he refused ever to speak about his experience. That’s the sum total of my knowledge – of anyone’s. Even his silence is hearsay. He died when I was two.

Years later, when I was a teenager, Wilfred Owen & the War Poets loomed large in my life. Britten’s War Requiem (a setting of Owen’s poems) became a favourite piece of music. I’ve now written two novels featuring WWI soldier heroes. (The other was THE GLASS GUARDIAN.) I wonder now, did my grandfather’s refusal to speak have a more profound effect on me than anything he might have said?

Looking back over my eight novels, I can see my obsession is writing about what is not seen, not said and not known. I’ve written about negative space and the characters’ search for something that might somehow fill it. They are looking for completion. They’re people in search of more than just Mr/Ms Right. They want a surrogate family (Gwen in HOUSE OF SILENCE) or sanity (Rose in EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and Magnus in UNTYING THE KNOT) or religious faith (Hugh in A LIFETIME BURNING) or just a fuller life experience (blind Marianne in STAR GAZING).

When I was writing THE TRYSTING TREE, I knew it wouldn’t be a complete narrative, it would have to be an oblique book. I didn’t write about the big events, I described the fallout. For example, there isn’t a word about the Battle of the Somme. I wrote about what happened after a soldier walked away from the battlefield, leaving his memory behind as a casualty of war.

THE TRYSTING TREE could have been a much longer and more detailed book, but would that have made it a better book? That’s for readers to decide. My hope is, what you don’t know and don’t see will have as much power to affect your imagination as what you do know and see. But it’s something of a gamble!

Rozelle web 1 smaller

My grandfather died over 60 years ago. I have no memory of him, just a few photos, but over the decades, the fact that he, like many, refused to talk about what he’d experienced in the trenches has spoken volumes to me. Perhaps his silence said all there was to say.

~~~

LINKS

Linda Gillard on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LindaGillardAuthor?ref=hl

Linda’s books on Amazon: https://Author.to/AmazonLindaGillard

Note from Jo: I was one of those lucky enough to read the book in an early draft and I can say with authority it is stunning – one of Linda’s best. And reading this guest post made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up – this is such an emotional journey, and I hope you’ll join us in sharing and promoting it.

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Should Authors Stick To One Genre? An Interview With Linda Gillard

It’s no secret that Linda Gillard is one of my favourite authors. Her novel, House of Silence, is one of my top 5 favourite books of all time, and it was an article about her in a 2011 edition of Writing Magazine that inspired me to self-publish. Today, I’m delighted to share with you Linda’s thoughts on genre. Why this is so especially interesting to me is, I am currently in the position of wondering whether to focus on one particular type of book (commercial women’s fiction, with a light romantic comedy feel) or whether to continue to branch out, exploring all the ideas that appeal to me, in the hope that readers will forgive me and come along for the ride. Anyway, enough from me. Let’s hear from Linda herself …

L in Madeira cropped

Linda, you’ve said that your seven novels belong to no clear genre and you’ve made no secret of the fact that you parted company with your publisher over the issue of how to market them.

The problem was my fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE. My editor claimed if I didn’t re-write it as a romance, they wouldn’t know how to market it. My previous novel, STAR GAZING had been shortlisted for Romantic Novel of the Year, so the obvious thing to do was promote me as a romantic novelist. But I’m not. HOUSE OF SILENCE was a family story with a mystery at its heart. The love story was subsidiary, so it was a very different book from STAR GAZING, a completely different genre.

HoS FINAL cover

So if you’re not a romantic novelist, what sort of novelist are you?

I don’t know, but I do know I’m easily bored. I’ve written a three-generation 20thC family saga, a country house mystery, two ghost stories and three love stories where either the hero or heroine is disabled or mentally ill – so not exactly romances. Three of those novels are literary fiction, but I’d describe the others as commercial women’s fiction (though some of my best reviews have come from men.)

So as you can see, I’m a marketing department’s nightmare!

Nevertheless, since you went indie you’ve become very successful! How did you overcome the so-called ‘marketing problems’?

By ignoring them. By refusing to believe that selling fiction is all about genre. It isn’t. It’s about story and if the stories are good enough, publishing success will eventually be about the storyteller because readers are prepared to buy whatever you write.

In the 1970s bestselling Mary Stewart turned from writing romantic suspense to Arthurian fiction. She took me and millions with her because we trusted the storyteller. Now, when a traditionally published author wants to change genres, s/he has to have a new name or insert an initial in the old one, like Iain M Banks. But mostly publishers don’t allow authors to change genre. It’s deemed commercial suicide.

But I like to write different kinds of books, so when I went indie, I decided to promote myself, not the genre. And it’s worked.

That was a brave move, and one I find particularly heartening.

Some would say foolhardy! But I was listening to my readers and following my heart.

Years ago, when I was promoting my first novel at a library event, I asked the audience if they preferred an author’s books to be similar. Were publishers right to tell authors to stick to a successful formula? These readers were unanimous in their rejection of that marketing philosophy. One woman said, “I don’t want to read the same story over and over, but I do want to hear the same voice.”

That remark gave me the courage to believe that a voice could be as interesting as what it’s saying. I thought perhaps I could persuade readers to buy different kinds of books if they liked the way I told a story.

I think that’s how readers work. They looking for authors to fall in love with. When they find one, they want to read everything s/he’s written and at indie prices, they can afford to do that.

That’s such an interesting point! In fact, it’s stopped me in my tracks – a real ‘Aha’ moment. There are some authors (I won’t name) whose books I’ve enjoyed, but then I stopped enjoying them because they are very samey. And what I love about your books, I think, is your unique way of looking at the world. Which kind of proves your point.

Do you think readers care about genre? I said in the intro that I was concerned about focus – so far I’ve branched out into contemporary mysteries, and I have a couple of novels coming up which are a lot grittier than my previous romantic comedies, and a few kind-of thrillers planned. Should it be a concern?

Time and again readers have told me they don’t care about genre. For them it’s all about the story or the characters. I know what they mean. As a young woman I was a big fan of Margaret Forster. I wasn’t concerned with genre.  I trusted Forster to deliver a rattling good yarn, whether it was a family drama, historical fiction or even a memoir.

So in genre terms, what’s the biggest leap of faith you’ve asked your readers to make?

My sixth novel, THE GLASS GUARDIAN. It’s a contemporary love story, but the hero’s a ghost. And it’s not like GHOST, the movie. The hero in TGG has been dead for almost a hundred years.

Glass Guardian medium 600 x 800

How did your fans react? (I know how I reacted – I loved it! There is a scene in that book that stands out in my mind as one of the best written scenes I’ve ever read.)

Some weren’t too happy about the idea in advance, but there are now a lot of favourable Amazon reviews, some describing the book as “paranormal romance for people who don’t like paranormal romance”!

Do you think if you were still traditionally published, you’d be writing the books you’re writing now?

I wouldn’t be allowed to. To retain a publisher I would have to conform to rigid genre conventions which in my view stifle creativity.  When I was looking for a new publisher, my agent told me I wouldn’t be able to sell UNTYING THE KNOT because the cracked-up soldier hero is central in the story. According to the genre police, the heroine must always dominate women’s fiction. Well, who knew?…

UTK - new cover 600 x 800

(Ah, Linda – you’ll never know how good this is for my writing soul.) So going indie has allowed you to write the mixed-genre books you want to write?

Yes. I’m in the unusual and fortunate position now where I can write what I like and know there will be a market for it. My readers will buy the book, not because it’s a paranormal romance or a saga or a psychological drama, but because I wrote it.

I know that sounds insufferably smug, but since going indie I’ve acquired reviews that say, in so many words, “This is the first book of Gillard’s that I’ve read and I’ve since downloaded all her others.” Someone reviewed me on Amazon saying she’d read all seven novels in two months. That’s someone buying a voice, not a genre.

Do you think successful traditionally published authors could take their readers with them into new genre territories? Of course, you need a particularly engaging voice to do so, which not everyone has.

I’m sure they could and many have, but editors (who have to follow the dictates of the marketing men) don’t like it, so it’s discouraged. But this is where indie authors score. We can take risks. We can mix genres and create new ones. We can see if readers of literary fiction will swallow a romantic ghost story. They will!

It’s a brave new book world out there now and we’ve discovered that readers are far more open-minded and adventurous than publishers give them credit for.

Thanks so much, Linda. You’ve given me – and I’m sure lots of readers – much to think about. And for anyone who hasn’t yet discovered Linda’s fantastic novels, please give them a try. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.

Downsized SG cover

~~~

Biography

Linda Gillard lives in the Scottish Highlands. She is the author of seven novels, including STAR GAZING, short-listed in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and HOUSE OF SILENCE, selected by Amazon UK as one of their Top Ten “Best of 2011” in the Indie Author category.

Links

Website: www.lindagillard.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LindaGillardAuthor

Amazon UK page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Linda-Gillard/e/B0034PV6ZQ/

Amazon US page: http://www.amazon.com/Linda-Gillard/e/B0034PV6ZQ/

Cauldstane – An Instant Classic

Linda Gillard became one of my favourite authors when I read her bestselling novel, House of Silence, in 2012. Last week Linda published her latest novel, Cauldstane, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was my most highly anticipated book ever! Linda wrote it while recovering from cancer, and she shared her journey with her fans every agonizing step of the way. But it’s not only Linda’s incredible willingness to share that makes her so special – it’s also her skill as a writer. Here is an author in complete control of her material, and in complete control of the reader. As a writer myself, I can’t help but analyse how another author is producing certain responses in me, the reader, when I’m reading a book, and Linda knows exactly when and how to crank it up until I’m either dissolving into tears or whooping with joy. When I figure out how she does it, I know I’ll be a better writer 😉

So, Cauldstane could not come more highly recommended, and here is the link if you want to go right ahead and download it now. Or, read on for my review …

Awesome cover too!
Awesome cover too!

An Instant Classic!

This book is described as ‘A Gothic novel in the romantic suspense tradition of Daphne du Maurier and Victoria Holt.’ To my shame, I’ve never read Victoria Holt, but I am a du Maurier fan, and I think this description is spot on. Jenny Ryan is a ghostwriter, who travels to Scotland to stay in a castle and write the memoirs of its laird, Sholto MacNab. There is a great cast of characters, all beautifully drawn, and the castle itself almost becomes a character in its own right, so richly is it described and imagined. What I love about Linda Gillard’s writing is her ability to subtly manipulate the emotions of the reader – there are laughs, tears and nail-biting tension, all set within a brilliant plot and against a beautiful and haunting setting. Prior to reading this, my favourite Linda Gillard novel was House of Silence (which I also recommend) but now I’m not sure – I think it’s a tie. Cauldstane is an instant classic, and I’m looking forward to the paperback version coming out so I have a good excuse to read it again.

H is for House of Silence

Day 9 of the A to Z challenge, and today’s letter is H. At first I had Happy, but then I decided that I wanted to include a few fellow authors in my April posts, and for H I’ve chosen House of Silence – a book that made me very happy.

This book was pivotal for me. I read about Linda Gillard in a Writing Magazine article back in 2011. I cut out the article – it was all about self-publishing – and kept it. When I started my own self-publishing journey in 2012 I re-read Linda’s words, and decided I also needed to read her books.

House of Silence

House of Silence is, quite simply, brilliant. You know I don’t do book reviews, but this is what I wrote on Goodreads: “I don’t often give 5 stars to anything, but I loved this book. Linda Gillard is a genius – I finished this book in just over a day! What I loved about this story was that it is so skilfully written you completely lose yourself in the story. Gwen, the main character, is drawn into the strange world of her actor-boyfriend, Alfie, and pulled into a mystery so deep before long she is completely immersed – and so are you! Fantastic characterisation, great narrative voice, brilliant use of first and third person viewpoints … I could rave about it all day. But I won’t – I’ll just say two more words: Read it.”

Well, you can see why I don’t do reviews! I’m not exactly eloquent when describing a book I loved. But Linda contacted me via Goodreads to say thank you, and we struck up a friendship that I value immensely. Linda’s story is amazing, and most of you will know it already, but for those who don’t, Linda was a traditionally published, prize-winning, hugely popular author who was dropped by her publisher because they believed her (then) latest book, House of Silence, would be hard to market. Linda decided to go indie, and House of Silence became an Amazon bestseller. She is now massively successful, and a lovely supportive person to boot. Linda epitomises for me what self-publishing is all about: it’s about finding readers. Linda says you build a following reader by reader, and that’s a fantastic way to think about it. It says you’re in it for the long term, that you want to be read, and that it doesn’t matter how you get in front of the important people – readers – as long as you do.

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