It’s been a long while since I ran one of my ‘Good to Meet You’ posts, and I’m really happy to be starting again today with this interview with author Gilli Allan. Her answers are thought-provoking, her worst ever job sounds an absolute nightmare, and I was delighted to find we’d both marry the same fictional hero. (See answers below. NB: He’s mine, Gilli!)
First of all, let me introduce Gilli:
Gilli Allan began to write in childhood – a hobby pursued throughout her teenage years. Writing was only abandoned when she left home, and real life supplanted the fiction.
After a few false starts she worked longest and most happily as a commercial artist, and only began writing again when she became a mother.
Living in Gloucestershire with her husband Geoff, Gilli is still a keen artist. She draws and paints and has now moved into book illustration.
She is published by Accent Press and each of her books, Torn, Life Class and Fly or Fall has won a ‘Chill with a Book’ award.
Following in the family tradition, her son, historian Thomas Williams, is also a writer. His most recent work, published by William Collins, is Viking Britain.
Good to see you here, Gilli, and welcome!
Thanks for having me, Helena.
You mention your son is also a writer. Being a writer is a great job. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
A commission-only job as one of a group of young girls, many of them ‘sloanie’ types, identifying and ‘picking-up’ U.S. holidaymakers in London’s tourist hot spots. This was to inveigle them onto a free sightseeing coach tour of London, plus a free lunch at the Hilton. What was the catch you ask? These unfortunates were then subjected to a high-pressure sales pitch selling Real Estate in Florida.
Everyone I knew was amazed I’d taken the job. It was clearer to them than to me that I’d not be able to hack it. 1st (and most disabling) of the drawbacks was that I’m shy and found it hard to approach anyone. 2nd – we girls had to find married couples (not shacked-up, not brother and sister). 3rd – it’s harder than you might think identifying Americans; I had my share of Germans and Canadians. 4th – we were supposed to only offer the freebie tour to people in employment (not students, not retired). And 5th – black married couples were acceptable, but we were not to invite a mixed-race couple on the tour in case it made the rest feel awkward!!!!! This, the longest job to explain, was the shortest job of my life. I managed 4 weeks and spent most of the time weeping in coffee bars. I hardly earned a bean.
Oh my word!! It sounds absolutely dreadful. I’m not surprised you were weeping. I do hope you get revenge in a story sometime and write a transvestite lead character who fills the bus with mixed race and gay and lesbian couples.
What is your favourite book?
In answer to this question I have often said Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It sounds incredibly pretentious so, I have sometimes censored myself and picked another more commercial book.
I did not love it because of its exquisite prose or philosophical profundity. I am not an intellectual! I didn’t even go to university. Hand on heart, it’s the only book I’ve ever read more than twice (apart from school set books). Having only a hazy notion of what it was about, I picked it up in the school library when I was fifteen or sixteen, I still have that copy as it was never returned when I left school after O levels.
I have read it more than five times, on the first few occasions beginning again as soon as I’d finished. I was enthralled by it. I fell in love with the ‘hero’ Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov. I lived his anguish and his redemption. Please bear in mind I was a teenager with rampant hormones and no boyfriend on whom to focus my burgeoning passions. My knowledge of real life was close to zero. l was a middle-class girl from a happy suburban home, with no experience of poverty, slum living conditions, disease, aggression, drunkenness, violence or crime. Because of their distance, these things were somehow romantic and poetic to me. Even my hero’s rampage, killing two old ladies with an axe, did not trouble me too much. They were horrible and greedy and exploitative. I didn’t think they deserved it, but I understood why he had to do it. He needed the money and his Napoleon complex had convinced him he was above the law of ordinary mortals. I’ve not reread it for many years and suspect that these days, I would find it turgid and slow.
I remember reading it as a teenager, too, and being really struck by the hero. It’s a brilliant book but I found it such an uncomfortable read, I couldn’t bring myself to read it again. (And I love the fact you have a library fine outstanding for Crime and Punishment :) )
If you could meet anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you say to them?
I have always been fascinated by Richard the Third. As another enthusiasm of mine is archaeology, you can imagine how thrilled I was when the two things came together and his remains were discovered in that Leicester car park. What I would ask him is to clear up the mystery. Did you murder (or direct to have murdered) the princes in the Tower of London?
It was incredible when his remains were discovered after all this time! As a Yorkshire lass, though, I was very disappointed when he wasn’t laid to rest in York…
What’s your happiest childhood memory?
I had a very happy and secure childhood, so how to pick just one memory? Happy times? Christmas? Birthdays? Being on holiday in Cornwall was always a favourite. But I’m going to pick something that came as a total surprise to me and made me feel very special. I had always said I would love to go to the Chelsea Flower Show. The summer I passed my 11 plus I was utterly overwhelmed when my parents announced they were going to take me. I couldn’t get over the fact this was my treat. Looking back, I’m sure it was something my parents – keen gardeners themselves – wanted to do. But the point was, they took me! Not my younger brother, not my older sister. Just me. I was even bought a new outfit for the occasion. A red and white sprigged cotton dress with a little red bolero, and a red duster coat to match. I don’t actually remember much about the show itself. Aged eleven I probably got bored and didn’t enjoy myself very much. But that did not matter.
That’s a lovely memory!
If you had to marry a fictional character, from film, television, or books, who would it be?
Goodness! The fictional heroes I am attracted to tend to be moody, complex, with difficult back-stories and an obsessional commitment to whatever task, fate, job, or their desire to save the world, has given them. Not really good marriage material.
When I was a young teenager, I used to enjoy Georgette Heyer, but the conclusion to her novel Cotillion, did not tick all the boxes for me. I had expected the heroine, Kitty, to plump for the saturnine, arrogant, but handsome, Jack. Instead she chose Freddy. That wasn’t how it worked! Even though I didn’t like Jack very much, I felt somehow cheated. In fact Heyer had got it just right. Freddy loved Kitty. He was funny and kind and most importantly, he was her friend. What more could you want?
Cotillion is one of my favourite books, and I think Freddy must be my favourite Heyer hero (although there are many to choose from!)
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
To accept yourself for who you are. To enjoy and appreciate what you have and not to crave for material things in life. To try to use the qualities you were born with to pursue your ambitions.
And finally, please tell us about your latest book, where we can find it – and where we can find you…
Here is the blurb to BURIED TREASURE
Their backgrounds could hardly be further apart, their expectations in life more different. And there is nothing in the first meeting between the conference planner and the university lecturer which suggests they should expect or even want to connect again. But they have more in common than they could ever have imagined. Both have unresolved issues from the past which have marked them; both have an archaeological puzzle they want to solve. Their stories intertwine and they discover together that treasure isn’t always what it seems.
And here is the buy link.
Thank you, Helena. I’ve enjoyed reflecting on and answering your questions.
Thanks so much for dropping in, Gilli. It’s been brilliant getting to know you. Very best of luck with your release!
If you’ve enjoyed Gilli’s interview, or have any questions or comments at all, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you!