A guest post from author Linda Gillard

19 Jan

Linda Gillard now lives on the Isle of Arran, after spending six years living on the Isle of Skye and a short time in Glasgow. Having been through three careers, as an actor, journalist and teacher, she wrote her first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, which was published by Transita in 2005. Linda’s second novel A LIFETIME BURNING was published in 2006, also by Transita. Her third novel, STAR GAZING, set on the Isle of Skye and in Edinburgh, was published by Piatkus in 2008. STAR GAZING has been short-listed for three awards, including the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Novel of the Year and was voted “Favourite Romantic Novel 1960-2010” by readers of Woman’s Weekly magazine.

More about Linda and her books can be found here.

I met Linda through my work bringing Transita and BookCrossing together, which got Transita’s books well-known and BookCrossed (and purchased!) all over the world. Linda is a generous author – generous with contact with her readers and with connecting with the wider public. She has given talks and run hugely popular writers’ workshops at BookCrossing Conventions, as well as appearing at local meetings and maintaining contact with her fans. I have been privileged to read several of Linda’s novels in manuscript form and am looking forward to a long and happy association with Linda and her novels.

Linda Gillard

When starting out as writers we have to learn the difference between something being true and something being convincing. Student writers often think a faithful, unflinching account of real-life events and feelings is enough to make something readable, even publishable. This is not the case. This kind of writing is therapeutic. It may be truthful, but it probably isn’t publishable. It might not even be readable!

Arguably, all writing is therapeutic to some extent and most writers begin writing therapeutically, but we need to move on from there if we’re to develop our writing skills, especially if we seek publication, because truth is stranger than fiction.

If you find this idea difficult, think about raising money for a charity and the photographs or news footage you might use in your campaign. You wouldn’t use material so upsetting that people would turn the page of the magazine or switch channels. You want to disturb, but not repel. Unvarnished truth might not serve your purpose.

This isn’t a cop-out, it’s careful mediation. If we record “undigested” truth in therapeutic writing, its therapeutic value exists only for the author, not the reader. We aren’t writing for an audience, but for ourselves. This might be a good starting point for fiction but it cannot be the ultimate goal because truth doesn’t necessarily convince readers or editors!

When I wrote my first novel EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY (Transita) I wanted to use my own experience of mental illness as my raw material but I decided to fictionalise my experience completely. (This was no hardship – it was bad enough living my life; I certainly didn’t want to write about it! But I did want to tackle the issues.) I managed to avoid some common first-novel pitfalls by thoroughly “digesting” my experience, to the extent that the story was no longer recognisable as my life, the heroine no longer recognisable as me.

It was only after I’d finished the novel that I realised I’d rejected veracity in favour of emotional authenticity. This is in my opinion an essential creative process if the raw material of our lives is to be transformed into readable fiction. Paradoxically, fiction can tell truer truths! If a reader is to believe (or suspend disbelief), truth must be edited and presented in the best form to do the job.

This is what good fiction is: true lies.


Posted by on January 19, 2011 in Blogging, Guest posts, Writing



4 responses to “A guest post from author Linda Gillard

  1. rhapsodyinbooks

    January 19, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    I totally agree. If I want “truth” I’d read a memoir. …although actually memoirs are often as fictionalized as fiction. Nevertheless, as countless poets and novelists have shown, emotional authenticity comes from the art of using words to evoke the utmost meaning. I often find more “truth” in fantasies than in newspapers. Ms. Gillard is one of my favorite authors because she knows how to make emotion live on the page. While it is true that stories must evince internal consistency, there is no reason why they must read like court documents.


  2. Christine Coleman

    January 30, 2011 at 11:22 am

    I agree with everything Jill has said about the topic of truth and fiction, as well as her praise for Linda’s work-
    Linda – your final paragraph struck an immediate chord, as it’s something I’ve recently become aware of “Paradoxically, fiction can tell truer truths! If a reader is to believe (or suspend disbelief), truth must be edited and presented in the best form to do the job.”

    In my case, I’m tussling with real life research, and ways of presenting my findings. I’ve written the fictonal version (Paper Lanterns) and now have become a bit obsessed with the lives of the writers and recipient of the love letters from 1920s China.


  3. Jan Carr

    March 4, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Very interesting posting. It explains why I had such difficulty struggling with “Creative Writing 101”. I realise now that my motivation was to write a readable but factual memoir explaining my life and times for my descendants. As a qualified accountant I was adamantly opposed to creative accounting where facts or truths are creatively disguised with sinister motives. Helpful feedback from tutors aimed at making my life stories more readable did not sit well.
    Just wish I’d read something like this at the time. It would have ameliorated loads of angst.
    I have read and enjoyed Linda’s three novels and Christine’s “Paper Lanterns” and look forward to reading more about the love letters from 1920’s China.


  4. libroediting

    March 5, 2011 at 7:11 am

    Thank you for your replies, everyone, and I’m glad that this post has been interesting and useful for you!



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