Interview With Author Gill Thompson

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

My name is Gill Thompson. I’ve been a college teacher for nearly 40 years, but have always wanted to be a writer. A life-long ambition was realized two years ago when Headline offered me a two-book deal. I was over the moon!

What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

My first novel, The Oceans Between Us, is about a child migrant from Britain to Australia after world war two. I stumbled across the story when I heard Gordon Brown, our then Prime Minister, apologising to the ex child migrants. I was horrified! I discovered that these children, some as young as four, had been lured to a land ten thousand miles away, on the promise of a better life. Many were lied to, told they were orphans when their parents were still alive; many endured years of misery and abuse; few were ever to see their parents again. My heart went out to these people and I knew I had to write their story albeit in a fictionalized form.

My second book, The Child on Platform One (coming out on Kindle on 1st December) arose out of a similar chance discovery. I had become aware of Nicholas Winton, the London stockbroker, who rescued Jewish children from Prague on the eve of world war two. In researching the history of this city I discovered the existence of Terezin, the concentration camp where Jews were allowed to paint, act and put on concerts. I wove these two findings together in another fictional tale based on real life events.

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

I am an avid reader and wonderful writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tracy Chevalier and Anne Tyler have always inspired me.

How do you deal with creative block?

I’m lucky enough not to have encountered it (so far!) I have a busy life as I still teach two days a week and also look after my grandchildren for two days. There is very little time left for writing. I tend to mull over my next chapter when I am doing other things so that when I do finally have a chance to sit at the keyboard the words usually flow.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

I guess failing to take the reader with you. That may be because your language is confusing or you switch viewpoints too often or it is hard to follow the narrative thread. I use ‘beta readers’ to help check I’m on track.

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

I wish I could have a say in either! They tend to be chosen by my publishers. I love the cover of The Child on Platform One, though, of a little girl looking lost and vulnerable between two huge trains. Early feedback has been very positive so I think the designer has hit the spot!

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

I’m very happy to say that most of my reviews have been very positive. A few have criticized my language whilst committing spelling and punctuation howlers themselves which I have to admit tends to make me laugh. Sometimes I think readers have a point then I try to address the issue next time I write. I certainly feel I can learn from criticism but I don’t tend to get upset – I think a long teaching career has hardened me!

How has your creation process improved over time?

With my first novel I spent two years on research, then tried to shoehorn in all the information I had discovered. But then the book did take me nine years to write! The second book I had to write a lot more quickly so I started the writing process much earlier and just researched when I had to. It took me eighteen months – a whole lot less!

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

Best: that there are some lovely, generous readers out there who take time out of their busy life to write about my books. Worst: that handing a book over to a publisher means surrendering quite a lot of control. My publishers are great but as a teacher I like to be in charge! Surprising: How supportive other writers can be. It’s billed as a lonely job but there are some brilliant networks out there.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

I think my priority is to be true to the facts and to tell my story faithfully. Of course I do think about making a satisfying tale for the reader and if I feel that is working then that gives me satisfaction too so the two usually go hand in hand.

What role do emotions play in creativity?

I try very hard to empathise with what my characters are going through and capture their emotions. I am in a writing workshop and sometimes my fellow workshoppers tell me I have missed the mark emotionally. I absolutely trust their judgement so try to make amends straight away. Many of my reviewers have said my books are ‘heartrending’ or ‘powerful’ so hopefully I’ve got there in the end!

Do you have any creativity tricks?

Not really. I just sit at my keyboard and try to ‘get in the zone’ as quickly as possible. But I make sure I have a full fridge so if I do lose focus I can find something to eat quickly and that usually helps.

What are your plans for future books?

I have just begun book three which is about a young girl growing up in the Channel Islands. When war strikes and Jersey is occupied by Germans she has to make a momentous decision….

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

I have a hopeless sense of direction. My husband always laughs at me when I come out of a shop and turn back the way I came. He also always beats me at Scrabble which he thinks is hilarious as I am supposed to be the literate one! Of course I always tell him I let him win!


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