Author interview: Gill Lewis
I am so excited to have Gill joining me on the blog today to talk about her writing – thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed Gill!
First, could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?
My journey to becoming a published writer has been quite a long and tortuous one. As a child, I loved stories. I loved listening to stories and creating my own in graphic novel form. I struggled to read and my handwriting was very messy (it still is!) and so I never thought being an author would be something I would be allowed to do. At secondary school we didn’t do any creative writing, and just focused on language and literature. I lost my love of books and stories.
I followed my other love of animals and trained to become a vet, and was fortunate enough to travel to different countries, see some incredible places and meet some amazing animals and people.
When I had children of my own, I began visiting the local library and fell in love with books all over again. I would tell stories to my children and listen to them make up their own. I loved creating stories from nothing. It’s a magical process; sharing a world created inside your head with someone else.
Getting published wasn’t easy. I attended a writing course that helped me realise that writing is re-writing and editing and shaping the story until it is ready to be told. I also realised that it is important to write about what you love and interests you. For me, it is about animals, wild places and our human interaction with them.
(What a fascinating journey! I love hearing how real-life experience and interest feed into the books Gill has written)
What kind of research did you do before writing this book?
I researched many of the urban and semi-urban reserves of the Wild Life Trusts to find our what sort of animals and plants can thrive within our inner-cities. The London National Park City is a movement to make London greener, healthier and wilder to benefit humans and wildlife and it would be amazing to see this initiative in all our cities.
I love seeing wildlife in cities, from cormorants on the river, to urban foxes to butterflies on the buddleia of railway sidings. We could attract so much more wildlife into our parks and gardens if we gave over some area to the wild. Instead of mowing and growing non-native plants, we could encourage wildlife with mini wildflower meadows, hedgerows of native trees, ponds and log piles.
I also researched wolves and farting beetles. But much of the story I drew from my own childhood of growing up on the outskirts of the city of Bath and having a wild space we called The Woods. It was a scruffy patch of council owned land, abandoned and allowed to grow wild. I played for hours in The Woods with my friends. It was an adult-free playground of trees to climb, ditches to jump and dens to make. We fought dragons and warring tribes in there. We made bows and arrows and mud pies. The Woods was as big as we wanted it to be. It fed our imaginations and let us grow to be wild with it.
(Similarly, I grew up in the countryside with lots of nature around me – we also had an area of rough land, untouched by adults, where all the children in the neighbourhood would have ‘bases’ and we played until nightfall almost every day. I am really interested in how nature can live alongside human development, without us pushing native species any further to the edges.)
What does your writing process look like? E.g. do you start by planning everything or from individual scenes, how much does the book change during editing, etc?
I generally know my opening and closing scene, but don’t really know what happens in the middle. It’s a bit like booking a bus journey when you know the destination and a few of the stops on the way, but you don’t know who you will meet or what you will see. I quite like writing like this because the story becomes a surprise as you write it. The downside is that it requires much re-writing after the first draft to tighten the plot, change or develop characters etc. I also tend to put in too much information from research and have to pare that right back.
(I love the bus stop analogy! I can also relate to putting in too much information as I love to share every cool fact that I’ve learned during research. I also have to be aware of this when teaching – the children need the most pertinent information and not everything all at once!)
What do you hope people take out of Run Wild? Are you hoping to inspire young people to reconnect with the natural world or take action to protect it, for example?
I really hope Run Wild will let young people look for their own space to be wild. With ever more space being taken over by bricks and concrete, young people do not have space just to play, to think and dream and just be. The alternative is young people having more screen time or organised down-time. But nothing beats just being outside, making dens, and playing with no pressure to succeed at something. Having access to wild space is so important for physical and mental health. Spending time in nature allows children to observe, be curious and also develop a love for the wild world. It is only by having that connection and love of it that they will want to help protect it.
(I could not agree more! Luckily, I am in a school which believes in lots of outdoor learning and I have the freedom to use the outdoor space as I see fit. I will be reading Run Wild to my class and I hope it inspires some of the young people I work with.)
What’s next for you?
I do have another story in the pipeline with Barrington Stoke that I’m very excited about, but can’t say anything about at the moment. (Ooh, very exciting!)
My most recent novel Sky Dancer is about re-wilding our uplands and I’m delighted that Run Wild is championed by Rewilding Britain to re-wild our urban space.
Colour: Turquoise. The colour of the summer sea.
Food: Apple and cheddar cheese. Must be the Somerset girl in me.
Book: The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico because it is the book that made me a reader.
Film: Little Miss Sunshine.
(Totally agree with all of these! I LOVE Little Miss Sunshine but haven’t met many other people who do!)
Anything else you would like to add?
Let a little wild into your life and see what happens!
Once again, thank you so much Gill! I loved Run Wild and Sky Dancer and am looking forward to reading more of your books!
Not had enough yet? Read on for more from Gill!
I love her writing tips for aspiring authors – see them here.
See the answers to the Top 10 questions Gill gets asked here or below:
The ten questions that I get asked the most!
- What are the best and the worst parts about being a writer?
For me, the best part about being a writer is at the very beginning of a story; the fizz of excitement as a new idea takes hold, spinning it round and round inside my head. I love seeing the characters emerge and take their places waiting for their stories to unfold. The worst or perhaps hardest part about being a writer is the actual writing. Thinking up the ideas is fun and fast, but the writing is slow and requires discipline. I have to sit myself in front of the computer and have a word count for the day. Sometimes it’s hard to translate the images in my head into words on the page. However, nothing beats the feeling of holding a finished book in my hands and so, however hard it feels at the time, I try to remind myself it’s worth it.
Do you miss being a vet?
Yes. I loved my work as a vet. I loved meeting different people and their animals and visiting wild places in the world. It has been the inspiration behind my stories. However, I also love writing and I don’t have time for both. Being a writer is great too, as I get to stay in my pyjamas all day and daydream and make things up. The icing on the cake is when both worlds collide and I receive emails and letters from readers who share their love of animals and the natural world.
Are any characters based on you?
My characters are often a mix of different people; friends and family, people I have liked and disliked. I don’t base my characters on myself, but maybe I give them qualities I would like to have.
If you could save any wild animal what would it be?
There are too many animals on the list to mention. But trying to save just one animal in isolation would be unsuccessful. To save any one species we need to save the habitat where it lives. So perhaps if I could save one wild place, I think it would be the sea. We depend upon it for life on earth; it is connected with all the other ecosystems, yet less than 1% is protected. We pour our waste into the ocean as if it is some bottomless rubbish tip. We take too many fish and acidify its waters through increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. We forget about sea because what’s beneath the surface is out of sight and out of mind. In doing so, we forget that we rely upon it for food and water and the air we breathe.
- Why do you write?
That seems a simple question, but isn’t easy to answer. Sharing experiences is a very human trait. Telling stories goes back thousands of years, to a time even before early man began painting on cave walls. We are all storytellers at heart. It’s inbuilt into our DNA. Sharing stories gives us an insight into other people’s lives and have empathy with ones different from our own. Stories make us human. So I think that’s why I write; to share my love of the natural world and our place within it.
- What are your top three tips for budding authors?
- Write what you know. Write about things that interest you, things that make you happy, sad, scared and excited. Put all those feelings into your story and you will find your own unique voice as an author.
- Get to know your characters. Find out what makes them tick. Ask them questions and delve into their past. Don’t make them perfect. Give them flaws your reader can identity with. Characters drive the story and the plot and give your reader the reason to turn the page.
- Writing is re-writing. Have you ever worried about the writing the first chapter? The first few lines? Well don’t. The first draft of a story of a story is like a lump of clay. It’s all there but you have to work at it to find the shape. So don’t worry about trying to make the first draft too perfect. Sometimes only by finishing a story you find out how you want it to begin.
Are you a dog person or a cat person?
Both! I love cats’ independence and aloofness. They live life on their own terms. Yet, I love dogs’ companionship and loyalty to the family pack.
What’s your favourite book as a child?
I found reading quite difficult as a child. However the book I loved and one I still have now is a Reader’s Digest copy of The Living World of Animals. This book was my window to the world. It took me to far-flung places and described animals in their habitats. It even had a key to the classification of the animal kingdom. My favourite fiction book was The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. I loved the watercolour illustrations by the naturalist Sir Peter Scott.
Where do you get your ideas?
From anywhere and everywhere. From my own experiences, from newspapers, TV, overheard conversations and snapshots of other people’s lives. One idea leads to another, and the more questions I ask, the more research I do. The more research I do, the more questions I ask. One idea leads to a cascade of ideas. However the story only really begins to take shape once I find the main character. That’s the magical part of storytelling…letting a parallel reality come to life.
Do you plan your story before you write it?
All authors are different when it comes to planning. Some plan meticulously before they even begin to write. Others write organically, just starting with an idea and seeing where it takes them. I think I am somewhere in between. I tend to know the overall arc of the story. I usually have a fairly strong idea about the beginning and the end, and a few key events that happen on the way. It’s a bit like booking a travel ticket to a destination, knowing a few stops, but discovering places and characters as the journey unfolds.
Thanks for reading!