Thank you for inviting me to your blog today, Rosemary.
A story about art, life, love and learning lessons
The class meets once a week to draw the human figure. For four of its members, life hasn’t lived up to expectations. All have failed to achieve what they thought they wanted in life. They gradually come to realise that it’s not just the naked model they need to study and understand. Their stories are very different, but they all have secrets they hide from the world and from themselves. By uncovering and coming to terms with the past, maybe they can move on to a different and unimagined future.
Dory says she works in the sex trade, the clean-up end. She deals with the damage sex can cause. Her job has given her a jaundiced view of men, an attitude confirmed by the disintegration of her own relationship. The time seems right to pursue what she really wants in life, if she can work out what that is. Love doesn’t figure in her view of the future – she’s always been a clear eyed realist – yet she finds herself chasing a dream.
Stefan is a single-minded loner, whose sole and overriding ambition is to make a living from his sculpture. So how the hell did he find himself facing a class of adults who want their old teacher back? Although love is an emotion he long ago closed off - it only leads to regret and shame - it creeps up on him from more than one direction. Is it time to admit that letting others into his life is not defeat?
Fran - Dory’s older sister - is a wife and a stay-at-home mother without enough to keep her occupied. On a collision course with her mid-life crisis, Fran craves the romance and excitement of her youth. An on-line flirtation with an old boyfriend becomes scarily obsessive, putting everything she really loves at risk.
Dominic has lived his life knowing all about sex but nothing about love. If he can only find his mother perhaps he can make sense of his past. But maybe it is a doomed quest and it’s time to look to the future? By accepting the help and love that’s on offer here and now, he has a chance to transform his life.
Life Class is available from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US)
Tell us a little about how you became a writer.
When I was a young child I would always say that when I grew up I was going to be a commercial artist, like my dad. I was good at art but my passion, from around ten onwards, was writing. These unfinished ‘novels’ were always intricately embellished with drawings and doodles. My parents disregarded the writing and encouraged the art. I took on their attitudes and never took my writing seriously. I gave it up when I went to art school.
I worked as an illustrator in advertising, but it was a very stressful occupation. It was only after I’d married and was looking after my toddler son that I began to think of ways other than being a freelance artist, to earn money and stay on at home. I was ironing when the bombshell thought hit me. I was listening to a radio programme about the publisher Mills & Boon (the Harlequin was yet to be added), and how they’d changed, and would now consider more challenging plot-lines than those they were traditionally associated with. I thought: I used to write romantic tosh when I was a kid. I bet I could write a Mills & Boon novel.
Here I humbly apologise to all HM&B writers, both for my sniffy attitude (I’d hardly read any M & B books) AND for thinking it would be easy.
But it’s one thing to have the - ‘I could do that’ - thought. It’s quite another coming up with a story. Remembering the advice of English teachers to ‘write about what you know’ I began to reflect on my life and my romantic adventures. By the time I’d finished the ironing I had the starting point for my plot, which put together two entirely separate and unrelated experiences from my own history.
Why did you decide to self-publish your most recent books?
Despite the broadminded attitude I’d heard about on the radio, M&B rejected my book, Just Before Dawn, about the aftermath of a girl’s first love affair, which had ended in pregnancy and miscarriage. I didn’t care. I had faith in my story. My eighth submission was to ‘Love Stories’, a completely new publisher. Their ambition was to publish books which were more off-beat and unconventional than those currently available in romantic fiction. They took Just Before Dawn and they also took my next book, Desires & Dreams. But they were unable to get the distribution, and marketing necessary for success and they folded.
I continued to write the same kind of fiction, but I failed to find another mainstream publisher, or even an agent. This is why I decided to self-publish TORN last year and, after a brief flirtation with the e-publisher, Lysandra Press - who also folded - I self-published LIFE CLASS on May 1st, 2012.
Is Life Class from your own experience?
I always use some real experience in every book I write. But none of the incidents remain exactly as they actually happened. In re-imagining them I begin to build a skeleton in my mind’s eye, around which I can begin to weave a story. But - as with my first book, Just before Dawn, the finished story will be a million miles from autobiography. And even if it isn’t, I’m not admitting to it.
LIFE CLASS was a title waiting for a book. I’d attended a life class for many years - so that was the research dealt with - and the name was just too good not to use at as a book title. But I had no story.
What is the most difficult part about starting a new book?
The answer to this question really follows on from the last. I am not one of those writers constantly bubbling with new plot ideas. I’ve described starting a new book as like carving a block of granite with a teaspoon. I have to force myself to sit down at the computer and start. But first I need to know my cast of characters and their back stories. And I have to have a visual image of their appearance, the jobs they do and the situation which brings them together.
When I seriously began the process of conjuring up LIFE CLASS, I had my ‘situation’ but I had yet to populate the class. So I began to think about people I knew. I lighted upon a good friend of mine who did a very interesting job, a job which brought her into contact with people at a very vulnerable point in their lives. Although the personality, biography and appearance of my heroine is nothing like my friend’s, I gave her the same job. The assumptions she might make about the people she came into contact with in the course of her work - maybe people she knew - could lead her into misjudgments and ethical dilemmas. This was the switch which turned on the ‘what if’ part of my brain.
Do you think eBooks are the future?
I am not a soothsayer. I’m sure ebooks will be part of the future. Whether they will be the whole future of books is another matter.
How do you promote your books and does it work?
Promotion is a big dilemma. Particularly if, like me, you are not a name or your books do not comfortably fit a pre-existing sub-genre. TORN was my first ebook and I hardly promoted it at all, apart from mentioning it from time to time on Facebook and the various other forums I was on. And my sales show this. This time I have made a much bigger push to get noticed and I have managed to get a lot more exposure by embarking on a kind of meandering blog tour. The trouble is I have a large dose of English reticence and I am torn between wanting to shout about my book, and feeling I am bound to get on people’s nerves. We shall see. (I can identify with that!)
Do you have a favourite writing place?
We have a small study, which is perfect for me. There’s a built in desk which houses the PC printer and other ephemera. Two walls are book lined and there’s a door either end. It’s situated between the utility room and the back hallway. So there is a tendency for it to be used as a corridor. But it’s not the only route to the stairs, so I have to remember to keep the doors closed if I want to signal to my husband that I’m working and don’t want to used as a short-cut!
Do you find time for hobbies?
I am still interested in art. I still do small freelance jobs occasionally and design our family’s Christmas cards. I also regularly attend art classes. In LIFE CLASS I will admit to having used my teachers over the years as a source of ‘Art-Speak’. I have given my present teacher a credit, but anyone who knows him will, I hope, agree that he doesn’t appear as a character in LIFE CLASS.
What are your current writing plans?
I do have another book I plan to publish as an ebook later this year, called Fly or Fall. Then I’d better get down to writing something entirely new. I’d better find that granite block and my carving teaspoon!
Any tips for new writers?
Remember the story I told about doing the ironing while listening to the radio programme about Mills & Boon? My advice relates to this experience. I didn’t go away and think about writing a book. I didn’t tell myself I would begin writing the book when I had the time - when my son started school, or when he left home. Had I put it off, I truly believe that I might never have started. Instead, when I finished the ironing I folded the board and put it away. I took the clothes upstairs and put them in the airing cupboard. Then I found a pen and a notebook and started writing … then and there.
Don’t put it off. If you’re serious about it, you will find a way to fit it around your other commitments. If you want to write, do it. Now.
Excellent answers, Gilli!
To celebrate the publication of LIFE CLASS, Gilli is running a special offer price cut of 77p on TORN, until May 15th. You can find it on Amazon here.
You can escape your past but can you ever escape yourself?
TORN is a contemporary story, which faces up to the complexities, messiness and absurdities in modern relationships. Life is not a fairy tale; it can be confusing and difficult. Sex is not always awesome; it can be awkward and embarrassing, and it has consequences. You don't always fall for Mr Right, even if he falls for you. And realising you're in love is not always good news. It can make the future look daunting...
Jess has made a series of bad choices. Job, relationships and life-style have all let her down. But by escaping the turmoil of her London life, she is putting her young child first. This time she wants to get it right, to devote herself to being a mother. In the country she will find peace, simplicity and the good life, won’t she?
But a beautiful environment does not guarantee a tranquil life. There are stresses and strains here too - the landscape she looks out on is under threat, new friends have hidden agendas, two very different men pull her in opposing directions - and in the face of temptation old habits die hard. Despite her resolution to avoid entanglements, she is torn between the suitable man and the unsuitable boy.
You can find out more about Gilli on her Blog, Famous Five Blog, Facebook, Goodreads
and twitter: @gilliallan
Gilli went to art school and originally worked as an illustrator in advertising. She began writing when her son was small. She writes contemporary romantic fiction with an edge and lives in a beautiful valley in Gloucestershire. She goes to an art class once a week and used to go to a life class to draw and paint the naked figure. For the past year, Gilli has been doing a water-colour class instead. She says she wouldn't be able to live the life she does without the support (emotional and financial) of her husband.