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.
Gilli Allan began to write in childhood – a hobby pursued throughout her teenage. 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.
Currently published by Accent Press, 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’.
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Thank you for the invitation to your blog.
When and where were you born?
I’ll tell you the where but not the when. Orpington, in Kent.
Where do you live now?
In Gloucestershire, in the Cotswold Hills. Not the posh and sedate part, beloved of Tory grandees, but in a village near the far more counter-culture and alternative town of Stroud.
What is your favourite colour?
It’s got be yellow, the colour of sunshine, daffodils and baby chicks. When PVC was all the rage, I had a yellow oilskin (a proper sea-going garment).
You didn’t go to university. Why not.?
My performance at school was indifferent. The only subject I was good at was art. (I have belatedly come to the conclusion that I’m dyslexic. I can tick nearly all the markers.) I left to go to art school at sixteen but dropped out after 2 years.
When did you first start writing?
Influenced by my older sister, I first decided to write a book when I was around ten, but the difficulty of dreaming-up a coherent story soon blighted the creative bud. I resurrected the hobby in my young teenage years and carried on writing – beginning but never finishing – a number of ‘books’. I did it to please myself, never considering it a serious ambition.
What were you doing when the idea ‘to take writing seriously’ occurred to you?
I was doing the ironing, while listening to the radio. I had a three-year-old son, and was unenthusiastic about the idea of trying to resume work as an illustrator in advertising. What else could I do that would enable me to stay at home? What else was I good at? A radio programme came on about Mills and Boon, and the light bulb went on.
You say you are unable to write a category romance, what do you mean?
I fully intended to try to write this kind of book but found I couldn’t do it. Once started the plot instantly took a very non-M&B direction. I am not dissing the genre, but in giving myself permission, as it were, to try writing seriously, I was instantly gripped by the magic and potential. I knew I HAD to finish the book that was unfolding before my eyes, whether or not it proved a commercial prospect.
The fact that I can only embark on writing a book if my heart is in it, is strange in a way; I had no problem whatsoever turning out whatever was asked of me when I worked in advertising, however risible or tacky the brief. I was a commercial artist. It was what I did. Perhaps the lesson I can draw from this is that I’m not, and never have been a REAL artist.
Do you have strongly held beliefs
I am fairly fatalistic about life, but I am more political than religious. I have a code I live by which could broadly be described as Christian; summed up by ‘Do as you would be done by’ and ‘He’s not heavy he’s my brother’. But I don’t take my scepticism about the super-natural as far as Richard Dawkins. His certainty about the materiality of life annoys me, as his position discounts many people’s mystical and paranormal experiences. My own experience and that of members of my family, leads me to the sense (I wouldn’t put it as strongly as belief) that there is more to life than meets the eye.
Have you achieved what you wanted to achieve in life?
As a child I wanted to be rich and famous. As art was the career I seemed to be heading for, a famous artist was the goal.
I then decided I wanted to go out with and ultimately marry a pop star. Every girl at school would envy me. The fame would come vicariously.
Around the same time, I rather liked the idea of being a famous fashion model. I was forever pulling ‘the face’ in mirrors, and wishing other people would see what I could see. The fact I was short, stumpy and not a beauty, could all be overcome by dieting, a growth spurt and good lighting.
Eventually I got to a point in my life when I was content, but….
I’d decided to try my hand at writing seriously. If only I could be published, life would be complete. That happened so quickly that my ambition instantly changed to becoming a bestseller and going on chat shows.
The trouble with ambitions is that they are either unreached (the cover of Vogue has been unsullied by a photograph of me) or if they are, you don’t notice and fix your sights on something further in the distance.
I have reached a stage in my life when to become famous would be a huge disruption. I certainly don’t crave riches or ‘things’; I am proud of re-using, up-cycling, and making-do and mending. I have garments in my wardrobe that go back to my twenties!
Now, I just want people to read my books. Oh, I’ve just had a thought. A major movie deal would be nice.