Friday, 4 June 2010

Featured on Friday: Gill Arbuthnott

Gill Arbuthnott studied zoology at St Andrew’s University before becoming a science teacher. Then she discovered a passion for writing and her Dark Secret lead to her first book, The Chaos Clock. The Keepers’ Daughter is Gill’s sixth novel.

1. Is there a specific time or place that you do your best writing in?
Because I have a part time job as a teacher, I’m quite limited in when I can work, apart from during holidays, so it tends to be mostly in the evening. I was very secretive about my writing before my first book was published, and only wrote when no one was around (how sad is that??), so things progressed very slowly back then. Needless to say, it’s a lot easier now I can write openly! I have a lovely desk that I fell in love with when I saw it in an antique shop, and that’s always where I mean to write, but I usually end up on the sofa in the sitting room, simultaneously helping my kids with their homework… Luckily, if I plug myself into my iPod I can write no matter what else is going on in the room. I still write longhand too. There’s something about using a pen that unlocks my imagination in a way that using a keyboard just doesn’t.

2. Who were your favourite authors as a teenager? Are they different to your current favourites?
Some have changed, but not all. I read huge amounts of SF as a teenager. I’m no longer so keen on Asimov, but I am still astonished anew every time I read a story by Ray Bradbury. No one else has his ability to make the everyday strange and marvellous. Jane Austen remains a constant, to be reread frequently. A new favourite is Donna Leon, who writes crime novels set in Venice. Her characters are terrific, and include what I think must be the only detective in the whole of fiction who is happily married and regularly goes home for lunch! And my favourite new book in ages is ‘The Tenderness of Wolves’ by Stef Penney. Do try it if you haven’t already.

3. If you were only allowed to take three books to a desert island, what would they be?
Ah, the torture question! Do I go for length, or content? One that fits on both counts is a Complete Shakespeare. I really would want this, for the sonnets even more than the plays. I suppose I ought to take something practical to help me survive… No, I’m not going to waste a book on that, so number two would be Villette by Charlotte Bronte. Utterly fabulous, and with a marvellously ambiguous ending. And finally, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, just in case that heartbreaking but perfect ending has rewritten itself in my dog-eared copy.

4. Is there a novel that you wish you’d written? Why?
‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Cold Comfort Farm’. I’m in awe of people who can write funny full length novels. These are pretty much perfect examples.

5. You told me that you wanted to write an ‘anti-fantasy’ fantasy with The Keepers’ Daughter. What is that and why did you want to do it?
I used to read a lot of fantasy, but I got fed up with the fact that every character seemed to be a lost heir, or someone who discovered they had magic powers, or found another world. I wanted to write a fantasy with no magic in it at all; to create a world that seemed down to earth and very real once you were immersed in it, and have that as the only fantasy element. I was determined to have nothing supernatural; I especially wanted the villains to be nothing more than men, albeit really bad ones. I was also determined that my main characters should be as ordinary as possible, but be forced to dig deep into their characters by extraordinary events. My two main characters start the book as a barmaid and an odd job man; not very traditional fantasy roles!

6. The legend of the Keepers’ and Thira seem strongly influenced by classical themes. Was this intentional? Was a lot of research required?
Yes, definitely intentional. I’ve been fascinated by myths ever since I was given a copy of ‘Tales of the Greeks and Trojans’ as a birthday present when I was about 8. I love to use bits and pieces of myth and folklore in my writing, and the Atlantis myth is central to the story of the Keepers of Knowledge. I didn’t do much research – there was already enough in my head, and the great thing about using myth is no one can tell you you’ve got it wrong! I like doing historical research for books actually, but once you’ve done it, the challenge is NOT to use it just to show how much you know.

7. How did preparing The Keepers’ Daughter for the American market differ from preparing it for Chicken House?
That was very interesting. I’ve edited it for both the German and American editions, and each market wanted quite different changes. For Germany, it had to get about 20% shorter (apparently things get longer when you translate into German and it would have had to be so expensive no one would have bought it), and as a result I had to lose most of the part that features the travelling players in the second half of the book. I was sorry to see them go, they were great fun to write.

For America, the length wasn’t a problem, but any swearing or references to alcohol had to go. Knowing what to replace the alcohol with was actually a bit of a puzzle, since these people aren’t living in a society where they would have a cup of tea or coffee! A more major adjustment had to be made to the character of Aria, one of the leads, who in the original version is quite clearly a prostitute, though absolutely nothing explicit is ever said about her profession. In the American version she’s become a ‘cabaret dancer’. I’ll leave USA readers to decode that!

8. Are you working on anything at the moment? Can you tell us anything about it?
I’ve got several projects at various stages just now. I’ve got a non fiction book ‘Life Story’ from Barrington Stoke, coming out as an ebook in August. That’s unknown territory for me, so I’ll be fascinated to see how it works. I’ve been working on the first book of a series for younger readers, and I’m waiting to hear back from publishers about that at the moment. I’ve written another young adult fantasy, this time using the Water Horse legend at its core. Can’t say more about that one just now in case I jinx it!

Thank you, Gill! You can visit Gill at her blog and read my review of The Keepers’ Daughter here.



  1. Great interview! I've seen this book mentioned on some blogs, and I must admit it's piqued my interest. Lovely cover too.

    The Complete Shakespeare would keep you company on a desert island, that's for sure!

  2. I love the interview. I with prophecygirl, the covers are great!

  3. Fab interview! Really interesting :)

  4. I can understand not wanting anyone to know that you're writing. Totally get that. 100%


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