Some of you may remember a few weeks ago when a book called Firebrand blew my mind, gave me a band-aid, then blew my mind again. I’ve pretty much been twitter-stalking Gillian Philip ever since, harassing her friends, following people who follow her, and generally being a pest. I was such a pain in the rear that Gillian agreed to let me interview her and ask all sorts of personal questions about her writing habits, her favorite foods, other projects she’s involved in. Even better, she let me interview a very close, um, friend of hers. That interview will be posted a little later this week, and trust me, you’ll like it.
Since I can’t even coherently talk about Ms. Philip or Firebrand without turning into a blathering fool, here’s some official bio type stuff:
Gillian Philip was born in Glasgow, lived for twelve years in Barbados, and now lives in the north of Scotland with her husband, twin children, three dogs, two sociopathic cats, a slayer hamster, three chickens and a lot of nervous fish. She’s the author of The Darke Academy series (writing as Gabriella Poole), the Survivors series, (as part of the Erin Hunter writing team), a long list of children’s and young adult stand alone novels, and the Rebel Angels dark fantasy series. She’s been nominated for the David Gemmell Legend award, the Carnegie Medal, and been shortlisted for numerous other book awards.
Let’s get right to the interview!
Was there something that triggered you to write the Rebel Angels series? How did you develop the characters of Seth and Conal?
There were all kinds of triggers for this one. I always wanted to write a fantasy set in Scotland, and the faery myths seemed a good place to start (because believe it or not, when I started writing Rebel Angels, there were hardly any books about modern fae… so you can tell how long ago I started it…) The landscape where I live is just brimming with stories, and I’d get ideas practically every time I went for a walk. The very first spark came at a small but sinister loch, where I threw in a couple of teenagers and watched them vanish. (But only in my head, honest.) That was how lochs became my watergates between the worlds.
There are lots of places in the Highlands named after the Gaelic Sith – Schiehallion, Glenshee and so on – but I didn’t want to use the term Sith because of the Star Wars connotations. I compromised on Sithe, because they aren’t the Irish Sidhe (though they are related. I’d like to see one of those family get-togethers).
Seth and Conal kind of grew, organically. Seth started out as a villain, but he grabbed hold of the story (and my throat) and wouldn’t let go. And brothers have been fascinating since Cain and Abel, so there were so many games to play with them.
Our supernatural characters in Firebrand are violent fae, certainly not angels in the traditional sense. Why is it called the Rebel Angels series?
That came from a Highland myth that really appeals to me. The story (which varies from region to region) goes that when the Rebel Angels were thrown out of Heaven, the ones that fell in the sea became selkies, or seal people. The ones that got caught in the sky became the Northern Lights. And the ones that reached land became the faeries.
The opening scene of Firebrand is quite the hook. Did you always plan to open the book that way? (you can read an excerpt of Firebrand, which just happens to be that opening scene, here)
I did. Originally, that scene was all there was. I’d actually written Bloodstone first, before Firebrand, and Conal had made a throwaway remark – the way characters sometimes do – about something that had happened to him centuries before. I found I wanted to know more, so I started scribbling the backstory in a notebook. At first it was just that scene between Seth and Conal; before I knew where I was, I had pages and pages of notes. When it reached about five chapters, I gave in and wrote the whole novel.
Three books in the Rebel Angel series are already available in the UK, with the second one being published by Tor in the US later this year. What’s it like to release a series twice? Twice the fun and excitement, or twice the stress?
Kind of both! I was over the moon – you can imagine – when Tor Books wanted the series. Sure enough, I have absolutely loved working with them – they’re lovely, and great fun, and they’re very proactive about marketing, and they’re enormously patient when I haver about edits and pick away at rewrites. So the actual publishing process has been every bit as thrilling and rewarding the second time around. As for the waiting- for-reviews: that’s been every bit as terrifying. Possibly more so.
The little devils; I never said they could have Twitter accounts. This is what happens when characters go behind your back. Seth does snipe at Kate quite a lot, and she gives him just as much snark in return, but he seems to spend more time insulting me, to be honest. I don’t know what his problem is.
According to Amazon, your first published novel was in 2008, which means you basically have been writing non-stop for the last five years. How in the world do you get so much writing done, so fast?
I’m not sure, because I seem to spend a lot of time avoiding work – staring out of the window, playing on Twitter, cleaning the loos if I’m absolutely desperate to not-write. I think it helps that I’m a deadline junkie. Once I have a deadline, I can write like a maniac, from late morning till the small hours. And I actually enjoy that.
Without a deadline I’m a slacker, and that’s the honest truth. There’s this novel I should have sent to my agent a year ago…
You’re part of the Erin Hunter team of writers. What’s it like writing on a team? How do you ensure the narrative style and voice is similar between all the novels?
It’s so different, but so great. I was thrilled to be asked to join the Erin Hunter team, and I’ve had a blast writing the Survivors (about dogs in a post-Apocalyptic world). There’s always been an editorial team devising and supervising the Hunter stories – previously about Warrior Cats and Seeker Bears – so they are all incredibly familiar with the writing style, and the editors ensure that the voice of each writer is consistent with Erin’s. Although there’s a storyline to follow, there is always a lot of feedback going both ways, which makes it a fascinating process. The characters tend to reveal new things about themselves or affect the plot in unexpected ways, just as they would in my own books.
When writing, do you outline the entire novel first, or just dive in and start writing?
I’ve tried outlining and plotting in advance, because I’m sure it’s a good practice and it works for many writers, but I’ve just had to accept I’m not very good at it. I start with a few scenes in my head, and maybe a few lines of dialogue in a notebook; and I like to have an idea of where I’m heading (though it might change). When I have all that, I just dive in and start writing. I do find it fun to write that way, though I’ve written myself into a corner more than once. I like it when my characters surprise me (though they’re not supposed to get out of hand).
Who are some of your favorite writers, and what are some of your favorite books?
My comfort books are EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels; I can read them over and over again. Another big favourite is Mary Renault. I love Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart and Restless, as well as Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series, which made me cry buckets. I’ve always been a big fan of Alan Garner’s Alderley Edge books. I adore Armistead Maupin. I’m crazy about Bernard Cornwell’s Alfred the Great series, mostly because I’m in love with Uhtred. Oh, and Ruth Rendell, and Nicci French, and George R R Martin, and Robin Hobb…
I read somewhere that you buy yourself a gift every time you finish a novel. True?
True. At least, I used to. I used to buy a piece of jewellery for each book, usually a ring. It was really self-indulgent, but after I started ghosting so many books as well as writing my own, it would have just been too expensive to go on. (But I do like my rings. My preciouses.)
what’s your favorite comfort food?
Ooh… pasta with oil and garlic and chilli. Or, for pure junk-food satisfaction, a bowl of popcorn and a bottle of wine, while watching a really good movie or boxset with my kids.
Thanks Gillian, for taking the time to answer all my questions! And blog reader buddies, if you didn’t click on the except above, trust me, you really, really want to.