Hi Mrs Macmillan. Thanks for accepting my interview and welcome to my blog. Tell us something about you.Who is Gilly Macmillan? Strengths and weaknesses.
Hi! Thank you so much for inviting me onto the blog. Strengths include persistence, attention to detail & imagination. Weaknesses are procrastination, impatience and too much fondness for chocolate!
Tell us something about your background, your studies, your childhood.
I grew up in a town called Swindon in the UK with my parents, brother and sister, dogs and cats. For my studies, I enjoyed many subjects but I loved the arts most of all, especially the study of literature. I took up art history when I went to Univeristy and I strongly believe now – although I didn’t realise it at the time – that art history taught me how to write because I spent five years learning to how translate what you see into words.
What prompted you to become a writer? What made you decide to start writing fiction?
I have been a passionate reader for as long as I can remember. I don’t think a day has gone by when I haven’t read a book. I reached a stage in my life when my children had all started school and I didn’t have a job, and I thought, why not try to see if you can write fiction yourself? I thought it would be wonderful if I could, but I wasn’t at all confident. It was a challenge I set myself.
What are typical qualities of a good writer?
I believe a good writer needs empathy and understanding of human nature, above all, because it is our job to take the reader into the minds of other people. A good writer also needs to be a good watcher and a good listener so they can create a world the reader can believe in. To do that, they must first observe.
Already have come out in italy the books 9 giorni and La ragazza perfetta. Now Odd Child Out, your debut mystery, is released in Italy with the title Era il mio migliore amico. What was the starting point that led you to dramatize it in a novel? What kind of research was involved?
The starting point for me was the scene at the beginning of the book. It was the first thing I thought of and I think the Italian title gives a great idea of how this lies at the heart of the novel. I was considering writing a story about friendship and I wondered how it would be if a mysterious yet traumatic event left two best friends in a situation where one of them can’t speak about what happened – in this case because he is in a coma – and where one of them won’t speak about it, though the reader doesn’t know why. I live in Bristol, where the book is set, and know it very well, so the biggest challenge I had in terms of research was to try to do justice to my characters who have travelled from Somalia to make a new life in the UK. I did lots of reading and online research to try to get a handle on this. I was particularly interested in finding first person accounts of the refugee experience, and I also visited a refugee centre in Bristol. I did lots of research into Somalia’s history, too, so my account of the Mahad family’s background, and especially the reasons for their flight from Somalia, could be as truthful as I could possibly make it.
Your novel explores the intricacies of relationships and the bonds that tie families, and a friendship between an English boy and a immigrate boy of somal origin. How did you develop these themes?
I have always loved stories about friendship, and I think some of the most interesting of those are where best friends come from contrasting backgrounds. I wanted the friends in my book to be teenagers because teenage friendships can be peculiarly intense. Once I’d settled on the identities of the two friends who were to be at the centre of the novel, I became interested in their families and how the event which sweeps up both boys at the beginning of the novel would impact and involve them, as well as the boys. Refugees and immigration are such a big political topic currenlty, and with so much sweeping and often negative rhetoric, that I really wanted to tell a very personal story as a contrast.
How long did the process of writing Odd Child Out take?
It took 18 months, which is longer than I planned. I usually write one book a year. The sensitive subject matter of Odd Child Out led me to spend more time than usual considering how to tell the story and developing my characters. In the end, I hope I have told the story with empathy. If readers feel I have managed that, then any extra time spent on the book was worth its weight in gold.
Could you tell us a little about your main protagonists?
Noah Sadler and Abdi Mahad are two fiteen year old boys who are best friends. Noah is a white boy who is born and bred in Bristol. His family is materially very comfortable. Noah is not entirely privileged, though, because he has suffered from cancer on and off since he was a young boy. Abdi was born during the journey his family made from Somalia to Europe, as they fled the violence of the Somali civil war. The boys meet at a private school which Noah attends beause his father went there, and Abdi attends because he has won a scholarship. They are initially drawn to each other because each feels different from the other boys and their friendship develops from there. Both are clever, both long to do well and for both boys family is extremely important.
What did you most enjoy about writing the book?
I loved crafting a thriller with a friendship at the heart of it and to weave all of the secrets, histories and tensions of the boys’ families into that. The opportunity to learn in detail about another culture through my research was also amazing. 99% of what I read doesn’t make it into the book, but it was fascinating to learn about Somalia and its history.
Any movie projects from your book? If Hollywood calls, what will your recommendations be for the parts of Noah and Abdi and Detective Inspector Clemo?
Not yet, but it would be amazing if it happened one day! I think Clemo could be played very nicely by Andrew Scott or Rafe Spall. Noah and Abdi are so young that I would love to see those parts taken by actors who were unknown and ready for an opportunity to make a name for themselves.
Odd Child Out has received a very positive reception by the bloggers, the literary magazines, the newspapers, the other authors, among other things, like all your novels. Do you believe in the power of word of mouth?
I do, probably because I love it when somebody recommends a book to me. I am always very grateful for positive words about my books, whoever they come from. When I chose a book I often look to see what the reviewers and bloggers have thought about it. It’s a wonderful thing if they have received your book well, and even more wonderful if readers do the same. Word of mouth can be a powerful tool to spread awareness about your novel and I don’t know a single writer who wouldn’t be grateful to know that their book had been recommended by somebody.
Do you read other contemporary writers? Who are some of your favourite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
I was influenced by James Lee Burke whose Detective Robicheaux thrillers showed me that you could write thrilling plots and characters who burst off the page and combine them with a stunning sense of place and writing that can be brutal but also sometimes intensely lyrical. Ian Rankin’s Detective Rebus series is also an influence and so are Linwood Barclay’s books. I read very widely and am influenced by many different writing styles and genres. Some of my favourite writers include Gabriel Garcia Marquez, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell. But there are so many more…
What are you reading at the moment? Could you name any interesting English thrillers written by female authors?
I’m reading The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. It’s a mystery set in the 1976 heatwave we had in England. It’s not so much of a thriller as a coming of age story narrated by a girl, but it also has a mystery at the heart of it. For English thrillers by female authors I would recommend anything by Sophie Hannah, Tana French or Robert Galbraith (which sounds like a male name but is, of course, the pen name for J.K. Rowling’s thrillers).
Two best advices to young thriller authors.
At the end of every page you write, ask yourself the following and answer honestly: if I was reading this book, would I want to turn the page? If the answer if ‘no’ or ‘I’m not sure’ you need to reconsider what you have done.
Hold your nerve. It takes a long time and many revisions to write a good thriller. You need to be dedicated.
Do you enjoy touring for literary promotion? Tell to our readers something of amusing about these meetings.
I love it! It is such a pleasure and a privilege to meet readers, booksellers, journalists and publishers around the world. Sometimes language or cultural differences can lead to some funny interview questions, but I think it would be wrong of me to give you any specifics! The biggest challenge is stepping off a very long flight, into a very different time zone, and appearing a few hours later looking fresh and ready to discuss your work intelligently!
Will you come to Italy to introduce your novels?
There are no plans to do so currently, but if I were to be invited, I would be there in a flash! I love Italy and have spent many holidays exploring your beautiful country.
Finally, the inevitable question: what are you working on now?
I have just finished the first draft of my fourth book and am currently working on the edits. It’s called Time to Tell and is the story of a man called Cody Swift who returns to Bristol after a long absence to reinvestigate the twenty-year-old murder of his two best friends for a true crime podcast. The podcast is cut through the book. We also hear the story of the detective involved in the original investigation. He also has a present day case going on which may or may not shed light on the past. The final piece of the puzzle comes from the story of the mother of one of the boys who was murdered. I loved writing this book and am excited to share it with readers next year!