Spotlight: Gillian McAllister

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Imagine how exciting it would be to be just a few weeks away from the release of your own debut novel – that is the amazing position which Gillian McAllister currently finds herself in. When I learned that she was from just down the M6 in Birmingham I had to get in touch to see how she was feeling, and just how her journey had lead her here.

Is it correct that you're a lawyer? That sounds like an intense job to write around, how do you manage that?

I use my spare time wisely! I write in the evenings, mostly. You can find time for anything if you want to. I just ensure I do my job, and then my writing, and then leisure time, after that. You’d be amazed at how often you can find ten minutes here and there – I do quite a bit of writing on my commute.

I guess that leads quite nicely into one of the big questions of writers - how do you write? What is your process?

I’m quite a hard task master I think. But unless I keep myself accountable I tend to go off track, so I mostly use daily word counts. During a first draft I do 1000 words a day, every day. Something big has to happen for me not to hit it. Some days this is easy and takes me half an hour, if it’s a scene I’ve had in mind for a while or if I am feeling confident in it. Other days it takes much more toil. I do plot out my novels scene by scene, which helps me. At the end of a draft I read over what I have so far (or, if that’s too painful, I bullet point each scene on a note card), and then consider the novel’s structure and characters, what works and what doesn’t. That usually takes the longest, maybe three to four months; I find it’s only once you’ve said something that you realise what you want to say. I’m writing a first draft at the moment and trying to forget just how much of my first draft ends up in print (really a depressingly small amount!). Some authors can produce a passable first draft (perhaps they write more slowly, and edit as they go?) but I can’t. I do quick drafts, but many of them - at least three. After that, I do a prose edit, editing 3000 words a day (just reading it and tweaking it). Then I read it once more on my kindle looking for typos and send it off to my agent or editor. In terms of a wider process, my writing usually starts with an idea. So for Everything But The Truth, I came across a really peculiar Scottish legal loophole. I thought it would be so alarming if a woman realised her boyfriend had that on his ‘record’, so to speak, and from there my plot and characters sprung.

What is / was the journey like, for you personally from writing, to submitting to being published? And what about the book's journey, what happens to that? - who sees it, who has input into decisions etc.

For me, I got my agent off the slush pile. I didn’t know anybody in publishing, or any writers, at all, and I submitted my first three chapters, a synopsis and query letter to a handful of agents. Nobody was more surprised than me when I got signed. So if anybody reading this is wondering if a ‘nobody’ can get an agent: yes you can! My agent then submitted my novel to publishers, and Penguin bought Everything But The Truth after just less than two weeks. It was then edited structurally with my editor, and then copy edited where another editor looked at both the continuity of the plot and the structure of the sentences. Finally, it was proof-read.

What has changed for you since your book deal?


It’s really wonderful to have a team of professionals work on my book with me - editing it, designing its cover, marketing it to get it out into the world. It’s a massive privilege, and really very humbling, and it makes me take myself and my writing seriously. I also have a lot less time these days!

Again, from the podcast. How many 'false starts' did you encounter before Everything but The Truth - could you tell me about some of them?

Lots! I have written for my entire life, so there were many, many novels before Everything But The Truth, not many of which were finished. But - in the interests of encouraging other authors - my agent signed me on a different novel which didn’t get taken on, and then I wrote Everything But The Truth (interestingly during the submission so many publishers were more interested in the teaser for my second work that they mentioned it in their rejections. That book is Everything But The Truth, so some things do work out for the best!)

The podcast, by the way, is brilliant - I was sat listening to it in my classroom while writing these questions. It feels and comes across as a really down to earth, friendly insight into what can seem a really daunting industry, particularly for unpublished writers. How did the idea for it come about?


Thank you! Holly and I wanted to portray the reality of being a published author. So much of it is smoke and mirrors and we wanted people who are thinking of embarking on it, or are almost there or perhaps some of the way there, to have a point of reference that’s completely honest.

Finally, what happens from release day on? - I've been keeping an eye on your event at Waterstones Birmingham, but is there a book tour; signing and readings?

It depends, I think. I have a few events lined up, and there may be more in the pipeline. I’m in a few publications - magazines, etc - and I’m on the radio the Saturday after I’m out. Beyond that, I’m not yet sure! Watch this space - I’ve barely orientated myself with the fact that the book is almost out!

Gilly will be appearing at Waterstones, Birmingham today from 19:00. You can purchase Everything But The Truth here and listen to the brilliant, The Honest Authors podcast on ITunes.

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