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23 November 2021

Gillian Perdue: ‘You can approach a story from a myriad of different angles… the magic happens in the cracks between the angles’

by Katie Smart Author Interviews, From Our Students, Writing Tips

Gillian Perdue started her journey with us on our Writing YA & Children’s Fiction course in 2016. Gillian has also taken our alumni Summer School and several of our short online courses including Edit & Pitch Your Novel and Writing a Psychological Thriller.

We caught up with Gillian to talk about her debut crime novel The Interview, which will be published by Sandycove (Penguin) next year…

You’ve studied on several course with us including our three-month Writing YA & Children’s Fiction course, alumni Summer School and six-week Write to the End of Your Novel course. How did your time on these courses impact your approach to writing?

The courses had a massive effect both on my writing and on my confidence. The expert tuition of Catherine Johnson, Jake Arnott, Erin Kelly, Claire Fuller and Anna Davis gave me the courage to take apart my YA novel, prune it back to less than 45,000 words, then start over. CBC helped me understand the publishing industry from an entirely different angle and the necessity for a courageous and resilient approach when pitching. And of course, the friends you make and the support you get from a group of like-minded peers is a revelation when you’ve spent more than a decade writing in silence and alone! It is no exaggeration to say that without CBC this book would never have been finished.  

It was during our Summer School that you started to transform your YA story into adult fiction. Do you have any words of wisdom for writers in the process of working out the age group they’re writing for?

This is a difficult one – but what I will say is that if you are in a group of writers, reading each other’s writing, doing your ‘homework’ and listening to the feedback, you have the wisdom of the group at your disposal. It was a huge decision for me to make and I was petrified when I pared the story back to its bare bones, but with the support of the group and the amazing Jake Arnott, I felt empowered to start afresh.

Most recently you took our six-week online Writing a Psychological Thriller course. What was the biggest lesson you learnt during the course?

I absolutely loved this course. It was extremely well thought-out and meticulous in its analysis of what makes a psychological thriller work. The reading list of novels and resource books was revelatory (and now line my bookshelves for ready reference.) Erin Kelly and Claire Fuller were amazing tutors and, as ever, the group was brilliant. I think the biggest lesson learnt during that course was that you can approach a story from a myriad of different angles, each of them fascinating in their own right. The magic happens in the cracks between the angles.

Many of our students form writing support groups. Are you still in touch with any of your course mates?

Absolutely! I have made so many friends through the courses – friends that already feel like lifelong buddies. We are regularly in touch, always there to help each other when we wobble.

Your first crime novel The Interview will be published by Sandycove (Penguin) next March. Can you tell us a bit more about the novel and the inspiration behind it?

In the story, fourteen-year-old Jenny is trying to escape from an abusive and violent home situation. She’s found disorientated and bloodstained, unable to talk about what’s been happening except in a kind of twisted fairy tale. Laura, the police Special Victim Interviewer appointed to help her, is the professional whose job it is to help Jenny tell her story. But Laura has her own secrets that threaten to unravel and damage both of them. Meanwhile, we discover that the bloodstains are not Jenny’s, and that somewhere, a violent man lies dying. It’s a story about the destructive power of hidden pain.

The inspiration behind it goes right back to my experience working as a teacher and on a children’s phone helpline. Added to that are the experiences which are almost universal to every girl growing into adulthood. How to negotiate a world where not all men or boys care about consent, where it’s still not safe to walk alone, where when something bad happens to you, you wonder what you did to invite or provoke it.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors working on crime fiction?

Read and read other writers working in the genre. Watch TV and movies and immerse yourself in the world you’re working in. Make sure you join a writing group or do a course as the advice you receive and the friends you make there will keep you going. And don’t forget to enjoy yourself with your writing.

What does your writing routine look like?

I’m very fortunate that I now have more time than previously to write. But because I used to write when our girls were in school or asleep, or before they got up, I still need a bit of pressure. A great writing day would see me at the laptop by 8am with a couple of thousand words by lunchtime. Then I can do research (haha), go back and edit or make endless lists of what I need to do next, during the afternoon. A really good day would get 3,000 words done. They might not be great – but they keep it moving on for the next day.

A very useful trick I learned recently is to finish with a note telling myself what to start with the next day. I don’t let myself read back over the story first thing, or I’d never get anywhere.

Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?

I’m working away on the second story in the Laura Shaw series and enjoying that hugely. Laura’s partner Niamh has a bigger role in this one and Niamh is a fun person to spend time with. I’m also about 20,000 words into a psychological thriller, which I had begun on the CBC course.

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