Their backgrounds could hardly be further apart, their expectations in life more different. And there is nothing in the first meeting between the conference planner and the university lecturer which suggests they should expect or even want to connect again. But they have more in common than they could ever have imagined. Both have unresolved issues from the past which have marked them; both have an archaeological puzzle they want to solve. Their stories intertwine and they discover together that treasure isn’t always what it seems.
Hi Gilli, and welcome to my blog.
What inspired your to write Buried Treasure?
Unfortunately, I don’t experience ‘inspiration’ in the way many writers do. Mine is a more pragmatic approach. If I’ve witnessed, experienced or even heard about an incident, it can find its way in, in the most unexpected places. But the story and the way it pans out, is totally unpredictable, and only reveals itself to me AFTER I’ve started writing. This is how it was with BURIED TREASURE. The scenario and building blocks of the story were derived from my own experience and elements I had ‘easy’ research access to – treasure, archaeology, a Cambridge College and conference planning.
My great uncle unearthed a hoard of silver Roman table-ware on his Suffolk farm. Known as the Mildenhall Treasure it is now one of the most famous discoveries housed in the British Museum. I have been involved for more than a decade in the organisation of biannual conferences held at Queens’ College, Cambridge. And my son is an Early Medieval historian and (desk) Archaeologist.
I reasoned that if I made my ‘hero’ an academic archaeologist, and my heroine an events & conference planner, and the back drop for a proportion of the story a university college, it would be easy to flesh out the detail, trusting that once set loose in the world I’d created, my imagination would do the rest. What could go wrong? In fact, it was probably the hardest book I’ve ever written.
What made you decide to self-publish?
I was mainstream published at the beginning of my writing career. But after bringing out two of my books, my small independent publisher ceased trading, having found it difficult to compete with the big boys in the industry. I banged my head against brick walls for some years until the invention of the ebook, when I self-published my books TORN, LIFE CLASS and FLY OR FALL. Accent Press became interested and took me on, republishing them under their own brand. Having been a little disappointed with my sales figures, when I finished BURIED TREASURE, I decided to try my hand at self-publishing again. So I am currently a hybrid!!!!
Which Authors inspired you to write?
Many books captured my imagination when I was a young reader. But if I am really honest, the first book that inspired me to try to write romantic fiction was not Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre, or even one of Georgette Heyer’s sparkling Regency Romances, all of which I read and enjoyed at a ridiculously young age.
I must have been around 12 – a critical moment for girls, when hormones are on the rise – and I was actively looking for someone or something to feed the romantic impulse which was blossoming inside me. I found a dusty old hard back on the book shelves at home – the book – The Knave of Diamonds – by Ethel M Dell, was dated 1913. It had probably originally belonged to my great grandmother.
Although she didn’t try to stop me, my mother did try to dissuade me from reading this book. Looking back, I don’t think it was the subject matter or the sexist attitudes that worried her so much as the critical disdain then prevalent about the quality of Ethel’s writing. Prolific, and a huge bestseller, Ethel was, arguably, the first writer of romance, as we understand the term. Shy and reclusive she had begun writing young and had many short stories published in magazines. Her writing is characterised by its focus on love and longing, repressed passion, a lot of heavy breathing, unutterable emotions and racing hearts. For the times, they were considered very racy. The Knave of Hearts ticked all the boxes for me.
If you could go back to when you first started writing what one piece of advice would you give yourself ?
Not to take anything for granted and not to have unrealistic expectations. The world of publishing has changed a great deal since the digital revolution. I started writing seriously back in the days when the only way to make your book available was to find a mainstream publisher. Within about 4 months of finishing my first book, Just Before Dawn, I was lucky enough to interest a publisher, and the book hit the bookshelves the following year. But my visions of being a best-seller, of fame, of going on chat shows, and the money pouring in, were soon dashed. Making a name for yourself is still as difficult. These days, although it is relatively easy to self-publish and put your book out in the marketplace, it is another matter entirely to raise its profile above the myriad others and to sell it.
What would you say to someone who wants to write?
Don’t postpone starting to write until you “have the time” or because you think there’s some magic formula, and if you read all the ‘How To’ books, or go to enough writing courses and workshops, then you’ll discover the trick. In my view the only way to get better at writing is to do it … NOW!
You may only be able to grab a few moments here or there, and I’d never tell anyone not to read books on the craft of writing, or deny that you can be inspired or pick up tips from courses and workshops, just don’t let these activities replace doing it
What are your writing routines?
I don’t really have a writing routine. This can be a problem because it’s too easy to do something else. Once a book has caught fire, however, the routine I need to impose is on the rest of my life. Writing is all I want to do.
If you weren’t writing what would you be doing?
I would be doing art. I went to art school and, as I’ve already said, my first career was as an illustrator on advertising. I still do art, in the sense that I’ve produced an annual family Christmas card, since I was seventeen and have attended life drawing classes forever. In recent years I have also been involved in book illustration.
What writing tools do use, and which one could you not live without?
I use the desk top computer in my study. I can’t write seriously on anything else.
Who would you want to play the main characters in your book if your novel was optioned for tv / film?
To play Jane Smith I wouldn’t want a drop-dead gorgeous actor. This could be taken to mean that my ‘either/or’ choices are plain. They are not, of course, but they are not classically beautiful and both have character, and are very good actors, which is often more important than looks. Carey Mulligan or Anna Maxwell Martin.
To play Theo Tyler, who is nearing forty, I need an actor who will look good with white hair. I have found one actor who has played a white-haired character in Game of Thrones – Harry Lloyd. My other suggestion, in case Harry is unavailable, is Tom Riley.
Tell me something about yourself your readers might not know?
There are loads of facts readers won’t know about me, but are they interesting enough to recount here? The fact I used to be a commercial artist is something many people know. It was the kind of job where I had to be able to turn my hand to drawing anything, from a motor bike to a baby. But I’ve not told many people that I once drew a woman holding a vibrator against her face. The product was ostensibly being marketed as if its purpose was to massage the cheek muscles!
Grab your copy below!!!!
Gilli Allan began to write in childhood – a hobby pursued throughout her teenage. Writing was only abandoned when she left home, and real life supplanted the fiction.
After a few false starts she worked longest and most happily as a commercial artist, and only began writing again when she became a mother.
Living in Gloucestershire with her husband Geoff, Gilli is still a keen artist. She draws and paints and has now moved into book illustration.
Currently published by Accent Press, each of her books, TORN, LIFE CLASS and FLY or FALL has won a ‘Chill with a Book’ award.
Following in the family tradition, her son, historian Thomas Williams, is also a writer. His most recent work, published by William Collins, is ‘Viking Britain’.