When I think of Jean Gill the word “renaissance” immediately comes to mind. I don’t mean the renaissance of the 12th century (the time period in her latest series) which was more social, political, and economic. Jean is like the renaissance of the 14th through the 17th centuries. Often considered the link between the Middle Ages and Modern History, the renaissance saw the “rebirth” of humanism. With artists like Da Vinci and Michelangelo, the humanist Erasmus, and even the political philosophy of Machiavelli, art and education were raised to a height not seen since early Greece and Rome.
Jean Gill is a writer, a photographer, an educator, a dog lover, a beekeeper, and a humanist among other things. While my interview with her focused primarily on her books, it was impossible not to touch on her other talents.
What is the title of your latest book?
Plaint for Provence, Book 3 in“The Troubadors Quartet”: publication date 30th November 2015
What inspired you to write this 12th century historical series?
The picture in my head of a girl in a ditch, with only her lute and her beautiful voice to help her survive. I read books on the medieval troubadours and this sentence haunted me; ‘Rumour says there was a female troubadour touring the south of France with a big white dog’. How could I not write that story?! And of course the dog was in the ditch with her. So it started with Estela.
Then I could see Dragonetz, the traumatized ex-crusader, Commander of the Guard for Eleanor of Aquitaine, himself a famous troubadour. Everybody falls in love with Dragonetz, I warn you now.
(Jean is correct about this. I am in the midst of “Song at Dawn” and I am madly in love with Dragonetz.)
You have written an interesting variety of books including books on dog training, poetry, historical fiction, historical non-fiction, even a touching book from a dog’s point of view. Do you have a favorite and why?
I leave part of me in all my books and love all my babies but I’m still in the 12th century at the moment with “The Troubadors Quartet” . “Someone to Look Up To” is extra special because it’s all true, even though it didn’t all happen to one dog, and readers tell me they understand their dogs better after reading about life from Sirius’ point of view. Sirius rivals Dragonetz for fans who’ve fallen in love with him.
Do you identify with any of your characters and in what way?
All of them. The hardest thing for me is to write the nasty parts. I once asked a friend who wrote superb dark crime series, ‘How do you cope with getting into the mind of a serial killer?’ He said, ‘I know I’m just visiting.’ That has helped me a lot. I love spending time with any of my main characters and, after writing “Someone to Look Up To”, I had trouble thinking like a human. Some say I haven’t recovered.
My husband says he knows ‘where the bodies are buried’. One such ‘body’ is the tragedy at the heart of “Snake on Saturdays”; only recently have I owned up to the fact that I actually witnessed it. It was therapeutic to write it out of my system from the mother’s viewpoint. I felt torn apart for her at the time.
I happen to love goat cheese. Your book “A Small Cheese in Provence: Cooking with Goat Cheese” is a delight. The photographs are beautiful, the recipes mouth watering. Why a recipe book about goat cheese?
Thank you! Always good to meet a fellow-enthusiast. I live in a small French village, famous for its A.O.C. goat cheese, the Picodon Dieulefit (quality and name controlled). This is a cheese with serious history: imported to Paris when a local man made good as President; the first cheese to go into space when a French doctor insisted on it for the astronauts. It tastes good too! I love cheese and have had specialist articles published in France Magazine with my photos so I thought I had to do justice to my home specialty and wrote what I think is the only book in English about the Picodon.
I created the recipes, wrote how to adapt them for other cheeses and I took all the photos. Since then, I’ve photographed recipes for other people’s cookbooks.
Would you like to share a little about your next project?
It takes me a year to research one of the big historical novels and while I’m doing that for Troubadours Book 4, I’ll spend time on my photography. There are many options and I’m not so much at a crossroads as at a spaghetti junction – roads in every direction. I’ve lived several lives I’d need 10,000 to follow all the possibilities that attract me. I took the first steps in becoming a qualified dog-trainer but then my husband had an emergency appendectomy and I had to accept that I can’t start ten new careers at nearly 60.
I have, however, added bee-keeping into my life and, after following a practical course in the village, my current beehive (named Resolution by my long-suffering-husband) is doing really well. We nicknamed the queen Lily the Pink as she was marked in pink when we collected the hive from the Beemaster. You remember the song? Lily the Pink, ‘the saviour of the human race’.
I blogged about my photography options here and I think 2016 will be a very interesting year. Jean Gill’s Blog
Have you been inspired by any other writers?
So many! You know how we look back and think how lucky famous writers/artists were to meet up in cafes? If anybody looks back at my work in 100 years they’ll say, ‘Well of course she had input from all those great talents.’ My list includes you, Elizabeth, and the hundreds of writers (and photographers) I mix with each day online.
I do have an inner circle of writer-friends who are invaluable, as friends and as writers – thank you, all. You know who you are. I also have many writers who are the fore-runners of what and how I write; for the historical novels, I’d cite Dorothy Dunnett and Gustav Gavriel Kay (whose fantasy has the exact feel for adventure and history that I want, but I write with as much historical accuracy as I can manage)
What is your process for writing? Do you dedicate a certain amount of hours daily? Do you go from beginning to end or just write in a non-linear fashion?
I’m a morning person for writing. I usually work beginning to end but if I can see a scene I’ll jot down the outline – sometimes it is what happens, sometimes it isn’t. My plots are very complex and I have no idea how it all comes together. I have a rough outline but that changes as characters take on a life of their own. I can only work like that by having the real history so fixed in my head that I know what’s possible for the fictional characters within historical constraints.
What is your favorite book by a writer other than yourself and why?
I hate choosing only one but I do re-read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ because I feel the need to save the world from evil.
If you could make one of your books into a movie, which one would you choose and who would portray the main characters?
I’d love to see ‘Someone To Look Up To’ as a serious animation. I was so pleased with the trailer Rachel Bostwick made for me. “Someone to Look Up To” Trailer
(I happen to be a fan of Rachel Bostwick’s as well. She designed my book cover and both of my trailers.)
Do you read your reviews and how do they affect you?
Great question! Reviews are so important these days in helping books be seen and I appreciate the time spent in writing one. I wish I could get the message across, ‘If you like a book, don’t be afraid to say so, in however few words.’ It’s frustrating that readers email me with long messages about how they loved a book but they won’t write a review.
Good reviews also motivate me and help me to write. Knowing that somebody enjoyed my book brings it alive for me again. I have a very cute Gallery of Readers’ Dogs on my website from anybody who’s reviewed my books.
I do feel the urge to argue with bad reviews, especially somebody who doesn’t know the difference between Wales and Cornwall (where I’ve never been, nor mentioned in a book) but it’s part of the job to let readers express opinions. Mostly, bad reviews of my books show that readers didn’t get what they expected or didn’t like British English, so I just accept that.
Do you have any special steps or superstitions you follow when writing?
I always stop at a point where I know what’s coming next – never get writer’s block that way.
What makes a good book? Is it the characters, the plot, the subject or something more elusive?
In fiction, the combination of story and engaging characters is what draws me in. I started off as a poet (turned to prose at 40) and I still love lines that hit the heart and mind. I also read a lot of non-fiction, some for research and some for fun: in cookbooks and photography books, the quality of photos is vital.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always written stories. My first novel at age 11: a dire melodrama called ‘Jill’s Stables’, written in school when I’d finished the set work
If you could describe your writing style in one sentence what would you say?
‘Makes you feel emotions you didn’t know you had’ – a reader’s comment.
What is the last book you read and why did you choose to read it?
I’ve been dipping back into two works of medieval medicine, which Estela is using in ‘Plaint for Provence’. They are a wonderful mix of healing and hex and I now such useful things as how to ‘reconstruct virginity’ (essential for girls who were expected to be virgins on their wedding night, or for career prostitutes)
How did a woman from Wales end up living in Provence?
It rains in Wales. It rains all the time! Once, in a café in Wales, a man said to me ‘I would take you to the south of France.’ Fast forward 25 years and we decided to move here when the man retired. So I guess the answer is, ‘Two love affairs: one with a person, one with a place.’ I wrote up the detail in “How Blue Is My Valley” , my only autobiographical work. The book trailer will give you an idea. “How Blue is My Valley” Trailer
In Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 the characters memorize books to “save” them when all books are being burned. They are known as Book People. If you were a book which one would you be and why?
The Morte d’Arthur. Because it is beautiful of itself and would give birth to a million more stories. It doesn’t matter whether one story lives or dies as long as Story itself is reborn. Story is how we discover ourselves and others.
Thank you for having me, Elizabeth, and I’d like to offer a free ebook copy of ‘Song at Dawn’ to one of your readers. To enter, all they have to do is write a comment here on the blog.
There’s also a free ebook copy of my collection ‘One Sixth of a Gill’, which was shortlisted for the Wishing Shelf Award’, for every new subscriber to my newsletter. Just sign up here for news and offers on my books. http://eepurl.com/AGvy5
IPPY Award for Best Author Website http://www.jeangill.com
The Troubadours Page https://www.facebook.com/jeangilltroubadours
Youtube book trailers https://www.youtube.com/user/beteljean