Friday, 8 October 2010

Talking with Gillian Philip

A couple of weeks ago I attended the launch of the novel Firebrand in Glasgow by the HUGELY talented Gillian Philips. I reviewed the novel on these pages and it has since gone on to be reviewed by Amanda Craig from one of our biggest newspapers (but I got there first) and given the title of Fantasy Book of 2010 by their reviewer.

I caught up with Gillian and asked her some questions on your behalf. Eventually, I caught up with her. ‘Cos she’s rubbish at answering her emails.

Here’s wot happened.

You have 3 words. Describe Firebrand.

My must-write.

Nice answer. Now you have another 20.

Fantasy that's as real as I can make it. Adventure, romance, violence, danger. Hot faeries who are all human.

I love it when people meet their word count. Anywho, when you started to write Firebrand what were you looking to achieve?

I never intended to write it. I was supposed to be writing a contemporary fantasy, but one of the characters took over and demanded a prequel. What could I say? There was no finishing the other book till I'd indulged him. So I was looking to tell his story, I suppose. Or let him tell it.

You are a bloody good writer, Mrs. Nobody goes from scratch to excellent straight away so how did you learn?

Why thank you Mister! Er, yes. I'm so glad you never saw my early efforts. I learned by writing and writing and... well, some of it was diabolical. I wrote romance novels for a while, but they weren't any good. Before that there were other efforts. Saga things, with murders in. I'm so relieved the cockroaches ate them. Anyway, I sort of got the hang of it eventually. I consider it a brilliant stroke of luck that I found out about manuscript advice services (I didn't know they existed), and I had incredibly useful advice and feedback from Hilary Johnson's service in particular. I think I am good at taking advice (almost too good, sometimes. I've occasionally had to change manuscripts back to the way they were in the first place.)

(Note from the blogger – there are other script advice services and this in no way constitutes an advertisement. Unless someone from Hilary’s wants to get in touch and offer a few quid, in which case this is a FANTASTIC service.)

So that was it, really. Writing and rewriting and rewriting again, till I got better and didn't have to rewrite quite so much. I don't think there's any substitute for that.

A faerie tells me that one of the reasons you write such good actions scenes is that you fenced during your (obviously) well-spent (sniggers) youth. Go on spill...

Yes! I used to fence epee once a week. It was fantastic fun and I was actually fit for a while. Best sport in the world. And I especially love epee because you can hit anyone anywhere (within reason). With sabre, for instance, you're restricted to above-the-belt... Well, I had to give it up for a while because of time pressures, but I do want to go back. I don't know if it helps with the action scenes, but maybe it helps to know what a challenge it is to hit someone. I've watched an awful lot of swashbuckler movies, too, in my time, and that probably helps as well...

I invested so much emotionally in your characters in Firebrand to the extent that I was down on my knees giving a football style roar when one of your bad guys received their comeuppance. What is the secret of this reaction?

I don't know! I really don't know, but I'm absolutely thrilled when people have that reaction. I think it must be to do with the fact that I care about the characters enormously, and they're very real inside my head, but I'm not sure how that conveys itself to the page. I only know you can't expect readers to care about characters if you don't, and that's why writing has to be sincere to be convincing.

Why fantasy?

Fantasy because... I like a good fantasy, with lots of action, especially a believable fantasy... and I get very frustrated with a lot of fantasy. You know, the 'Lo, I am the Master of Dragons, yea, it is so prophecied by the Wizardy One...' sort. On the other hand, I adore the really good ones, and I wanted to write one of my own, the kind I'd want to read. And I wanted to set it in Scotland, because you don't see that much Scottish fantasy at the moment. And I wanted to give it a contemporary edge.

Why faeries?

Faeries for... much the same reasons? I wanted Scottish ones, too. There are plenty of human-sized, gorgeous big faeries around the book world at the moment - as is the way of things, faeries became 'big' (in several senses) as soon as I decided it might be a nice original idea - but many of them are Irish Sidhe or fourth/fifth generation American. I wanted mine to be very much the Scottish breed, with their own Scottish attitudes. Highland and Central Belt.

Why that particular period in time for Firebrand?

I'd started to write the series in contemporary times, and I never meant to write a historical episode. The trouble was, my villain/antihero Seth took over my brain, and I felt I absolutely had to tell his story (or let him tell it, anyway). I knew he was about 400 years old, and as it happens that took me back to the time of the Reformation and the Scottish witch trials. As soon as I started to research the period, I was hooked... and let's face it, the best thing for a writer is to have plenty of hideous experiences to throw at characters. And it was a very ugly time...
(Uglier than a naked wrestling match with Jedward and the old fat guy from Borat)
And now a quick-fire and entirely frivolous round to help your readers get to know you a little better.

Butter or Margarine?
Butter. Cows are cool, plastic isn't.

Salad cream or mayonaiise?
Mayonnaise. Salad cream: the dressing of Satan.

Star Wars or Star Trek?
Star Wars. For Darth/Anakin mostly. Even though the prequels are crap.

Boxers or briefs? (Comes under the heading of Try to Make The Interviewee Blush)
Boxers. Just... oh, you know.

PJs or au natural?
PJs. Oh please. I live in the north of Scotland.
And the lady's not for blushing.

Cats or Dogs?
Cats. Even though I feel like a traitor to my dogs.

Wine or beer?
Wine. But it's not a fair question. I need context.
(Context? She wants context? Only a professional would need context for a question like that. Just sayin’)

A lie-in or a jog?
A lie-in. I love my bed in the morning.

Stilettos or wedges?
Stilettoes. You can't feel like a killer bitch in wedges.

Ooh, get you. X-factor or Strictly?
Strictly. It's the frocks. Oh, and I hate X-Factor.

To celebrate the continued success of this wonderful book I have a free signed copy to give away. All you need to do to win is to leave a message that makes me smile (I need to get something out of this malarkey) and I will do the draw out of the hat thing. Except I don’t have a hat since some of the folk I work with laughed at the last one I wore. Yes, you, Ms W.

So instead, I’ll close my eyes and throw a small piece of soggy tissue at my computer screen and the one it sticks to wins.

Judge’s decision (that would be me) is final.


  1. Thank you for that image, Mad Dog. You know, the one with Jedward and the fat guy from Borat. I want you to know I will NEVER get it out of my head.

  2. Nor me. Damn you, Michael. But what an excellent interview (surely you never for a minute thought you'd get G to blush?). We are lucky and privileged to have entertained her on our blogs. Shortly she will be stratospherically famous, the deserving winner of a myriad book awards, and she'll be on a tv sofa somewhere with her sultry faeryboy, sipping cocktails and wearing a pair of Jimmy Choo stilettos. *sigh*

    Lucy at

  3. Gillian, want me to supply another image to scrub that other one? How about fat guy from Borat and John Prescott?

    Glad you liked, Lucy. And as regards the fame thing we can always dine out on the fact we knew her first.

  4. I'll get you back for that one. John Prescott, the fat guy from Borat and ERIC PICKLES.

  5. Great interview, Michael. Look forward to reading Gillian's book - sounds brilliant.

  6. Gillian, if I knew who the Pickles guy was that might've worked.

  7. oooooh, Gillian. Just googled Pickles - there's a phrase you don't hear every day. Good (bad) choice! This is me making upchuck noises.

  8. Hmmm, Malone and Philip sharing the same bit of cyberspace. A recipe for:
    scatological exchanges? (Disappointingly, no.)
    unbridled merriment? (Snigger.)
    Caledonian incoherence? (No such thing.)
    guaranteed entertainment? Definately (sic).

    A great, entertaining and instructive chat, you two. And I'd better win that copy, Malone, otherwise I'll have to go and buy the bloody thing. (BTW, next time, ask her about the aardvark.)

    But the great thing is that, as Lucy said, Gillian is already a star and will be an even bigger one. I've only read two of hers so far, but both were brilliant. I can only hope that my sycophancy will be duly rewarded.

  9. We go over to your place to satisfy our needs scatological, Bill.

    Oh, and sycophancy is its own reward. Discuss.

  10. I've been fascinated with Gillian's book since you mentioned it the first time, Michael. Hmm, my faeries are fourth generation American-Scots, I mean is that where they originated. And I understand the need for context in the beer/wine - I'll add Scotch - question.

    And she's so right about the stilettos. I got the best reaction to my peep toed pewter ankle books with the spiky studs on leather ankle straps with chains at the conference last weekend. LOL, I know that doesn't sound sexy but I'll have to post a picture. Like she said...

    Great interview, Michael

  11. peep-toed pewter, spikes and chains? You sure it was a writers conference you were going to, Martie?

  12. I wish you'd write MY comeback for that. I don't know about Gillian but the only time I can wear stilettos is if I'm going to be sitting more than walking. ;)

  13. Salad cream is the something of Satan, but I don't think dressing is the word you're looking for.

  14. i've never heard of salad cream, it sounds perverted; but i do like my large faeries without their boxers. and not briefly. and the star wars prequels were ghastly. that said, i must get Gillian's new book! thanks mikey for your charming interview and book review. see, not all crime pays.

  15. p.s. i don't think it's available in the US yet but thru europe via amazon.

  16. Yeah, Thea I'm afraid Amazon will be your best bet until world domination begins.