Readers may remember that a month or so ago I mentioned Gill Hamer’s The Charter in a blog about genre which got a very lively response. Having just spent a great (and sunny!) week on Anglesey where the book is set, what better time to welcome back Gill who is also providing a free e-copy of her novel to one of our visitors.
Hi Gill, for those who don’t know you already, can you just summarise you writing (or other!) journey so far?
Well, I’ve been writing (in some form or other) most of my life. My first mini claim to fame was winning a Blue Peter competition to write an episode of Grange Hill when I was eleven. I started my first novel in about 1998 and it was rubbish – as most first novels are – but I still decided to send it out to publishers (doubt I’d heard of agents!) and among the standard rejections there were a few constructive ones that gave me hope. So, I completed a distance learning creative writing course and managed to earn a bit of income off submitting non fiction articles as part of my course work and thought hmmm I might give this another go! The next novel I wrote was an early draft of Closure (which hopefully will be the next book published with Triskele) and then The Charter and another paranormal thriller called Second Sight. I then started approaching agents and decided to take a forensic science course with the Open University so I knew about crime scenes and DNA. And after that I started my straight crime series, The Gold Detectives, under the guidance of my agent who really felt that was where my writing was strongest and a genre she felt she would be able to sell. And that’s where we are today …
You clearly have a long association with Anglesey – can you remember when, how or why the story of the Royal Charter first gripped your imagination?
I have two very vivid memories from my childhood about the shipwreck of the Royal Charter. The first was aged around nine or ten, on the sands at Red Wharf Bay with family friends who lived in Holyhead. (Editor: – Red Wharf Bay – love it!) My father’s friend had recently acquired a metal detector and I can remember feeling the thrill as I dug up a trail of coins he convinced me was washed up treasure from the Royal Charter. It was some time later he admitted he’d buried the coins before I arrived for me to find! And the same family friend was a big influence in teaching me all about the stories and legends about the island. He took me to Llanallgo Church a few years later and showed me the graves and the memorial to the shipwreck exactly as I’ve described in the novel. So, it’s always been in the back of my mind that I wanted to write about the wreck and hopefully get the story out to a wider audience.
I know we’ve had the genre conversation already (!) but for anyone who missed it, how would you describe the book?
I’d describe it as crime with a twist! It is a modern day mystery but with elements of historical and otherwordly. I totally get your reservations about fitting into a genre, believe me, I’ve had the same conversation with my agent. But you see, when I started The Charter, I had no clue about genres or the importance of writing what a publisher can sell. I just wrote the story I wanted to read and I never had the slightest idea that anyone else might read it one day. And call me stubborn but I don’t want to change it now!
Do you think I should have been an agent? (Or actually, no!)
What was the chronology of writing the book and setting up Triskele – were the two events always connected, or did they just happen together?
No, no, as I mention above I wrote the book many years before Triskele was born. The Charter was responsible for getting me two agents in fact. But for the reasons discussed neither felt able to promote it without considerable changes. And I wasn’t prepared to lose the voice and style from the story. So, the novel was left gathering dust until the idea of Triskele formed and I realised I could publish The Charter that way if I wanted.
Did Sarah’s father – and her feelings for him – always have a a pivotal role or was this something that developed as you wrote?
No, that relationship was pivotal. Many things did change, ghosts came and went, killers too – but the dynamic between Sarah and her father was a constant. The story has always opened at the funeral scene, that was one of the first scenes I had in mind before I started to write. And the web of lies and tangled treasure hunt was always there too. It has been shortened, to begin with there were about five clues, but on the advice of agents I condensed that down. But I enjoyed depicting Owen from beyond the grave and really enjoyed writing about such a damaged personality.
I believe your writing roots are in crime, so now I’m going to have to ask the plotter/pantser question! Did you have it all worked out from the start, or did the story change as you went along?
Unless I’m writing to a strict outline (as I was with the book I’ve just rewritten as agreed by an editor) my stories always change. It feels as if the characters sometimes take control and push the story into another direction. If I’m sure it will work then I go with it. I’ve even started a book not having a solid idea who the killer was but trusting it would be clear in time! So, I can write both ways depending on the remit and I think both ways have positives.
There has been some discussion of how the role of an agent might change in a world that is more accepting of self-publishing. Has your agent been involved with The Charter or with Triskele– do you expect that he/she might have a role in any future self-publishing?
No, my agent isn’t involved with The Charter or Triskele. She has read the book but had issues with the plot as it was then and preferred my straight crime books. I think big agents will adapt and try to find ways of integrating more with self publishing – for example I’ve been approached about selling the foreign translation rights to The Charter. But for me it’s important I keep Triskele as a completely different focus to my straight crime books and I enjoy having the freedom self publishing affords me in that regard.
T hanks Gill for being so informative and for providing a copy of The Charter.