Chatting with the Pros: Interview with bestselling mystery author Gilly MacmillonPosted: August 19, 2019 | |
My “Chatting with the Pros” author guest this month is a New York Times bestselling mystery author with books translated in over twenty languages. Her success as a writer may have come as a surprise, but I’ll let her tell you about that. She currently has five published mystery/suspense novels, and is working on the sixth, I believe. Let’s see what she has to say on the writing of mysteries. Please help me welcome UK author Gilly Macmillan.
Kaye: Can you tell me about your author’s journey? How did you get to where you are today?
Gilly: I started to write when I was over 40 and I challenged myself to do 1000 words a day until I had finished an entire book. I faithfully recorded my word count each day until it was done. I polished the first three chapters and send them to a few agents. Two rejections followed swiftly, one agent didn’t reply but the fourth one I sent it to was interested enough to offer me representation. She and I worked on the book together for a year before she submitted it to publishers, and we were lucky enough to sell it very rapidly and in over 20 territories! The rest has followed from there. I write a book a year and try to keep things fresh, compelling and thrilling for myself and my readers.
Kaye: When did you know that you wanted to be an author?
Gilly: For many years I didn’t have a burning desire to write, I think because I was busy doing other things and life got in the way, but once my youngest son started school full time I wanted to see if I could challenge myself to write a novel. The idea sort of came out of the blue but perhaps it wasn’t that surprising because at that point I had been an obsessive reader for 35 years. I had a small window of opportunity before having to get a proper job, so I took it.
Kaye: Why do you write mystery? Why not romance, or western, or horror?
Gilly: I read very widely, but mystery books have always been a favorite, so I write what I would like to read.
Kaye: What element do you think is the most important in a mystery story? Why?
Gilly: That it creates an impulse in the reader to turn pages. This can come from great characters, a thrilling set up, tons of action or an intriguing plot, but it must be there.
Kaye: What is one thing your readers would never guess about you?
Gilly: I have no idea! I’m a fairly straightforward person so there’s probably not much they couldn’t guess.
Kaye: (So, there’s no mystery to the mystery author? Hmmm.) What is the biggest challenge in writing mystery for you? Why?
Gilly: Plot. I don’t plan ahead when I write and creating a well-paced, complex and intriguing plot is always my biggest challenge, especially as I like to keep things within the realms of believability.
Kaye: What is the most fun part of writing mystery? Why?
Gilly: I love creating new characters and devising a challenging scenario for them. It intrigues me to explore how ‘regular’ people might behave if placed in extreme situations and pushed to their limits.
Kaye: Your most recent release is The Nanny. What can you tell me about it?
Gilly: When her beloved nanny, Hannah, left without a trace in the summer of 1988, seven-year-old Jocelyn Holt was devastated. Haunted by the loss, Jo grew up bitter and distant, and eventually left her parents and Lake Hall, their faded aristocratic home, behind.
Thirty years later, Jo returns to the house and is forced to confront her troubled relationship with her mother. But when human remains are accidentally uncovered in a lake on the estate, Jo begins to question everything she thought she knew.
Then an unexpected visitor knocks on the door and Jo’s world is destroyed again. Desperate to piece together the gaping holes in her memory, Jo must uncover who her nanny really was, why she left, and if she can trust her own mother…
Kaye: What is your biggest accomplishment to date in your writing career?
Gilly: Making bestsellers lists! It’s a dream come true!!
Kaye: Of all of your books, which one is your favorite? Why?
Gilly: I love them all for different reasons, but I think my favorite is my debut, What She Knew, because that was the book that launched my career and I put a lot of heart into it.
Kaye: How do you keep tension and suspense in your stories, so that readers will keep the pages turning?
Gilly: I work hard to come up with characters that I hope will be relatable and intriguing and then place them in a compelling situation, which subsequently evolves in a threatening, challenging or terrifying way. At the end of every day of work, I ask myself: will this turn pages? If the answer is ‘no’, I start over and do it again until I’m happy that both tension and suspense are maximised.
Kaye: Is there a common theme running through your books?
Gilly: I like to take a person or people who are in a relatable situation and make something very dramatic or difficult happen to them. A mother with a missing child, for example, or a teenager who has made a fatal mistake in her past which threatens to derail the new life her mother has carefully reconstructed for her, or perhaps a little girl whose nanny disappeared overnight without trace or explanation and reappears thirty years later in very mysterious circumstances. I love to explore dynamics within families, especially the parent child bond.
Kaye: What are you working on now? What is next for Gilly Macmillan?
Gilly: I’m working on a novel that feels like a journey into psychological horror. The main character is a female crime writer. That’s about all I can say for now!
I want to thank Gilly for sharing her craft today. I think it is fascinating that she can plot as she writes. When I try and do that, I find myself exploring avenues that lead to dead ends and have to backtrack a lot. You can learn more about Gilly Macmillan and her books on her website and Amazon Author page.
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