Gill Thompson is an English lecturer who completed an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University. Her first novel, THE OCEANS BETWEEN US, tells the heart-breaking story of a mother and son separated by war and by continents, fighting their way back to each other. The first three chapters of THE OCEANS BETWEEN US were longlisted for the Mslexia novel award and the first page of her second work in progress has been selected to feature in Mslexia magazine. Gill lives with her family in West Sussex and teaches English to college students and hosts a creative writing blog.
Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?
My debut novel (The Oceans Between Us) was inspired when I happened to catch the lunchtime news and heard Gordon Brown apologising to the ex child migrants who’d been sent to Australia decades previously. I was horrified to discover the children had been told their parents were dead, when they were often alive and searching for them. This led me to research the topic and eventually weave a story around it. I then wrote a novel based on a Czech girl rescued by Sir Nicholas Winton in World War two (The Child on Platform One). But in my third novel, The Lighthouse Sisters, I explore my own family history in a story set on Channel Island Jersey.
What came first the characters or the world?
Because I write historical fiction, I start with the historical events then gradually start to shape protagonists who encounter those events.
How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?
I was lucky and got an agent and a publisher fairly quickly. Although I was unaware of it at the time, writing about World War two turned out to be a good decision as it was becoming a popular topic and editors were actively looking for WW2 stories.
How long did it take to write?
It took me nine years from first draft to publication – although I did an M.A in Creative Writing in between.
Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?
No. I’m very boring and have to write in complete silence! I did have a playlist for the launch of my first novel though, as I’d mentioned about 40 songs in the book.
How many publishers turned you down?
Um … maybe 5 or 6.
What kind of reactions have you had to your book?
I’ve had some lovely comments. The best ones are from ex child migrants, for my first novel, and people whose parents were on the kindertransport for the second, saying how moving they found my writing. That means a lot.
What can you tell us about your next book?
The Lighthouse Sisters is set on Jersey during the German occupation of the island and features two sisters – one who joins the Resistance, and the other who’s deported to Germany. As I say, it’s a story close to my heart as my family came from the island originally.
Do you take notice of online reviews?
I do. Most of them are nice and I always welcome constructive criticism.
Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?
I’ve been a teacher for over 40 years so I’m very tempted to write a teaching memoir. I’m under contract for another World War two book though so I need to finish that first.
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
Which author(s) inspire you?
Helen Dunmore. Ian McEwan. Kate Atkinson. Victoria Hislop. Maggie O’ Farrell.
Which genres do you read yourself?
I do read historical fiction as I like to know what other authors are doing. I also read a lot of books by writers I know and want to support. I teach English Literature so I read a lot of A Level set texts too.
What is your biggest motivator?
Myself aged ten, desperate to become a writer. How I wish I could tell my childhood self that it would take 50 years to realise that ambition but I got there in the end.
What will always distract you?
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
My editor always shows them to me and asks for my opinion, and the designer tries to accommodate my views.
Were you a big reader as a child?
What were your favourite childhood books?
Enid Blyton. Jean Plaidy. Georgette Heyer. C.S Lewis.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?
I love the Haslemere bookshop, which is near me. The staff there are really inspiring – and very supportive of local writers.
What books can you not resist buying?
Anything by my favourite authors (see above).
Do you have any rituals when writing?
I’m a terrible procrastinator so I faff around on social media for a bit before finally trying to ‘get in the zone.’
How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?
I’m currently doing some research for book four which is set in Hungary and Scotland so I’m reading about World War two in those countries.
What is your current or latest read?
I’m reading ‘The Tenth Gift’ by Jane Johnson. It’s a dual time novel set in the current day and the seventeenth century. I’m really enjoying it.
Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?
I hope Maggie O’Farrell has a new book out soon. I thought Hamnet was stunning.
Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?
I was lucky enough to be offered a second two book deal by my publishers, Headline, so I’m currently researching my fourth book..
Any events in the near future?
Unsurprisingly there were very few events during lockdown but things are just opening up again. I love giving talks about my books and I’m speaking about my second novel at Farnham library on 31st March and running a workshop at the Chichester festival in June.
and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?
I didn’t set out to become a historical fiction writer, but having found out and written about the child migrants to Australia after World War two in my first novel, my publishers were keen for me to carry on writing about this time in history. There are still some fascinating stories coming out about the war – and it was a war my own father fought in – so I never get tired of writing stories set in that time.