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Wednesday, 21 May 2014

In the Spotlight - Gilli Allan

Meet Gilli Allan author of Torn, Life Class and Fly or Fall

Gilli Allan - I was born in Kent, in the UK. As a child I drew copiously, encouraged by the adults in my life who always told me I was good at art, but from around the age of ten, I also wrote. These two hobbies, particularly the writing, sustained me through my teenage years when the romance in the stories I conjured in my head was the only romance I experienced. Writing was only abandoned when I left home and real life took over from the fiction.

I did not go to Oxford or Cambridge. Instead, after leaving school at sixteen, with only 5 indifferent GCE passes, I went to Croydon Art College. (It may not have been one of the more prestigious schools of art, but Croydon fostered the disparate talents of some notable alumni, including Ray Davies, Malcolm McClaren and Mervyn Peake.)

I did not work on any of the broadsheets, in television or publishing, but did a variety of jobs - shop assistant, beauty-consultant and barmaid. I also had a job which consisted of picking up American tourists and sending them on a free sightseeing tour of London which culminated in lunch at the Hilton. The unsuspecting holidaymakers were then subjected to an intense sales-pitch, selling Florida real estate. I was no good at this ‘commission only’ job and, unsurprisingly, didn’t enjoy it.  I was very relieved when I eventually landed the job of my dreams, working as an illustrator with an advertising design studio. I eventually went free-lance.

I married and resumed writing while my son, Tom, was a toddler. My first ever completed novel, Just Before Dawn, was published less than 2 years after I finished the first draft. My second, Desires & Dreams, followed it onto the book shelves eight months later. But my publisher was new and it was small. It failed to achieve the required marketing push and wide distribution which would have given its authors - and itself - any real prospect of success. Though they were available in libraries, I never saw my novels in a book shop, other than in my own home town. The publisher ceased to trade after about five years.

My husband was head-hunted and I found myself living in Gloucestershire. Not only had I lost my support network of friends and family, I’d also lost my publisher, so I knuckled down and continued to write what I had always written, with the intention of finding a new publisher. But my books, which could be described as women’s contemporary relationship fiction, are unconventional, subversive and surprising. Though there is always a love story at their core, they never followed the current band-wagon (whatever it happened to be at the time), and they failed to spark any interest in publishers, or even literary agents. So, with the dawning of the new digital age, and specifically the birth of the Kindle, I decided to self-publish.

I have been a school governor, a contributor to local newspapers and was one of the initiators of the successful community shop in my village. Still a keen artist I regularly attend a weekly art class, design Christmas cards and have recently been commissioned to illustrate a children’s book - which tells the story of the Viking King, Harald Hardrada - to coincide with the Viking exhibition at the British Museum, in the spring of 2014.

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