Jill McGivering Interview
Posted on 12 August 2010. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to author Jill McGivering
Tell us all about your writing background- what youíve written, what youíre currently writing
Iíve just published my first novel, THE LAST KESTREL which is set in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Itís a fast-paced story set in the middle of the current conflict. The events are seen through the eyes of two main characters, a British female correspondent whoís embedded with British troops and an Afghan female villager whoís a wife and mother.
Iím now close to finishing my second novel which is set in North West Pakistan. This too has a strong and dramatic plot. It looks at the impact on a local family of the Taliban and their fight against government forces. The family is forced to flee their village and take refuge in an aid camp Ė where they find new dangers, challenges and mysteries.
Iíve previously written short stories (one was selected in a national competition for broadcast on Radio Four) and stage plays.
Iím a journalist by profession. For the last eighteen years, Iíve been a BBC journalist including a foreign correspondent based in Hongkong, India, Washington Ė so much of my work writing has been for radio and television, usually to tight deadlines. Iíve always written fiction in my own time Ė but the journalism work has been a great discipline, forcing me to write to order and to be more concise and clear.
How did you start writing?
Iíve always loved stories and story-telling and began writing poems and stories for myself when I was a child. I think fiction writing is an important way of processing life Ė and making sense of experiences. It can also be satisfying to be able to impose order and a moral framework by means of a story, especially when ďrealĒ life seems random and unjust.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
Many writers have influenced me but perhaps Virginia Woolf most of all. I was first introduced to her novel, TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, when I was still at school. My emotions and ideas were still raw and her lyrical, often beautiful, use of language was a big formative influence. I carried on studying her work through a BA and then an MA in English Literature and admire her attempts to break new ground by groping for the infinite, the inner, the unexpressed. In terms of contemporary writers, I really enjoyed FINGERSMITH by Sarah Waters. Her writing is deceptively spare but always skilful and itís brilliantly plotted.
How did you get your first agent/ commission/publication? Can you tell us about the process/journey?
Iíve been writing for a long time and occasionally tried to get earlier novels published but without success. A turning point came with the decision a few years ago to do an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London. It offers evening study which allowed me to carry on supporting myself with a day job at the same time. The MA really made me focus more intently on my writing and editing and forced me to take it moer seriously than I had in the past. I found an agent during that first year, just by sending off a cover letter and synopsis to some agents listed in The Writers and Artists Yearbook. The agent (Judith Murdoch) gave me a lot of advice and managed to place THE LAST KESTREL with a new imprint of Harper Collins, Blue Door.
What's the worst thing about writing?
The re-writing Ė again and again and againÖ
And the best?
Those moments of complete engagement when I feel as if I am the characters, feeling their feelings and thinking their thoughts. It can take a lot of hard writing work for those time to happen. But when they do, itís deeply satisfying. Itís similar to the pleasure of being engrossed in a good book as a reader but the pleasure is more intense.
Tell us what kind of response you get from audiences/readers and if/how this affects/influences your writing
Iím part of a small writing group and we meet often to read each otherís work and give constructive criticism. Their feedback is invaluable in shaping my writing and in assessing what is working well and what needs to change. I always welcome feedback from readers. It helps to make the writing process more of a two-way street and can be really helpful too.
What was your breakthrough moment?
I was travelling for work in Pakistan and came back from a stressful day of news reporting to find an email from my agent with an offer for my novel from Harper Collins. It was one of the most exciting emails Iíve ever had Ė before or since.
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