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Pack a Compass and Never Give Up by Gill Perdue

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Gill Perdue c. Taryn Barling

Gill Perdue

Any discussion on writing will usually engender a mention of ‘Pantsers v. Plotters’ – namely, do you fly by the seat of your pants and make up the story as you go along, or do you plot it all out in advance. Obviously, there’s no hard and fast rule as to which is best, and of course, for many writers it’s not actually an either/or situation, as many will say they have a rough idea where the story is heading but like to leave room for development and change.

My debut crime thriller, The Interview, came about as a result of becoming hopelessly, utterly, and completely lost in what I had thought was a story for children. The worst thing about it – and the reason I became so totally lost, I believe – was that I actually had a plot in advance. It was going to be a story about a sister and brother who, through inventing a fantasy world, found a way to deal with a terrible home situation. I knew its trajectory and I knew the ending. Why, then, did I find myself at about 30,000 words with not one, not two – but three talking animals, including a squirrel with a lisp? (And by the way, even as a child, I didn’t like stories with talking animals?)

I say this in a lighthearted way because, for me, the story of writing The Interview (the publication story) now has a happy ending. But as everyone who writes will know, it can be soul-crushing to discover that your hours of effort – hours which mount up to days, weeks, even years – can lead to a big, fat nothing. Not even a first draft. Not even the dreaded rejection letter – (or ‘positive pass’ as we might wish to reframe it.) This is what happened with the original draft of the story. I realised that no child would want to read what I’d written. No adult was going to read it to them either. So, I cut my losses and set it aside. Yet again, I chalked it up to experience. I filed it away in the Writing Projects folder, along with the others, and got on with living.

I read in the paper recently that Anthony Trollope got up every day at five o’clock and wrote for three hours before work. It’s been said that, upon finishing a 200,000-word book, if he still had time to spare, he would pull out a fresh sheet and begin the next. I wish I could tell you that I’m like that. But no.

The InterviewThough I had been, like Trollope, writing for two hours each morning before breakfast, once I’d put the book aside, I decided to stay in bed a bit longer in the mornings and aim to be a better mum/wife/daughter/teacher/human with a bit more sleep and less creative angst.

But the children in the story – and in particular, the character of Jenny – refused to be set aside. I could hear her voice – and in it, there was anger and judgement. ‘Yeah, thanks for that. Just leave us here, why don’t you? Get on with your perfect life.’ Along with her deadpan voice, I also had an image. And it’s the one which opens the story. I could see her in bloodstained clothes, standing alone by the Dodder River late at night. She’s covered in blood, but she’s not bleeding. And she’s not talking.

I ignored her for a long time, dear reader! Probably for more than a year or two. And in the meantime, I wrote other children’s stories, I taught, and I did school and library visits and got on with the process of living. But in 2018, at a writing summer school, something made me go back to Jenny. I wanted to tell her story – no – I wanted her to tell her story, and that made me wonder who would she speak to? What counsellor, psychologist, nurse or garda, would be the person tasked with finding out the truth? That question led me to the Gardaí which led me to the Specialist Victim Interviewer. Which gave me two amazing new female characters and a whole world for them to inhabit.

I think we’re all familiar with the ‘write what you know’ rule. For The Interview, I had to do a huge amount of research with a real SVI, because I knew nothing about their job. I’d never even heard of the role before. So, I developed a new mantra to keep me going – ‘write what you’d want to read.’ The job of an SVI is fascinating and challenging in equal measure. The combination of psychology, detective work and storytelling – the search for truth and justice, the overlap with the legal world with all its strengths and weaknesses – I found it riveting. This is what kept me going to the end of the story – it became the compass, torch, and map. I didn’t ask myself if it was good (too scared of the reply), I just tried to write something I would want to read.

To get it written, I had to develop a brand new process and I’ll share it with you because I found it revolutionary! From the moment I embark on a new story, I write every day WITHOUT reading over the work from the day before. What I had been doing was wasting the first two hours of writing time (and in some cases, the only hours of writing time), going back over what I’d done the previous day. I realised that this isn’t writing – it’s elaborate procrastination. My new method is to finish each writing day by writing a note to self on the document, outlining the scenes that I need to write the next day. That’s where I start.

And now, I don’t worry about losing my way. The roughest of outlines is all I need.

What’s most important is not to give up.

(c) Gill Perdue

Author photograph (c) Taryn Barling

About The Interview:

The InterviewA girl covered in blood. A missing man. A cryptic fairy tale.

Detective Laura Shaw seems to have it all: a supportive husband, a happy two-year-old and a great career. She is her team’s top interviewer, brilliant at coaxing victims to open up.

Then, she meets Jenny – a 14-year-old assault victim – and the façade crumbles. Jenny’s stepfather is missing, the blood on her clothes is not her own and Laura can’t interpret the fairy tale she keeps repeating.

But Jenny isn’t the only one with secrets. With every hour that passes, Laura loses more of her grip, grappling with the biggest question of all:

Is every life worth saving?

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Gill Perdue is a writer and dancing teacher. She worked as a primary school teacher for fifteen years and has published four books for children, the first of which, Adam’s Starling, won a Bisto Award as best first children’s book of the year. The Interview is her first novel for adults. Gill lives in Dublin with her husband and their dog. Their two grown-up daughters live in London (but keeping their places warm are a pair of disdainful cats).

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