Thursday, March 24, 2011
Rock This! Thursday with Gillian Philip
I used to have a flatmate, back in the days when a Sony Walkman was the hottest thing around (that’s how old I am!), and she had a tape specially for walking down the town’s main street. I loved it and used to borrow it, so I always remember the first track on that – which was Aztec Camera’s ’Oblivious’. I still think it’s the best walking song ever.
I’ve always been a big fan of life soundtracks. What are some songs you think can in some ways describe your main character, her life, etc?
I’m a big fan of soundtracks too – I hate not having one for a book, and when a story is still at the stewing-in-my-head stage, I look for music that will suit, and play it over and over again to get in the mood. The Opposite of Amber had quite a retro soundtrack – it wasn’t deliberate, but Ruby’s sister Jinn turned out to have a sentimental and nostalgic streak, and was keen on really old songs from the fifties and sixties (which were before even my time!). I realised that only when I heard Gene Pitney on the radio singing Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa, and it struck me quite clearly that it was Jinn’s favourite song. And because Jinn is such a mother figure to Ruby, her music is very much the soundtrack to Ruby’s life, too. My playlist included Spanish Harlem by Phil Spector, and Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys – and some cover versions like the Killers’ version of Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town, and Mary Coughlan’s cover of Ain’t Nobody’s Business (which is a song I love)... but there were a few newer tracks too. Ruby by the Kaiser Chiefs, that was a no-brainer... and that version of Roxanne, from Moulin Rouge, when they do that fabulous tango...
What was the first idea that sparked The Opposite of Amber?
I remember I was stuck on another manuscript, so I’d decided to spend the evening watching TV. And there was a documentary on that gripped me – it was about five women who were murdered in an English town in 2006, but it wasn’t interested in the perpetrator or his bizarre motives, only the women themselves, their lives, their families. I didn’t want to write about those women – I can’t/don’t do true crime – but I wanted to write a story about a woman like them, a woman whose life had spun out of her control, and the effect of that on her loved ones. I also had a what-if thought... what if one of the women was murdered for different reasons? What if there was more to one of the killings than sordid psychopathy?
We’re always up for new music. What are five songs we should be listening to?
Tough one, because I’m not very up to speed with new music! I recommend the Peatbog Faeries – really wild traditional music from Scotland but brought way up to date and beyond. Let’s see... Biffy Clyro’s When We Collide. Paolo Nutini singing almost anything, but especially New Shoes. KT Tunstall’s Black Horse and the Cherry Tree. Amy Macdonald’s This Is The Life.
No – I’ve lost count of the novels I’ve written! Written and published, of course, that’s different... The Opposite of Amber is the second novel I’ve written for Bloomsbury – the first was Crossing The Line – but I’ve also had two books published by Strident (Bad Faith and Firebrand). Firebrand is a fantasy, so a bit of a departure – it’s the first in a series of four. And I’ve written four short novels for Evans, an educational publisher; and I ghostwrite the Darke Academy series for Hothouse Fiction, under the pseudonym Gabriella Poole. I’m just about to start the fourth instalment of those.
There were also some unpublished romantic novels, many years ago, but we’ll draw a veil over those!
Your favorite band?
Oh another tough one... depends on the mood I’m in. Sometimes it’s Eels. Sometimes it’s Snow Patrol. I like Gnarls Barkley, or Cee Lo Green on his own... But my all-purpose favourite for most occasions is the Pet Shop Boys.
If you could have one day to spend with any musician – living or dead – who would it be and why?
Ian Dury. I love clever lyrics and he had such a fantastic way with words. Also, I think he’d be terrific company.
How did you come up with the title?
It was a belated title – the working title was completely different. It happened when I was editing and rewriting, and adding a short prologue. When I read it back, that phrase ‘it’s the opposite of amber’ leaped out at me – it was a little bit quirky and obtuse, much like Ruby, who coins it – and I realised that it was the right title for the whole thing. It has a kind of double meaning in the context of the book, too, and I like those kind of titles.
Do you have a certain process you do before starting a book – outlining, brainstorming, etc?
I wish I did... I’ll get an idea and let it stew for a while in my head, adding bits here and there. But when I sit down to write, I generally have little or no idea how it’s going to pan out. I just go with the characters, and fly by the seat of my pants. I like the uncertainty, and it makes life interesting, but it can be nerve-wracking.
Have you experienced any ‘rock star’ writing moments?
Just the other day! I was shortlisted for the Royal Mail Award, which is the biggest children’s book prize in Scotland. I didn’t win, but the ceremony was fabulous. There were about 500 students there, and it had a circus theme, so there were acrobats, jugglers, clowns, fire-eaters... and then the shortlisted authors were brought on one by one, to roars and applause. That was definitely a rock star moment!
Otherwise – well, I have been tempted to drink a bottle of whisky and smash my laptop, but I’ve never actually done it...