Tell us about yourself, Jean - where do you live and what you do when you’re not writing?
I live in Dieulefit, a small village in Provence, France, where we moved from Wales in 2003 after my husband retired (and the subject of my memoir How Blue is My Valley). After a career teaching English, and writing when I could find the time, I wanted to write full-time. From 2008, I also worked as a photographer. Life brings surprises if you’re open to adventures, so I learned dog-training with top international Michel Hasbrouck, and then, two years ago, I trained as a beekeeper. Which means I live with a Nikon D750, two scruffy dogs, a couple of beehives and a man. We have five children between us so life has been pretty hectic.
How do you feed your creative engine? Where do you look, or what do you do, to keep the inspiration flowing?Ideas come to me all the time and I scribble them down. I have drawerfuls of ideas! For me, the problem is choosing which idea to take to completion, as that means up to two years’ work. I’ve spent ten years on ‘The Troubadours Quartet’ and I can hear all those other ideas complaining in the drawer, saying, ‘Why didn’t you pick me?’ They’ll be shouting at me again in November when I publish the last book in the quartet, and I’ll consider my readers when I make the tough decision; what next?
I’m halfway through ‘Song Hereafter’ and I love being in the 12th century with Dragonetz and Estela, the troubadours. I’m going to miss them so much. The series has been described as ‘Game of Thrones with real history’ and, believe me, history really has never been so exciting. And it is real history. Don’t tell anybody but I am more than a bit in love with Dragonetz. So you should all read Book 1, Song at Dawn, which won The Global Ebook Award for Best Historical Fiction. Book 3 was Editor’s Choice for the Historical Novel Society and is currently up for The Chaucer Award, so wish me luck!
If you could wave a magic wand and change something about your writing career what would it be?
I’d avoid the sharks and the snipers. I’d love to tell my twenty-two year old self, ‘You are a GOOD writer. Believe that inner voice. You will find your readers.’ If I’d had a lucky break with a big publisher, I’d have been a writer of X (whatever the genre) whereas, instead, I’ve been free to be me, and I think my books are the better for that. Multi-genre might not be the best commercial sense but it has been so much fun – and now my books are getting attention. I think I’m where I was meant to be.
Mark Twain said “Most writers regard the truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use.” - How much of your own fiction is based on truth?
My fiction is an alternative real world. My characters are not based on people I know but they are real to me, and they interact with real historical events, whether 12th century politics and daily life (The Troubadours), or the foot and mouth disease in rural Wales (Love Heals series). I sometimes draw from my own experience and my husband always says he ‘knows where the bodies are buried’. The central tragedy in No Bed of Roses is an event I witnessed and never spoke about, until I confessed a couple of years ago to that being one of my own true stories.
I am obsessed with places – I think they have character not just characteristics - and most locations in my books are places I know intimately.
What comes first – location, plot, characters?
That depends on the book. Song at Dawn, the first book of The Troubadours was sparked by me reading this sentence in a book about troubadour poetry: ‘Rumour says there was a female troubadour touring the south of France with a big white dog.’ Here I was, a woman poet living with my Great Pyrenees in the south of France – how could I not write that story! I could see Estela and the giant dog, in a ditch, and so the story began.
Tell me about your writing day. Do you work to a routine? Do you have a dedicated space to write in? Endless cups of coffee or tea?
I’m a morning person and I either write at my desk in a corner of our living-room, where I can look out at the garden; or I take my laptop outside and sit under a tree to write, in the glorious light of Provence. Indoors, I often work to music, which could be troubadour songs or Metallica.
My husband reads everything I write. He has suffered all my rejections for twenty-five years, and accepted the relative highs of awards, and occasionally finding a traditional publisher (but getting little in the way of marketing or sales). He loves my current success (as we see it!) and he does my stats. He recently asked me, ‘What made you keep going?’ and I have no answer. But we’re both glad I did.
What has been the hardest thing for you to overcome in becoming an author?
Assuming that rejections from traditional publishers meant I wasn’t ‘good enough’. My readers have made their own judgement and, nowadays, give me all the motivation and self-confidence I need.
If you could pick one of your own characters to spend time with, who would it be and why?
(whispers) Dragonetz but don’t tell my husband.
What are you working on now - or next?
Song Hereafter! It’s August 1153 and the only way Dragonetz can redeem his (unfairly) damaged reputation is by accepting the mission given him by his heavily pregnant liege, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Who would want to cross the sea and try to win the most barbaric of realms to the cause of Eleanor’s husband Henri, who is fighting Stephen to be King of England? Not only does the warrior-troubadour accept but he can’t prevent his lover riding at his side. Estela is hoping to find material for her Wise Traveller’s Guide in south Gwalia (Wales), but all she knows of the place is that she should beware ‘worms’ (dragons) and griffons, and that it’s wet.
IPPY Award for Best Author Website www.jeangill.com
Find Jean on Twitter https://twitter.com/writerjeangill
The Troubadours Page https://www.facebook.com/jeangilltroubadours
Watch the book trailers on youtube https://www.youtube.com/user/beteljean