Interview with Gill Lewis

Today I’ve an interview with Gill Lewis, author of Sky Hawk, White Dolphin and Moon Bear (out this May). Gill is speaking at conference on the Saturday just before lunch.


To get your taste buds popping, here’s some background on how Gill became a writer and what she’ll be talking about.

FCBG: You trained as a Vet. What was your route from that profession to becoming a published author? What made you want to write (or have you always written)? What key events / people helped you on the way to getting your first novel published?

Gill Lewis: For as long as I can ever remember, I knew I wanted to be a vet. At school, although I loved making up stories, I struggled with spelling and grammar and never even considered being an author. It was reading to my own children that renewed my interest in children’s literature. I loved the way my children became completely absorbed within a book. I told them stories too and wrote lots of short stories for them. I entered one for a prize. It came runner-up in the competition and was published. I then thought ‘Ah-ha, this writing lark is really easy!’ DUH! HOW WRONG I WAS! About five years, five stories and a drawer full of rejections later, I thought it would never happen again. I had a couple of near misses with agents and thought I’d give it a last try at the MA for Writing for Young People at Bath Spa Uni. The course was a real turning point for me. With the support of the brilliant tutors, especially Julia Green and Nicola Davies and also the feedback from other like-minded students, I learned how to edit, re-write, make mistakes and learn from them. It also gave me the writing space and time so difficult to find and justify when trying to get published. I’ve also been lucky to have amazing friends and family who have supported me too. Finding an agent and publisher happened fairly quickly after that, but I feel I landed on my feet with the lovely Liz Cross and team at OUP.

As to the question…why do you write? Hmmm! It’s a bit unfathomable isn’t it? I still don’t know.

FCBG: What are your favourite books (for children or adult) which feature vets?

Gill Lewis: I grew up on the James Herriot books. I re-read one the other day, and even though they are set in post-wartime 1950s, they still feel fresh and real. Herriot really knew how to weave stories together and link little short stories together into the overall story in the book. Although his books are about animals, they are as much about the humans too. I also love Hairy Maclary’s visit to the vet!

FCBG: Did anything ever happen to you during your time as a Vet which you’d like to sometime include in one of your novels?

Gill Lewis: I include lots of my vet experiences in my books. In White Dolphin, Miss Penluna is local woman who charms warts off cows. When I worked in Cornwall, farmers called upon white witches for traditional cures. Many of their remedies are rooted in scientific fact, such as honey treatment for infected wounds. Moon Bear was a particularly difficult story to write as it explores the cruel trade of bear bile farming. I drew on my own experiences as a vet, having witnessed varying degrees of animals cruelty. There are other ideas I may include in stories one day. I was once invited to the viking funeral of a cat called Thor. It was quite a sight, watching his burning funeral pyre floating out to sea. He was a fisherman’s cat, so it was quite fitting, really. I quite like the idea of a viking cat story.

FCBG: Have you ever considered or tried writing non-fiction? Do you read much non-fiction as part of your research?

Gill Lewis: I have written narrative non-fiction for a scientific publisher, but I haven’t tried other non-fiction. I think there is need for really good quality non-fiction material, especially within the sciences. I think Prof Brian Cox is a bit of a shining star, proving that intelligent ideas can be shared without resorting to bite-size, dumbed-down trash.

I do read lots and lots of non-fiction for my research, both in books and the on the internet and I try to talk directly to people or experience the subject that I’m writing about. For Moon Bear, my non-fiction reading included, Another Quiet American, Ant Egg Soup and Search for the Golden Moon Bear.

FCBG: What are you working on at the moment?

Gill Lewis: Um! I can’t tell you exactly what I’m working on at the moment, because I feel it jinxes the story. It is a little bit different to Sky Hawk, White Dolphin and Moon Bear, and it is a little bit the same. All I can tell you at the moment is that it does have people and animals in the story.

FCBG: Do you have a favourite phase of writing eg the research, the editing?

Gill Lewis: I love the pre-writing phase… the dreaming, the what if this happens? What if that happens? I get to know my characters too. I draw pictures of them and find out about them. I write scenes for them, scenes which may never end up in the story. I write the same scene from different viewpoints of different characters. The whole dreaming phase is sort of like planning a bus journey. I know the overall route and some stop-offs on the way, but the view from the window will be a surprise. I think the story has to surprise you as you write it otherwise it might be a bit boring to know all the ins and outs. A new character just walked into the current story I’m writing and she has become pivotal to the plot. So, I suppose I like the first draft writing too, only it’s quite scary because there’s that awful doubt that the story will either take a wrong turn or worse, crash and become a right-off. .

FCBG: What will you be talking about at conference?

Gill Lewis: I will be focusing on the title of the conference, The Power of the Page and I will also be revealing a guilty secret so terrible, I will probably be boo-ed off the stage.

FCBG: Oh Gill, I’m sure you won’t be booed! We’re really looking forward to hearing you speak, especially now we know a guilty secret is going to be revealed! Thanks so much Gill!

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