Thursday, 4 June 2015

Author Interview: Gill Paul

Today it's my pleasure to welcome Gill Paul to the blog to talk about her latest book No Place for a Lady, published as an eBook this Thursday and as a paperback next month.  Emma's review of No Place For A Lady will be uploaded this afternoon but first she asked Gill a few questions about the book and her writing so enjoy.


1854. Britain is fighting a gruesome war. 

There has been no news of Lucy Gray since she eloped with handsome and impetuous Captain Charlie Harvington and embarked with him to the Crimea. 

Dorothea Gray will risk anything to heal the rift with her little sister and bring her home safe. She determines to join Florence Nightingale and the other courageous women travelling to the battlefield hospitals as nurses. 

She will not rest until she finds her sister. 

Lucy, however, is on a very different journey, a journey through tragedy, trauma and true love. 

But neither sister is prepared for the challenges they will face, the passion they will each taste and the simple fact that they might never see one another again… 

Can you give us a brief outline of your latest novel No Place for a Lady?
I like throwing my characters in at the deep end, so I’ve put two middle-class English ladies, Lucy and Dorothea, in the midst of the brutal Crimean War of 1854-6. They are sisters, who have fallen out after Lucy married a handsome cavalry captain, Charlie, so that she could accompany him to the war. Terrified for Lucy’s safety, Dorothea volunteers to work out there as a nurse, hoping to find and protect her much younger sister. Of course, neither has any idea how awful it will prove to be, or quite how much danger they will be in.

How much research had you to do into the Crimea and the war before you could start writing the novel?
I have to admit that I knew hardly anything about the Crimean War two  years ago, so the answer is LOTS. I started by reading all the first-hand accounts of women who were there, then moved on to general histories, and just kept reading until I felt I wasn’t learning anything new any more – which took about six months.

Were there any interesting or unusual facts you discovered during your research?
Loads. Perhaps one of the most surprising things is that the hospital Florence Nightingale established in Constantinople had a much higher death rate than any other hospitals out there. We think of her as the person who introduced the concept of cleanliness and order to hospital wards, but in February 1855, a staggering 52% of men admitted to her hospital died, much to her despair. When a Sanitary Commission was sent out from England to investigate, they found that the hospital was situated on an open cesspool with the remains of a decomposing horse in the waterpipe. Not ideal for men with hideous open wounds…

Whose story was more challenging to write Lucy's or Dorothea's?
Lucy’s was harder because she changes more in the course of the novel. At the beginning she is seventeen years old, a flighty, flirty, sociable creature who has fallen in love and agreed to marry a man she has only known for a few weeks. By the end I hope she is quieter, more reflective and more considerate, and I tried to make her change gradually through the course of the book. Dorothea changes less, although she also learns lessons from what she witnesses.

Do you think it would have been unusual for a woman at that time to accompany her husband to war as Lucy does especially as she was not a nurse like Dorothea?
Right back through history, women accompanied their menfolk to war in order to cook for them and do their washing. At the time of the Crimean War, officers’ wives were allowed to go along if they wished, but soldiers’ wives were limited by a ballot with only 6 in every 100 married women allowed to accompany the troops. It was the first war in which the British public were able to read in the newspapers about the appalling conditions the troops and their wives had to endure, and the resulting outcry meant it would be the last war in which British women would ‘follow the drum’ with their husbands.

Had you the entire storyline worked out in your head before you began the writing process or did the characters take over as you wrote?
My method is to write a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline that is around a third of the length of the entire novel. It allows me to work out the storyline while still giving the characters space to decide what they want to do. Having said that, I did change the ending in No Place for a Lady from the original one in the outline…

Your three novels have all had really different settings the Titanic, Rome as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton film and now the Crimea. What made you choose these time periods and can you give you us a clue as to where you will venture next? 
I must try to write a series some time, if only to cut down on the research needed! In the case of the Titanic and Rome, both of these novels tied in with anniversaries (100 years since the sinking of the Titanic, 50 years since the making of Cleopatra). My editor suggested that I write about the Crimean War, so that wasn’t my idea. I’ve been keeping the next novel secret so far, but seeing as it’s you I’ll reveal that it is about the Romanovs, the Russian royal family who were executed in 1918. I’m writing it just now and am super-excited about it!

What first attracted you to write in the historical fiction genre?
I’ve always loved reading historical fiction, since I was about ten or eleven and used to borrow my mum’s Jean Plaidys. I just like history, and reading fiction is an effortless way to learn about a new period. I love historical films and TV series as well: Poldark, Far From the Madding Crowd, Gone with the Wind – you name it, I’m watching.

What does your typical writing day look like?
I’m at my desk by 9, and spend half an hour reading the paper and Tweeting, then I write until about 1. Winter or summer, rain or shine, I then go for a swim in a glorious outdoor pond near my house and get back refreshed (or shivering) by about 2.30. I write till roughly 6.30 before knocking off to make dinner or get ready to go out somewhere. This is what I do more or less every day (including weekends) but to me it’s never, ever boring.

Finally how do you plan to celebrate publication day?
I always have a party and I really hope you and all the team can come along!

Make sure you pop back later to check out what Emma thought about No Place for a Lady.

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