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Before she could walk, Gill Lewis was discovered force-feeding bread to a sick hedgehog under the rose bushes. Now her stories reflect her passion for wild animals in wild places. She draws inspiration from many of the people she has had the fortune to meet during her work as a vet, both at home and abroad. Gill Lewis has a masters degree in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University and won the 2009 course prize for most promising writer. Her first novel was snapped up for publication within hours of being offered to publishers. She lives in Somerset with her young family and a motley crew of pets. She writes from a shed in the garden, in the company of spiders.
Sky Hawk won the 2012 Leeds, Salford and UKLA Book Awards.
Ben interviews Gill Lewis!
13 year-old Ben Bassett is one of our top reviewers and a big fan of author Gill Lewis. He was bursting with questions for Gill so read on to find out all about her books, her love of natural history – and why a story about alien abduction never saw the light of day!
If you could collaborate with any author who would it be?
I think my dream author to collaborate with, would be David Attenborough.
If you could write a book that has already been written what would it be?
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. I think it would be really exciting to be at the forefront of groundbreaking science, flying in the face of traditional thinking.
What genre of book do you most enjoy reading and writing and what is your favourite book?
I love reading all the different genres in children’s fiction. I tend not to read the genres similar to my own books when I am in the process of writing the first draft of a book, because I worry that I might be influenced by other ideas. I laugh out loud at the ridiculous comic genius of Andy Stanton with his Mr Gum books. I also love picture books, the way the words and pictures sometimes combine to tell very different stories. My favourite book is probably The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Di Camillo. It is the story of a rabbit too vain to love anyone but himself. Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations are perfect for this book.
If you had to rewrite your career, what would you change?
I would have loved to have studied natural history and become a wildlife photographer/ film-maker and travelled the world making films for wildlife programmes such as the recent Africa series.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging when writing? (I.e. thinking of a title, a character, the ending, the beginning, a good writing position, what will happen next?) and what are your tips for tackling these problems?
The most challenging part about writing, is writing! I love the dreaming phase, thinking up the story and playing around with ideas and characters. I love the ‘what ifs…’ What if this happened? What if that happened? One idea sparks off another and very soon the basis of a story is flying around in my head. I explore characters by drawing them and asking questions about them. I do this for each character, whether the main character or minor character. The hardest part comes when I have to knuckle down and write the story. I wish it would download straight from my brain to the computer screen, bypassing my fingers. It doesn’t, so I have to just start typing. It takes a while to get into the flow of writing, so I find the first few paragraphs are often disjointed and don’t even make sense, but I go back to them and re-write them later.
Do you have any advice/tips for young budding writers like us?
Think of the first draft of a story as a lump of clay. It’s all there, the lumpy rough story shape. You will need to take bits aways, add bits and mould it until you’ve found the story inside that you are trying to write. Even if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter. You will have learned a lot in the process. Write about things that really interest you, because your enthusiasm will come across to the reader. If you find yourself getting bored, then you will bore your reader too. Above all, experiment with ideas and just have fun.
Who is your favourite character out of all the books you have written and why?
That’s a really difficult question to answer. As an author, you get to know your characters really well. Often, they are made up of lots of different people you know, and that makes them important to you too. I think one of my favourite characters is Iona in Sky Hawk. She’s feisty and hot-headed, but very vulnerable too. She has had a difficult start in life and doesn’t receive the share of love or luck she deserves. Her relationship with Callum and his family, is the first time she feels truly loved and valued.
Are you aware of how the novel will end once you have started it?
Yes. In fact, I often have a very clear image of the end scene in my head. It rarely changes in the final draft of the book. However, I often have to rewrite a new beginning scene several times.
What are you most proud of in your life?
Apart from my children, I think I am most proud of listening to the voice in my head telling me to keep on trying when I have felt like giving up. I had to work really hard to get into vet school and also to be published. With both of these ambitions I faced rejection and people telling me not to bother, but I kept on trying and learning by my mistakes. It took a while…but I got there in the end.
You must havea lot of ideas for a story (I certainly do!), how do you choose an idea to develop?
Some ideas are well developed story plots already and some may be just an image in my mind, yet I know there is a story there somewhere. I try not to think too hard about it. Ideas are elusive things. If you stare too hard at them, they slip way and vanish. I pretend I’m not watching and let them creep up on me.
Have you ever doubted one of your books when writing it, if so which book?
I always doubt the story I am writing at that moment in time. I doubt the beginning, the middle and the end. I doubt if I can make it as good as I want it to be. Maybe I can’t finish it. Maybe my editor will hate it. Maybe my readers will hate it. I am always filled with doubts. The only consolation is that every author I meet has the same doubts about their work too.
Have you written a book you love, only for it to get rejected by the publisher?
On my journey to being published, I’ve had my fair share of rejections. Looking back, I can see exactly why the stories and ideas were rejected. I’d be too embarrassed to share those stories now. However, there was one story I loved writing that never quite made it to the publishers. It is a story about a ten year old boy with attention deficit disorder, who is accidentally abducted by aliens. He’s involved in a madcap race across the universe to save our world from annihilation. There’s a dead hamster, an intergalactic knitting festival and a subterranean zoo in the story!