Today we welcome Gilli Allan to the blog.

At school, as soon as we’ve mastered
writing, we’re told to ‘Write about what you know’.  But what do children know?  Their world is necessarily limited, their
experiences – hopefully – benign.  To a
young child, the imagination can be almost more real than reality. My imaginary
world was peopled with princes and princesses, red Indians, knights in armour,
fairies, witches and magic.

As a teenager I was fascinated by the gothic. I
sought out books about cavaliers, highwaymen and pirates; stories where the heroine
is imprisoned by an evil relative; books about houses riddled with secret
passages and priest holes.  To be set an
essay about ‘what you did in the holidays’ was not only boring, it was also
divisive.  I would have spent most of my
summer in prosaic occupations – drawing, reading and writing, and taking our
dog for a walk, then holidaying in Cornwall. Lovely though it was, in the
one-upmanship of the playground, Cornwall was no match for sailing around the
Greek islands, flirting with waiters in Majorca or camping near the French
Riviera. Always far safer and more
interesting, to invent something
For most of us, it isn’t until there are
at least 3 decades under your belt that you can understand what writing from
experience really means.  By then you
will have been touched by one or more of life’s big events – falling in love,
marriage, childbirth, divorce, heart-break, illness, bereavement – and now have
the maturity to draw something deeper from the life you have lived.  But ‘write about what you know’ is still a
misleading adage.  If you were only
‘allowed’ to write truthfully about what you had personally experienced, you
wouldn’t be producing fiction: you’d be writing autobiography.

Fiction is fiction because you’ve made it up. 
It’s a story!  There are some authors
who almost make it a point of principle to set their novels in countries
they’ve never even visited.  I admire
their chutzpah, but I haven’t the courage, or energy necessary to do the
research. I set my stories in a world I know, but seen through the distorting
glass of my imagination.  And I draw on
events from my past, but only after a passage of time has filtered the rawness
of the emotions as well as the irrelevant detail.  The experience is then trimmed, tucked, tailored
and embroidered, to fit my story.
But ‘writing what you know’ isn’t just
taking events from your own past and reimagining them. It can be a far more
subtle and nuanced than that.  When
creating your protagonists, you also invent a landscape to set them in; you
give them their own problems and their own hopes and fears. In doing so, you
are mining everything you have absorbed about life, about people, about
motivation and instinct. And to make your invented characters’ experiences come
to life, you call up your sense memories of sight, sound, smell, taste and
touch.  These may be nostalgic – a hill
top in early summer, the fields below gilded by a sheen of yellow buttercups;
the scent of may blossom, lady’s lace and nettles;  the feel of the chill, dewed grass against
skin; the song of a skylark; a distant tractor.   But there are some sense memories you recall
which may be horrific, like the jarring impact of a car crash, the screeching
tear of metal, the smell of petrol, singed rubber and asphalt, and those long,
cold moments of stunned silence, before the first cry of a baby. 

Nothing is forbidden to the writer’s
palette.  Everything you have ever known,
seen, felt, smelt, suffered, is there to be used, to turn your imaginary world
into a world the reader believes in.  

About Gilli:
As a
child writing and art were Gilli’s hobbies. Writing was side lined in
adulthood, when she worked in advertising as an illustrator.It
was only after having her son that Gilli began writing seriously. Her first two
novels were quickly published but her publisher ceased to trade. After years in
the wilderness Gilli went independent with the emergence of E-book. Still a
keen artist, she designs Christmas cards and has begun book illustration. Gilli
is delighted to have secured a three book deal with Accent Press.

Amazon: Torn

TORN  by Gilli Allan

Jess has made a series of bad life choices and
all have let her down. 

Escaping London, she sets out to recreate
herself in the idyllic countryside, and this time she wants to get it right! 
She wants to lead a responsible, tranquil life
with her young son Rory, but soon discovers stresses which pull her in opposing
directions – conflict over a new bypass, between friends, and worst of all,
between lovers. 

Educated, experienced, and pragmatic, James is a
widowed farmer whose opinions differ from, and enrage, Jess. His young
shepherd, Danny, is an uneducated and inexperienced idealist. Jess is attracted
to them both, and realises if she wants her idyllic countryside life to
survive, she must choose her Mr Right. 

you Gilli and good luck with your novel.
The RNA blog is brought to you by
Everest and Natalie Kleinman
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  1. Author
    Gilli Allan 3 years ago

    Thank you, Elaine – and the RNA blog – for allowing me to waffle on.

    It's a surprising pleasure to be made to think about why and how I write. (I never know what I think until I write about a subject!).

    I hope something of what I've said can be identified with by others here.


  2. Author
    Anne Stormont 3 years ago

    Gilli, I agree. For me, writing is a subtle sort of mining of where I've been and what I've experienced. And then the alchemy of the imagination does the rest.

    I really enjoyed 'Torn' by the way. It was my Christmas read. I guessed wrongly as to the outcome, which made it more satisfying in a way.

  3. Author
    Gilli Allan 3 years ago

    Thank you Anne. And I am thrilled you enjoyed TORN.


  4. Author
    Just Another Bloke 3 years ago

    Thanks Gilli,
    An excellent post. I'b busy with the "First Book, First Draft" and although I'm working with a basic format of facts and their order, I find I'm drawing on my own life experience for "how does he/she do that?", "what would they be feeling?", etc.
    I'm also finding that doing this is, in itself, like turning over a rock in a pool. You don't know what will appear, or what road you will go down.


  5. Author
    Gilli Allan 3 years ago

    Exactly, John. You never know what's going to come floating to the surface until you start rummaging around amongst those old memories and old experiences.


  6. Author
    Sheila Norton 3 years ago

    I enjoyed this post, Gilli, and agree with all the points you make. I often have to emphasise to people that my books are FICTION, and although I might sometimes call upon parts of my own life as background, that doesn't make them autobiographical!

  7. Author
    Gilli Allan 3 years ago

    I never believe authors who say they don't use their own experience, when writing fiction. How can you not?
    It doesn't mean that what you write is a faithful account of something that happened to you. It just means that you use your own life, your own responses as a resource. How would I feel if…? How did I feel when…?

  8. Author
    Marie Laval 3 years ago

    Very interesting post, Gilli. I do agree that to create believable characters, who experience feelings and emotions readers can relate to, you need the life experience you don't necessarily have when you're young. As for settings of novels, I usually choose a mix of locations I know well and others I can only dream of visiting one day. This means I have to research quite a bit, but that's part of the fun of being a writer!

  9. Author
    Gilli Allan 3 years ago

    Thanks Marie.
    It's always a cocktail. There's a sense in which everything I write is 'made up'. I just take a bit from here and a bit from there and give it a stir. And sometimes a memory only comes back to me after I've started writing. It's as if the creative process, disturbs something hidden deep in the subconscious. John, above, describes it very well. It's like turning over rocks in a pool. Who knows what floats to the surface?

  10. Author
    Evelyn Steward 3 years ago

    I think a lot of my writing (apart from a few artickes) is imaginary. It is, I believe, a gift I have. Ok, so i may not be the best novel writer in the world, but I think I have more in my imagination than in my experience. I have watched a lot, in my time, read a lot also. Combined, what I have taken on board comes together in a twosome to construct my stiporie. I never went with what tutors said about ' writing what you know' either.

  11. Author
    Gilli Allan 3 years ago

    I think you are agreeing with me, Evelyn. I have never said *everything* I write is from my own personal experience. But it is my belief that whatever kind of story you write, whether Sci Fi, fantasy or romance with billionaires in exotic locations, it will still be underpinned by the life *you* have lived, your impressions, your emotions, your responses.
    Just my opinion, of course!

  12. Author
    Angela Michael 3 years ago

    Elaine Everest your article is life-saving for me. Thanks for sharing your experience about writing.
    top paper writer

  13. Author
    Gilli Allan 3 years ago

    Hello – it's me, Gilli Allan, who wrote this post! maybe you meant to comment on another article?

  14. Author
    Gail Georgiana 3 years ago

    Good Work Elaine Everest, If you are serious about your writing, Write a Book: Get Published, Write Now! is as important a tool as your laptop or your pen. Do yourself a favor, and just buy it…write my term paper

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