I am pleased to be able to feature another guest post by U.K. author Linda Gillard. She gives you some background on the writing of her lovely book, Emotional Geology, and is also offering a giveaway of one copy to one lucky reader in the U.S. or U.K. To enter, please leave a comment relevant to this post with your email address. For an additional entry, twitter about this contest and leave a separate comment with your twitter name. Deadline to enter is January 18, and the winner, to be chosen by randomizer.org, will be announced January 19.
WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU SCRAPS, MAKE QUILTS
by Linda Gillard
Some writers quilt, some quilters write. I do both. Some years ago I wrote a novel about a quilter: EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY (published by Transita). It wasn’t until I set about writing a novel that it struck me how similar the processes of writing and quilting can be.
Once upon a time I was a cracked-up teacher recovering from stress-related illness, living in the suburbs, contemplating the ruins of my career. Finding myself with time on my hands, I took up quilting. I found it therapeutic working with shape and colour, but as I got better, I longed to do something with words. I decided I would try to write some fiction, just for fun, just for me.
I embarked on a self-indulgent, fantasy-fulfilling novel about all the things I was interested in – quilts, Scottish islands, mountains, geology, poetry, Gaelic and teaching. I started off with one hunky hero, then decided, what the hell – this was my treat, I’d have two. As I wasn’t writing for publication, I made the heroine forty-seven (my age at the time) and the heroes younger. (I said it was self-indulgent.) The book was about a woman who went to live alone on a remote Scottish island. Pure fantasy…
I was too exhausted to write or even plan anything as ambitious as a novel. I wasn’t ready to tackle a fictional double bed quilt, I just wanted to play around making blocks. And that’s how EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY came to have its unusual “patchwork” structure.
I set myself the manageable task of writing a lot of short pieces about my textile artist and her turbulent life, episodes that were set in different times and places (mostly the Hebridean islands of North Uist and Skye, off the north west coast of Scotland). If my “blocks” were going to tell a story, it would have to be cumulatively. Only when they were all assembled could an overall “design” or story emerge. But I wasn’t too bothered. No one would ever read this book. I was just having fun being creative and experimental, trying out different arrangements of “blocks.”
In true quilt-making fashion, there came a critical point when life got very complicated and I had to abandon my novel. I shoved it in a cupboard where it languished for a couple of years. When the dust settled, we decided to fulfil a long-held dream and downshift to the Isle of Skye. (A tip: if you want to guarantee your offspring actually leave home, move to the Outer Hebrides. Drastic, I know, but cheaper in the long run than keeping the fridge and drinks cabinet stocked.)
When we announced our decision everyone thought we were mad. Some didn’t mind saying so. A few friends were misty-eyed with congratulations, others seemed unaccountably angry. Even the removal men said we’d be back. (Et tu Brute?)
My husband got work as a teacher on the isle of Harris and so we found ourselves living on different islands, commuting by ferry to see each other. I’d become a middle-aged woman living alone on a Hebridean island, making quilts. Be careful what you wish for…
Alone in a five-bedroom house on a hillside two miles from the nearest shop (did I mention I don’t drive?) life wasn’t exactly plain sailing, but when I wasn’t bursting into tears at the sight of photos of absent family members, I was pretty excited. There were weasels on the patio, buzzards on the fence-posts and I had the Cuillin mountain range at the bottom of my garden.
In my solitude I started to think about my abandoned novel. I dug it out and found to my amazement that all the things I’d imagined – moving to an island community, the enveloping silence, the blackout darkness at night, the weird shifts between past and present that take place in your mind when you live alone and rarely speak – they had all come to pass (except, unfortunately, the two hunky heroes.)
I looked at my fictional “blocks” and concluded they weren’t bad. I decided I’d make some more. Obsession kicked in, midnight oil was burned. I existed on a diet of cheese and oatcakes and forgot that I had an oven. (A regime familiar to those of you who quilt.) Finally I spread all my printed sheets of paper on the floor, rearranging them many times in an attempt to find a “ quilt lay-out” that worked. When I was satisfied with the running order, I “stitched” all the blocks together on the PC, hoping they’d make some sort of novel. An agent thought they did. So did a publisher. At the age of 53 I found myself a published novelist.
I like to think of EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY as my fictional quilt. It’s layered in time as the story moves back and forth over the years; certain themes (landscape, memory, mountaineering, geology) run through the narrative like brightly coloured threads; I’ve embellished it with odd bits of Gaelic and poetry. One poem actually represents a memorial quilt and the text is set out on the page as a rectangle, framed with a border. It even has a label (which is more than can be said for some of my quilts.)
EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY isn’t autobiography by any means but, as with any quilt, a lot of me went into it. My first novel didn’t turn out quite how I’d expected (what quilt ever does?) but unlike many of my other quilts, this one was finished.
The male hero in Emotional Geology is named Calum. This is the picture Linda sent to show me how she was visualizing him.