Please meet Gilly. She is a prolific author and coach who can also make fibre sexy!
As an author of 15 books, do you have a preferred kind/genre?
I write mostly about food simply not just because publishing likes its authors in a box but because I love the stories that people tell about food. I grew up with tales of feasting and cooking all my life and now it’s my turn to tell them. And I do love a good chef! In fact it was Marco Pierre White who set me on my path in food writing; I was co-writing my first book, ‘The Mediterranean Health Diet’ with Rowena Goldman after we’d made a programme on the world’s healthiest village for Channel 4’s ‘Food File’ back in 1993. It was the first TV series on the politics of food, and we were in the business of making tricky subjects like health sexy enough for TV audiences. We’d translated phrases like ‘trans-fatty acids’ and unravelled the myths around cholesterol but we needed something else. It was an interview I did with Marco for Taste Magazine that did it. He suggested putting chefs’ recipes in the second half of the book and offered to introduce me to some of the chefs who had come out of his kitchen, chefs like Jean-Christophe Novelli, Philip Howard and Simon Gueller. I had a wonderful time going round the UK, staying with them, eating their amazing food and being treated like a queen, and all thanks to Marco.
I was commissioned to write another one straight away. My brief for that one: make fibre sexy! It was also a cover mount for The Guardian and New Woman magazine and so had the biggest print run of all the books I’ve ever written!
I did the same thing with that one and met even more gorgeous chefs who taught me so much more about food. A chef is a peculiar cross between an artist and a businessman and unlike any other type of person I’ve worked with, and I’ve loved weaving stories about food and culture out of my interviews with them ever since. My book about Australian food was in conversation with chefs whose families came over in the waves of immigration from the 1950s (Italians), ‘60s (Greeks) ‘70s (Vietnamese) to create the amazing fusion food that you get there now. I’m doing an academic book at the moment called ‘Taste and the TV Chef’ which looks at the way TV chefs construct who we are and what we eat, and I can’t wait to chat about it all with people like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Yotam Ottolenghi I really must sort that out, actually!
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been a diary writer since I was 10 and always used written words to say what I wanted to say, but it was TV and Radio that I went into. It was when I was ready to leave BBC GLR that a friend who was the editor of New Woman at the time suggested that I write for her. I was amazed! I’d never written in my life, but she convinced me that writing for Radio had given me the training that I needed, that writing should have a voice. She gave me a TV column first and then started commissioning features. I still love writing articles and use them to get me to the places I like to travel to.
I wrote a lot while I was still in TV but when I wanted to have children, it was the perfect thing to do while I was – and still am – at home. I really wanted to be here as much as possible with my two girls, and I’ve become a bit of a past master at using writing to create new businesses that I can run from home. The Juicy Guide to Brighton and Hove was my first; when we moved from London to Brighton in 1997, we knew nothing about what to do in the city and without a Time Out to give us independent advice, we created our own. I teamed up with a local mother who knew what was what and we wrote five annual guides until it was sold in 2005 to a social media whizz. He was working on a new concept in sharing ideas and opinions…
Please describe your typical writing day?
Yes! I’m very disciplined about my writing – in that I always start by 9am and finish around 5 – with a few hours off in the afternoon to taxi the kids. But there’s so much more to writing than just writing! I love Facebook and I’ve just downloaded TweetDeck to see if I can get as much use out of Twitter - which I still find a bit overwhelming. Social media is great for finding stories; I’m always on the lookout for remarkable people who do things to change people’s lives for one of the magazines I write for and my FB community seems to know plenty of them. I’m researching a trip to Malaysia and Borneo at Easter and am looking for stories on conservation and eco-travel and again, my FB friends always seem to know someone who knows someone who can help. It does mean that I tend to spend a lot of time on FB or Twitter, but when it’s time to write, I turn them both off. But after a couple of hours of complete immersion, I do like to pop in to see what’s going on. It feels like a house party where there’s always a good conversation going on. You can either choose to join or not.
As a writing coach, has that part of your work changed as more people seem to want to write?
Well, yes but not in the way you might expect. I teach academics and business people probably more than I teach writers these days. And that's because of the double whammy of social media’s need for everyone to be searchable and the crisis in British universities. Poor old academics are taught to write in the most sober of styles and are not the best at summing up their research for an impatient internet reader. It’s fun using dreamwriting, a similar creative technique to free writing or morning pages that I’ve developed, to help neuro-science PhD students find their voice to set them apart from the crowd! They’ve often forgotten how to use that part of their brain!
What tips can you share for potential authors?
Use social media! It’s not just great for making connections, but it also gives you the opportunity to find the story in the every day. The ability to see something that’s worth posting, that you think will reach people – and then getting immediate feedback or not - is a great exercise for your creative muscles.
Anything you'd like to add
We’re building a new eco-house in three acres of land at the moment which we hope will be a writers’ retreat by this time next year. It’s going to be called The Sussex House Party and will be a real version of Facebook (!) where there’ll be plenty of ideas, inspiration and conversation, as well as the ability to turn off completely.
Dreamwriting will be at the core of what we offer, but the magic of the group will be the thing that people will take home http://sussexhouseparty.wordpress.com/
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