There is an old saying that everyone has a book in them, but those that have managed to turn this cliché into reality are few and far between. The dedication it takes to complete a full-length novel and then get it published is no mean feat. It is often assumed that the authors we love have written stories since their childhood and always had the desire to become published. Turning this notion on its head is Darlington author Gillian Jackson, whose psychological thriller The Deception is out now.
Writing isn’t something that Gillian has always done; in fact, it was never particularly a career she thought about pursuing, as she explains: “I never expected that I would be a published writer as I didn’t do well at school … I must have been in my early fifties when I started writing.”
College led to writing
When she left school, Gillian became a nursery nurse and eventually opened up her own nursery, which she ran for 30 years. However, issues with her back resulted in her needing to change careers. Writing still wasn’t an option she initially considered, despite the fact she would make up stories and produce little books for the children she cared for. Gillian returned to college to complete levels 2 and 3 in counselling, never expecting that this would be the start of a completely new passion: “I was a child who hated school but, when I did the counselling course, I couldn’t get enough homework. I really liked the writing, the assignments and the research, and I thrived on it.”
Although Gillian planned to counsel voluntarily on the completion of her courses, she also decided that she would like to carry on writing. She told me, “I knew I wanted to volunteer … but I also wanted to carry on writing, so that’s where it began. Writing ran concurrently with voluntary work.” Enrolling on a correspondence course with The Writer’s Bureau pushed Gillian out of her comfort zone as she “was doing things like interviews and historical features, and … managed to sell some features, articles, and short stories.”
Gillian worked for five years supporting victims of crime at a charitable organisation and she found “the course changed my thoughts on life and how I viewed things, but working for Victim Support threw me into another area completely.” Her experiences would go on to inform the genres she writes in and her storytelling. Supporting victims through the court process gave her a “good grounding in court procedure, how the police work and things like that. I don’t deliberately put it into my writing but it helps when I need to know things.” As she writes predominantly psychological thrillers, this background knowledge helps to ensure her novels are authentic while still being gripping.
Having worked closely with people during difficult times in their life has also helped the development of Gillian’s characters, whether they be the protagonist in one of her women’s fiction novels or the antagonist in a dark suspense tale: “Reactions often surprised me and that’s helpful with writing as we don’t always react the same way to death or to any situation in life; we all react differently.”
The creative writing process itself is, I think, fascinating to those of us who read but don’t write. It was surprising to learn that Gillian doesn’t know what type of book she will be writing when she begins. “I start with the story and the idea and sometimes it develops to be a little bit more gritty and perhaps becomes more of a psychological thriller. I never know how a book is going to end. I have a vague idea of the story, but the characters can surprise me as to where they take me.” Gillian isn’t a believer in writer’s block, and she advocates it being “better to write something than just say I can’t do it. You might go back the next day and rewrite it completely, but you can’t edit it if it’s not there.”
For those of you reading who have the desire to write a book, Gillian offers this advice: “Do it! If you don’t try you’ll never know, but it is important to persevere … A lot of writing is about the editing; you go over and over it until you are happy with it. Perseverance and editing are the two big things for me.”
Despite having a number of books published, the fact she is an actual author still hasn’t fully sunk in and, although this career path was never something she planned, Gillian loves it and says, “It’s been a great process and I can’t imagine life without writing now.”
So maybe the old saying is true and we do all potentially have a book within us. Gillian is certainly evidence of that and, it has to be said, an inspiration to those who aspire to write and have work published.
Look out for Gillian’s next psychological thriller Abduction, which is out on 13 July 2022.