A smiling lady with a shock of red hair and a love of the sea is author Gill Hoffs. She’s been on the writing scene since 2010, but no doubt has been writing stories longer than that! I got the chance to ask her a couple of questions, so here it is: our first taste here of what it’s like to be out there and published (and loving it!).
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background etc?
I grew up in a tiny fishing village on the west coast of Scotland and now live in Warrington, in the North West of England, with my husband, little boy, and Coraline Cat. After getting a BSc in Psychology from the University of Glasgow, I worked in children’s homes, then as a carer. I began submitting work in the summer of 2010 and have now had several hundred short stories and articles published as well as “Wild: A Collection” (Pure Slush, 2012), “The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’” (Pen & Sword, 2014, 2015) and “The Lost Story of the William & Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson” (Pen & Sword, 2016).
2. What are you inspired by? This can be anything – places, people, music etc.
Anything and everything. A scroll through twitter, where I follow many history and art accounts, is incredibly stimulating and educational. The PostSecret site, “Dear Prudie” at Slate, and “Humans of…” facebook pages are really useful, too. Children’s picture books are a goldmine and should never be ignored, especially old ones, and I always feel more *me* after a walk along the seashore or canal. I’m pretty sure if I locked myself away by the coast I’d be able to write my next novel there in a frenzied fortnight.
3. Your dream – what would happen to make you die happy?
Oof, there’s so much awfulness out there just now that to die blissfully unaware of actually dying would be the best I think I could hope for. With a bellyful of Nutella, covered in pets, stinking of incense, while listening to strange music. That’s cheerier, isn’t it?
4. Working on anything currently?
My nonfiction agent, Jennie Goloboy of Red Sofa Literary Agency, is currently reading my third shipwreck book “The Lost Story of the Ocean Monarch: Fire, Family and Fidelity” and I’m editing a novel I’d describe as “Lord of the Flies” meets “Jaws” before sending it off to competitions. I’m also writing critiques in my role of adjudicator of an article competition for the Scottish Association of Writers, preparing for some talks on Victorian shipwrecks, and working out whether to edit another novel (a crime thriller this time) or write another one from scratch.
5. Do you research your work – how much, why/why not?
Absolutely. With nonfiction, I’ll binge on research for months. With my novels, I like to look into things in enough detail to get the lingo or idea right enough for it to *feel* authentic for a reader but I try not to get bogged down in explanations and facts. They might be interesting but they can distract from the story and bog down a plot.
6. What’s your main genre – or do you write in lots of different genres?
My book success has been in narrative nonfiction so far but I hope this will broaden into crime thrillers, historical thrillers, and weird fiction in the near future. I read across several genres so it seems entirely natural to me to write across them too.
7. If any of your pieces were adapted, would you prefer Film/TV? Why?
I’d take what I could get, to be frank, but I think films would suit my shipwreck books particularly well as they are contained narratives centred around a single event. I’m often asked by readers when they’ll see them on the big screen and would really love to see these stories there myself.
8. What does your writing schedule look like?
It fits around my son and promotional commitments (e.g. talks, signing events) for the books I have out. I write and research as much as I can, and don’t have a social life as such. Everything is tied up with shipwrecks and writing, basically – and I like it that way.
9. Do you plan or “wing it”?
I plan, especially with nonfiction, but allow myself leeway if I think it’s justified. With fiction, I sometimes start with the back cover blurb. I try and write it for a book I’d want to read then go from there. It’s useful for keeping the book tight and focused – and me!
10. Your best writing tip would be…?
Prepare to be utterly ruthless with yourself and your work, and for others to do the same – and remember it’s generally your work that is being judged, not you, so don’t take things personally.
11. Advice to your younger self?
Everything is going to be alright. For a very long time I was convinced it wouldn’t be. I changed what I could and tried to view events/people/cockups as if they were material for writing and interviews *cough* or tried to distance myself from them mentally and think of them as if this was the book of my life and there was a plot twist coming very soon. Sometimes it would be up to me to change the narrative entirely, and at times I have. It may not work for everyone but it thankfully did for me.
12. How do you decide on titles?
With nonfiction, that’s something the publisher and I (and my agent) go back and forth on until there’s something we all agree will work for search engines and readers. With short fiction it’s often something that pops into my head and actually sparks the story itself. I’ve heard from many novelists that they are often just allocated a title by their publisher and expected to deal with it, so I only give my novels working titles for filing and competition purposes, and try not to get attached as that way lies heartaches and headaches.
13. Favourite new author.
Hmm, not sure. I rarely read books as and when they come out, the exceptions being Ransom Riggs (because I’d read the first of his incredible books and was gagging to read the other two), Belinda Bauer, Shaun Tan, and John Connolly.
14. If you started all over again, what would you do differently?
Nothing really. It’s gone incredibly well for someone starting with no connections or “in” to the world of publishing, and I hope will continue to do so. I probably should have persevered with listing each agent and agency I’ve submitted novels to, but that’s where the search function on Hotmail comes in handy!
15. Number 1 thing you learned from writing your first story.
Trust your gut. We had family visiting and I had this urge – a real craving – to write this story. This was before I got a laptop, and my husband’s PC was in the living room and I had to make excuses and sit with my back to everyone and write it out of my system. I reread it, altered a word or two, and submitted it to a competition I found at the back of a writing magazine. It won, and this really pepped me up. I think this was my first story, but it’s a bit of a blur to be honest. I was sleep-deprived and hormonal and had more stories in my head than time to write them, so my memory of that period isn’t terribly clear.
16. Anything else/other comments before we go?
Trust your gut, put the work in, and be sure to celebrate every positive and every success. The process is as important as the product, at least for you as an author and a human being. Thanks for asking me all these questions 🙂
If you’re interested in following Gill elsewhere, you can find out more about her via Red Sofa Literary Agency, or go to her website – https://gillhoffs.wordpress.com/. You can also follow her on Twitter! Many thanks to Gill for taking part in our interview!