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Interview with Gillian Flynn 2012

author, Gillian Flynn

After three years of not having anything published, Crime Fiction writer, Gillian Flynn, explains to Chris High why her latest novel, Gone Girl, makes her feel so happy to be back.

Readers familiar with Gillian Flynn’s previous award winning novels, Sharp Objects (2007) and Dark Places (2009), will get that her latest outing, Gone Girl (Weidenfield & Nicolson), is going to be special. For those unfamiliar with Gillian Flynn’s previous two novels, what have you been doing? As debuts go,  Chicago based author Gillian didn’t fair too badly as Sharp Objects not only picked up the Crime Writers Association New Blood award in 2008, but also the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. This was then followed, in 2009, by Dark Places scooping more silverware and a whole heap of critical – and readership – acclaim in the process.

Now following a hiatus of three years, Gillian Flynn is back to create another stir amongst the cognoscenti of Crime and to push even harder on the genre’s barriers.  ‘I will never be a book-a-year author because I’m just not that sharp,’ she explained, ‘or that efficient at all. I don’t like to plot too much out ahead of time, either, as I like to see where the characters take me. That sounds very author-y, but it’s the only way I know how to do it. And I’m very lucky to have a publisher that is willing to wait for a book that I’m proud of, rather than to pry it from my graspy little fingers before I feel that it’s done. Gone Girl also took a little longer because I gave birth to our son in the middle of writing the first draft and, if I could give some very basic writing advice, it’d be don’t give birth in the middle of writing a first draft as you tend to lose some momentum.’

Gone GirlGone Girl is a deeply sinister, thought provoking novel concerning marriage and the ugliness of human frailty. Given that Gillian has not been long married herself, has her husband read the noveland, if so, how many bunches of flowers has he bought since? ‘I actually feel like I should be the one buying the flowers. It’s a very delicate thing to tell your spouse “I want to write about the darkest side of marriage and really explore why it is some marriages go so toxic”. He was very kind all along in telling me not to censor myself, and I tried to be very careful to not use anything specific from our lives, but I think every couple in a relationship will recognize certain markers in the book though, hopefully, not such an extreme darkness.’

It has to be said that neither of the main protagonists – Nick and Amy – are in any way, shape or form morally upright or, indeed, likeable, which is the absolute beauty of this story and it is with this in mind that Flynn’s skills really shine. She without question a consummate writer; taking the expected, twisting and turning it, shaping and moulding the characters and stretching the plot so that it becomes something almost magisterial is an art form that few can say they have mastered, but one that this author can clearly teach to Phd standards.

As this tale of understanding, trust and commitment grows ever darker and becomes infused with suspicion, surmise, mistrust accusation and counter-accusation so does the reader become more embroiled in the events that transpire, so how does Gillian create such a clear 3D image on the page, and does she more or less know what she’s after  from the start? ‘I mostly had a grip on Nick from the start: Golden boy, people pleaser, manipulator. Amy was much trickier and it took a while to find her voice. For instance, in early drafts, she had different occupations, her parents had different occupations, and then I realized the key was that this was a woman who had been worshipped most of her life, and had everything going for her; she was rich, beautiful, brilliant, the ennobled icon of a children’s book series, Amazing Amy. She’s never had any problems and it’s this which what both attracts and repels Nick.

‘When I start, I don’t know a thing, really, other than my very basic premise: wife goes missing on five-year anniversary—something is fishy with the husband—but aside from that, I was figuring it out as I went along. I’ve written three books and never known the ending to any of them. I’m always about 30 pages from the end, typing along, thinking “hmmm I wonder what’s going to happen?” Then I figure it out and rewrite accordingly. There are more efficient ways to write, but this one seems to work for me: To basically write two books for every one that gets published.’

The narrative takes place for a majority of the novel in the first person was maintaining the pace and sense of place difficult? ‘There was the issue of keeping both Amy’s and Nick’s voices distinct, since they are both in first person. It’s the first time I’ve done a first-person male voice, so occasionally my husband would get really strange questions like “Does this sound manly enough?” And I did find it very challenging keeping track of the timelines and chronology and such—mine is not an ordered mind. I scribble notes on legal pads and tape them to the walls of my office, so by the end of Gone Girl, the room looked like a madhouse, with random bits of paper with notes only I could decode. It’s all very weird.’

Even the design of the book itself is artful, with it black page edging and simple, wispy-haired cover shot. How much say does an author have in the design of the finished novel? ‘I love the book’s design and I can say that because I had absolutely nothing to do with it. Design is so beyond my realm of talent and I am amazed that an artist can read a book and manage to distil its tone in a single image. I’ve been lucky with all my covers, in all honesty, but I know some writers who have hated theirs and what an awful feeling that must be to see your beloved book with a cover on it that makes you cringe.’

And like all people who work, writers are no different to others inasmuch as they too must have bits they love and bits they hate about their profession.  ‘The best times are the breakthrough moments, when you figure out a scene or a character or a plot twist. Mine  tend to happen when I’m not at the desk, usually when I’m on my midday ramble, or in the middle of the night or taking a bath.

‘The worst part is that when you are writing a particularly ugly, dark scene, it’s hard to shake it off. My office is in the basement of our house and I always try to leave the nasty mood downstairs before I return to the real world so that it doesn’t infect the home. I am a big fan of pulling up the video of Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly doing their “Moses Supposes” dance number from Singin’ in the Rain. You can’t help but be happy after that.

‘Another part of the job that is really special, too, are my trips to the UK and getting to hang out with writers like Mark Billingham along with  readers, not only of my books, but of Crime Fiction in general, and this year I’ll be at the Harrogate International Crime Writers Festival in July, which is something I’m really looking forward to.’

With two award winning novels already in the bag, Gillian Flynn has surely spawned another with Gone Girl, a book guaranteed to keep you awake at nights, wondering what it is that’s keeping your loved one awake nights.

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Interview with author, Gillian Flynn in 2007 by Chris High



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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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