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Interview with Gillian Flynn 2007

Image: Gillian FlynnAmerican TV Critic Gillian goes in at the “Sharp” end
By Chris High

Entertainment Weekly chief TV critic, Gillian Flynn, has long harboured the desire to write fiction and, by signing a two-book deal with Weidenfeld & Nicolson, that ambition has recently been realised with the publication of her debut crime novel, Sharp Objects.

Gillian comes from Kansas City. The daughter of a Film Professor and a reading teacher, it’s perhaps not surprising that she has ended up as a TV critic and an author of books with a journalistic slant.

Sharp Objects is set in Missouri and details the return home of Camille Preaker, an investigative journalist working for a failing Chicago newspaper. Camille has many dark secrets, yet uncovers many more on her way to uncovering the gruesome truth behind the murders of two girls, aged nine and ten.

A far cry from the cosy world of television, what compelled Gillian to write the book now? ‘I started writing it just to see if I could,’ Gillian explained. ‘I’ve always obsessed over mysteries and I’d read everything by Agatha Christie before moving on to darker stuff. I’d had this idea for a character, Camille Preaker, jangling around in my head so long, I figured it was time to let her out and see what happened.’

Even before its release on January 10th the book received high praise from none other than Stephen King and Harlan Coben. King went so far as to say that he hadn’t read such a relentlessly creepy family saga in thirty years. ‘To have Stephen King, whose work I’ve been a fan of since childhood, call my novel “an admirably nasty piece of work,” is a fairly amazing thing. As for Harlan, he is just a brilliant, humane, intelligent writer, so it’s a thrill he even read my book.’

Camille is, it is fair say, an incredibly complex and deeply disturbed character. Was she difficult to “get into” or was she always going to be so troubled? ‘Oh, she was always troubled,’ Gillian laughs. ‘She’s a cutter: someone with the psychological need to carve into herself. She’s a problem drinker, too. Booze helps calm her down. That character was the genesis of Sharp Objects. What kind of family would create a woman who carved—and healed—herself in secret? What kind of town might she hail from? What was her voice? Camille had to have more to offer than just darkness, though, or no one would stick with her for 200-plus pages. She’s got a wry sense of humour and, despite her illnesses, she’s incredibly self aware and very buoyant. I completely adore her.’
So, how much of Camille is in Gillian and vice versa? ‘I’ve definitely had bouts where I’ve found life pretty grim and I used that mind-frame with Camille. We also share a sense of humour and a fervent hope that people will simply act reasonably. That aside very little. I’m lucky that I really like my family and job, which is probably why I was able to write such a dark book.’

For a novel that is so well detailed, Gillian says that not a great deal of research went into writing the story. ‘I did enough so I knew what I was talking about, then stopped,’ Gillian explained. ‘I didn’t want the book to feel clinical or procedural because Camille had her own story to tell. I think too much research can sometimes get in the way.’
Was it difficult finding an agent? ‘I wrote the entire book without an agent or publisher then started casting around. The woman who ended up representing me was the kind of woman I’d like to share a meal with—she was smart, funny, and liked the same things about the book I did.’

Gillian has three pieces of advice for aspiring authors. ‘The most important thing is to read all the time. It’s crucial to have your brain rattling with good writing. Secondly, you’ll be tempted to write what you think a publisher or reader will want. Don’t. Authors who trust themselves write the best books. Write what you want and the rest will follow. Thirdly, don’t stop writing. Even if you hit a snag—and you will—push forward. It’s easy to get trapped in the first fifty pages, rewriting them over and over. True, you’ll have a brilliant opening fifty pages, but you won’t have a book. Get a rough draft down even if you haven’t figured it all out, because you can’t really see the snags until you can really see the snags.’

With such a hectic schedule ahead, what’s next for Gillian Flynn? ‘I’m in the process of writing a mystery based on a tabloid murder trial that comes back to haunt its participants. It’s about family loyalty, tricks of memory and devil worship and is due sometime in 2008. I’d like to revisit Camille some day. She’s a crime reporter so could certainly stumble into something else, but for now there is no specific plan. I spent a long time in her brain and I’m happy to get back into mine for the time being.’

More Information:

Sharp Objects is available from: From January 10th

Parts of this interview have, or will, appear in other publications and in other formats.

If you would like to comment on this interview with Gillian Flynn, please feel free to cantact me - GUESTBOOK

“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.
© 2007 all rights reserved