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Interview with Gilly MacMillan 2015

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There is no question that Gilly MacMillan’s novel, Burnt Paper Sky (Piaktus), is destined to become one of the best written novels – certainly that penned by a debut author – to be published this year. It’s gripping tale of the torment faced by Rachel Jenner, the mother of a missing child, snatched whilst walking in the woods, will resonate with many and the questions of trust, morality and the role social media plays in establishing what we as outsiders choose to believe are brought steadfastly font-and-centre so that what we are left with is a nerve jangling journey through the deepest realms of ethical judgement. “I’m a mother myself and the starting premise of the book was simple: I knew I wanted to write a page-turner,” Gilly explained. “I tried to imagine the worst possible scenario I could and play it out through the eyes of a character that I could relate to. The thought of losing a child, without any idea of what’s happened to them, is a nightmarish one, so I started there.”

Delivering on the premise of Burnt Paper Sky was certainly challenging, so finally seeing the book on the shelves came as something of a reward in itself. “There’s definitely a large measure of relief, although it does come with a dose of nerves too, as seeing the book on the shelves makes you realise that it’s make-or-break time.  You can only hope that people will enjoy it. It was definitely tricky to write, mostly because it’s exhausting to think yourself so deeply into the mind of somebody who is experiencing the things that both my narrators do in the novel.  I went for many dog walks, and stepped away from my computer frequently, to get a break from it.  Having said that, it felt worth it because I think we all feel our own worlds intensely, no matter what’s happening to us, so that level of intensity also felt essential as a way to do justice to the characters and the situation they find themselves in.”

The story is related through two very differing points of view: One being Rachel’s, the other being that of DI Jim Clemo who has been tasked with finding the missing boy. “In the first draft of the novel, the entire narrative was from the point of view of Rachel, and it was quite a linear story, told much more simply than it is now. I then realised I had to make it more complex and introduce somebody who could be a counterpoint to Rachel’s narrative, and once I’d decided on telling the tale from the point of view of DI Jim Clemo, the fun began.  I wrote his story separately, and then began to weave the narratives together, adding in the social media and blog elements as I progressed.  It was meticulous, and laborious, and I used many, many post-it notes on the wall of my office to make sure everything knit together.  As you might imagine, things had to be rewritten to make it work, and the input from my editor was crucial, but I hope the method I used means that the voices of my two narrators remain as fresh and strong and urgent as possible throughout.” 

So, what was the biggest challenge Gilly faced in distinguishing the voices of each commentator? “Depicting both of them struggling with the situation they found themselves in, and feeling versions of the same emotions, but not in the same way.  It helped that Jim Clemo’s involvement with the case is professional, while Rachel’s is about as personal as it’s possible to be.  Even so, both are touched by the circumstances, and that’s partly why I chose to include the transcripts.  I felt it was important to give the reader a break from their voices, and also to add some perspective to Jim’s experience. However, I will admit that I did feel at times that my head might explode.”

And, as always, what’s next? “I submitted my second book this summer!  It’s another psychological thriller, and I’m very excited about it because it has a complex, twisty plot and a cast of characters who both thrilled and unnerved me as I wrote it.  The action takes place over a short time scale and is intense and claustrophobic.  The main character is Zoe Maisey – child genius, musical sensation – who, several years earlier, caused the death of three teenagers.  She served her time, and now she’s free.  Zoe’s story begins with her giving the musical performance of her life, but by midnight her mother is dead.  The book is a story about the wrongs of our past not letting go in the present and how hard we must fight for second chances.  It’s called Butterfly in the Dark and, so far as I know, will be published in 2016.

Front cover of the book 'Burnt Paper Sky'.Read Chris High’s Review of Burnt Paper Sky here For more information and updates:



If you would like to comment on this interview with Gilly MacMillan in 2015, please feel free to contact 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.
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