Today I welcome Jean Gill author of “The Troubadour Quartet” and so many other books.

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Hi Jean Gill, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us about yourself and your background.

I’m a Welsh writer and photographer living in the south of France with a big white dog, a scruffy black dog, a Nikon D750 and a man. I taught English in Wales for many years and then headed for the sun when my husband retired. My claim to fame is that I was the first woman to be a secondary Headteacher in the Welsh county of Carmarthen shire. (Actually I was equal first in Wales but my job was in a closing school so I like to give the credit to Marina in Cardigan)

What motivated you to start writing?
I wrote stories when I was a little girl – about pets and magic – then stopped writing when I was at university, daunted by all those great male authors. The poems insisted on being written however and from the time I was 30, my work was getting published. I have drawers full of ideas and I think each one has its ideal form; I know whether it will work as a poem, short story or play. I wrote my first novel when I was 40 .

How do you find or make time to write?
That used to be a real problem when I was working full-time and had a family plus lots of pets. I’ve never cared about a clean, tidy house so mine wasn’t. Writing was a mental balance to the stresses of my job so I think it helped me stay sane. I do have to give full credit to a very understanding husband and family – I do remember a couple of holidays away from home where I spent time writing while everybody else played games.

What were the main challenges in writing your book?
The Troubadours Quartet is set in 1150-1158 and I try to make all the historical events and people as accurate as possible, while weaving the adventures of my fictional characters into real history. The research for each book takes a year before I feel I have the background in my head.

Are your stories based on someone you know or on events you have experienced?
At my age I have a lot of experiences to draw on and they inform my fiction rather than being re-told in it. Occasionally an actual incident works its way into a story; the tragedy at the heart of ‘Snake on Saturdays’ is one I witnessed and that haunted me until I wrote the book. None of my fictional characters are based on real people but of course nobody believes that. When my vet turned up at the book launch for ‘Snake on Saturdays’ everybody clapped – in the book, the heroine has a passionate affair with a vet 

You have published all kinds of books, poetry, novels, and books about dog training. How many books have you written?
18 including the three books I’ve translated into English from French

You are also a photographer. What do you like to photograph, people, scenery or a bit of everything?
I came late to photography, inspired by a friend who was a photographer and encouraged by my husband who bought me my first good camera for Valentine’s Day in 2008. I wanted to capture Provence in photos, to show family and friends why I love it here. I had photos published in my French lifestyle and food articles for France Magazine. I wrote a cookbook – cooking with goat cheese – and took the photos to illustrate it.

I started off as a stock photographer and still enjoy shooting a wide variety of subjects suitable for the commercial market. In the last year, I’ve taken some commissions for portraits and covering events, and I’ve been offered an exhibition in a local gallery. I’m wary of the art photography world so have said no – so far. I am however finding my own ‘voice’ and I think this shows in my latest gallery. It is hard now for me to look at my photos of Paris, taken only a fortnight ago, as recent events add a sense of foreboding. I still think the gallery represents a step forward in my work.

What book or books have influenced you or your writing? Why?
So many! I asked my parents for a copy of Stevie Smith’s poetry as my graduation present. They were appalled at such a waste of money but complied. Stevie Smith was the antidote to all those great men in my degree and I think she freed up something in me and allowed me to write again. I will never be a Great Man  A personal favourite is her poem The Galloping Cat that starts

Oh I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
One day when I was
Galloping about doing good, I saw
A Figure in the path; I said
Get off! (Be-
I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good)

Is there an author that you considerer a mentor?
Not really. I have worked with and learned from many authors but I would say I’m a solitary writer. I don’t show my work until it is complete. Then I can accept criticism and re-write. I do have a wonderful network of fellow-writers and my inner circle consists of people whose opinions I trust.

What are reading now?
‘The Watchmage of Old New York’ by C.S. Sanders and I’m impressed. It’s not often I read a fantasy novel that offers me something new and I love the way the author creates a magical world parallel to 19thC New York, with a sort of ‘closed room’ mystery at the heart of it.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Many! Jason Greensides’ ‘The Distant Sound of Violence’ and Mark Fine’s ‘The Zebra Affair’ have both affected my thinking on society today, as well as being cracking stories. Molly Gambiza’s ‘A Woman’s Weakness’ shows the raw experience of culture clash for a Ugandan woman in the UK, struggling to support her family. The Readers Circle of Avenue Park has a great selection of new authors and I have been reading many of them

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
The 12th century research has amazed me. I had no idea that women in Occitania (now southern France) had so much power or so many professions; they were rulers, doctors, bakers and merchants. Discovering characters like Ermengarda, ruler of Narbonne, or Melisende, the Queen of Jerusalem, has been a great adventure. As for my discovery that the medieval church prevented advances such as paper-making for two centuries because they were ‘Infidel inventions’ – don’t start me off on that topic!

Do you have any advice for other writers?
‘Don’t get it right, get it written’ works for me. First I write a book. Then I begin the painstaking work of making it good; editing and re-editing. One of my little habits is to stop work each day knowing what comes next – I even leave a note to myself below the last line. Then when I sit down I know how to start and I never blank (touch wood!)
About your book…

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The Troubadours Quartet, what is it about?
1150 Provence, just after the disastrous 2nd Crusade (from a Christian viewpoint) was the heartland of the troubadours. The rock stars of their time, troubadours entertained the sophisticated courts of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Ermengarda of Narbonne and Etiennette of Les Baux with a mix of scandal and love songs. Romantic love was celebrated in song and was personal; marriage was political and public, a question of alliance.

Every ruler maintained a balance of power through alliances and battles, complicated by relations between the Christians, the Muslims and the Jews, three groups inter-connected within each community, whatever the official line from the Pope.
Can you tell us something about the main character or characters?
Estela de Matin is on the run from an abusive family with only her beautiful voice and a lute to provide her with a living. She finds more than a mentor in Dragonetz los Pros, Queen Eleanor’s finest troubadour and Commander of the Guard and an ex-Crusader. Traumatized and sick of war, Dragonetz fights his attraction to Estela and puts his considerable ingenuity into creating a papermill, that wonderful Moorish invention.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I’m very happy with reviews where readers loved the strong women characters and the complexity of inter-faith living in medieval times. There is so much that is true today – Christians and ‘infidels’ at war in ‘the Holy Land’ and yet in Iberia and Occitania (Spain and France) there are multi-faith businesses and friendships. I get very angry at medieval Crusade novels where the Christians are the goodies and the Muslims are the baddies, when the truth is that the 2nd Crusade was an invasion of the middle east by profiteering Franks, hoping to gain some land, especially for the younger sons who lacked land back home in the north of France. I love it when readers appreciate and really like my main Moorish character.
Do you have anything that you want to say to your readers?
Try Book 1 ‘Song at Dawn’ – it’s free. I’m told ‘it’s like Game of Thrones but with real history’. If you review any of my books, do send me a photo of your dog – or one you know. I have a lovely Gallery of Readers’ dogs and I’m hoping to add to that. Winner of a Silver IPPY Award 2015 for Best Author Website

Latest book
Plaint for Provence, Bk 3 in ‘The Troubadours Quartet’ : publication date 30th November 2015
Book 1 ‘Song at Dawn’ is available FREE.
IPPY Award for Best Author Website
The Troubadours Page
Youtube book trailers
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