I am delighted to welcome Gill Paul to the blog today. I am a big fan of Gill's writing and loved her novel set on the Titanic last year 'Women and Children First'. This year, Gill has written an amazing book called 'The Affair', which is published on Thursday. It is a romance set in Rome during the early 1960s on the film set of Cleopatra, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. My review will be up on Thursday.
Please tell us a little about yourself
My mother (who died nine years ago) taught me a number of life lessons, some of which I listened to and most of which I ignored. One piece of advice I totally agree with is “Never miss a party”. You can always leave if you’re not enjoying yourself, but if you don’t go you’ll never know what you’ve missed… She also wanted me to get married as soon as I met “The One” and produce lots of little grandchildren for her. Well, I’ve met lots of “The Ones” but haven’t yet married any of them (thank goodness!), and I’ve been way too busy for little ones. I live in North London and am lucky enough to earn a living as an author of fiction and non-fiction, writing on history and health mainly, and occasionally ghostwriting for celebs.
Please tell us a little about 'The Affair'
‘The Affair’ is a story set in Rome in 1962 when ‘Cleopatra’ was being filmed at Cinecittà and Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were falling in love. It was a period of great change, when gloomy postwar society began to transform into the colourful 1960s. Elizabeth Taylor was an incredibly modern woman, and I’ve chosen a central character, Diana, who pursues a career in film against her husband’s wishes, something that would have been unusual for the day. Diana may be clever but she is not remotely streetwise and she is thrust into experiences in Rome that highlight her naivety and lead her into trouble and heartbreak. Another main character, Scott, is an American journalist on his first posting who reluctantly becomes part of the paparazzi pack pursuing Taylor and Burton. I love Scott. He’s a womanizer but not a totally heartless one.
What sort of research did you undertake whilst writing the book? Did you get the chance to visit Rome?
Of course I visited Rome! Tip to all novelists: foreign travel is tax-deductible if you are visiting locations for your novels! That sounds very materialistic… In fact, I love Rome and would go there at the drop of a hat. My research for ‘The Affair’ started with contacting everyone who is still alive who worked on ‘Cleopatra’, and I was lucky to find a wonderful man called John Gayford, who played a centurion in the film and has been invaluable in helping me to make sure every detail in the novel is strictly accurate. I also read books about the making of the film, biographies of the main protagonists, and Italian, American and British fiction of the era (which is useful for getting a feel for the way people spoke).
Are you working on anything now and, if so, can you tell us anything about it?
I’m working on two books just now: one is a novel I’ve always wanted to write, set in Paris in the 1920s. It’s about an Englishman who has been very damaged by his experiences in the First World War and the French girl who takes him under her wing. I can’t say too much, but it’s tragic and I often find myself crying at the computer. The other book is a non-fiction one called “World War Two Love Stories”, part of a ‘Love Stories’ series I write. I’ve been interviewing couples who met during the war about their stories – some with happy endings, some not. It’s fascinating stuff.
What was your journey to publication like?
This is the second novel I’ve written for Avon and we had agreed the subject in advance so all I had to do was sit down and write. What luxury! I feel incredibly lucky to get paid for writing stories I make up in my head. Of course, this is the tricky bit now. As I write, it’s three days before publication, my book has gone out to reviewers and I’m waiting to see if anyone likes it – so I’ve got permanent butterflies. Trying to make readers aware of your book’s existence and entice them to try it is hard when there is so much competition out there. That’s why I’m incredibly grateful to you, Sarah, for letting me make a guest appearance on your site.
What do you like to do outside of writing?
You’re going to think I’m a loony (my friends do) but I swim all year round in an open-air pond on Hampstead Heath. The water temperature went down to 2C this winter and there was ice on the surface, but you come out of the water grinning ear to ear from a huge endorphin rush. It’s addictive and if I have to miss a day I get withdrawal symptoms. I also travel as much as I can afford, cook my favourite spicy foods, go to movies and theatre, and go to parties (or throw my own). Hopefully Mum would approve – despite the lack of grandchildren.
You can find out more about Gill and 'The Affarir' on her website: http://www.gillpaul.com/