Grant Gillespie is currently writing a novel, Nothing Dies, a ghost story set just after WW2. He is also working on a play The Daughters, based on a Katherine Mansfield short story and is co-writing (with Kate Ashfield for the production company Neon Ink) a TV series, Harvest.
He is been a compulsive writer of stories since he was at school and, while taking his A-levels, he won a place on a creative writing course with the wonderful novelist Helen Dunmore. He then went on to study English Literature at the University of Glasgow (MA). Since then, He has worked professionally as both an actor and a writer. His debut novel, The Cuckoo Boy, was published in 2010.
What inspired you to start writing?
Growing up I was an only child and, to entertain myself, I spent a lot of time ‘make-believing’, conjuring up characters and talking to them (often precociously bossing them around). So, once I’d learned how to write, it was a natural progression to capture these creations on the page.
If reading fiction is a form of escapism, writing it is even more so. For me, it’s always been a form of retreat, a break from reality. When I write I leave my life behind. Our lives and our fictions are what we make them; we are the authors of both. To be honest, the alternate worlds I create can be just as messy and frustrating as the ‘real’ one, but at least I get to make different mistakes there.
What did you like to read when you were a boy?
I was a voracious reader as a small thing, often under the bed-covers with a torch. (It baffles me why parents stop children from reading.) As well as my books, my second passion was animals, so I was obsessed with Winnie The Pooh, The Animals of Farthing Wood and the Willard Price books. My most-prized book had to be Alice in Wonderland.
What is the greatest challenge in writing a book?
The hardest part for me is the narrative arc. I need to know the story’s beats before I can properly put pen to paper. For every choice I make, there are so many other options, all of them with siren songs that could entice me off my course. I’m so relieved when I’ve committed to a particular route or journey through a story. Invariably, I still go off track but this way, at least, there are some perimeters to stop me drifting too far.
How much research do you do before writing the book?
Generally, quite a lot. I often feel compelled – foolishly – to write about things beyond my ken. The last book that I wrote, We Are Like Ghosts, was set in the tsunami in Sri Lanka and, as I mentioned, my next is set post the WW2, so in both cases I have to be a forensic investigator.
What motivated you to write a story in He Played For His Wife And Other Stories?
The anthology is all about poker and Natalie Galustian (the book’s co-conceiver, an antiquarian book-seller and literary agent) knew that I’d played poker since university and commissioned me to write a story. Natalie has always championed my work and I was thrilled to be asked.
Can you tell us more about your latest story in He Played For His Wife And Other Stories?
All the stories in the anthology feature poker and explore how it reflects and refracts human experience and the ‘game of life’ itself. Other contributors include the Booker Prize-winner D.B.C. Pierre, award-winning playwright Patrick Marber and poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.
My story, The Upper Hand, is set in the early 20th Century and centres around a character called Celia… Her husband tries to clear his debts and his dependents in one go by burning down their house with Celia and her five children inside it. With him imprisoned, it falls to Celia has to solely support her family. Using her wiles and her wits she ends up becoming a professional card shark, travelling on the ocean liners between London and New York. It’s a story about a woman in a man’s world, beating the odds.
Who are your favourite authors?
My all-time favourite writer is Virginia Woolf. She’s an alchemist with words and makes me feel – excruciatingly, and in the same moment – the ultimate joy and the ultimate tragedy of what it means to be alive. Other beloveds are Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, E. M. Forster and Evelyn Waugh.
How much time do you dedicate for writing on a daily basis?
I don’t have a hard and fast routine. I know a lot of writers who get up at the same time every day, head for their desks and sit there from nine till five, as if it were an office job. Others have a self-imposed and strict word-count they like to adhere to. I’m not that disciplined. I write (virtually) every day, but I’m inconsistent with times and locations; plus, one day I may work on my novel, the next my stage or screen-writing projects. It depends on my mood… or my deadlines.
What words of wisdom would you like to give to aspiring writers?
Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write. Edit. Edit. Edit. Repeat. And don’t lose hope.