Welcome to Author Spotlight! Each week will feature a different author. We’ll get the scoop behind their writing life and dish a little. The authors will also be giving away a copy of their latest book. FUN.
The winner from last week’s Author Spotlight with Erin Healy is Johnda S! Please email my assistant Amy with your mailing address. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This week Elisabeth Gifford is in the Spotlight! To win a copy of her encouraging and heart-rending book, The House of Hope, leave a comment on this post!
Share a little bit about yourself. Married with kids? Empty nester? Do you work full-time and write when you can squeeze it in?
My children have all left home and I’m married to Josh, a graphic artist. I have a part time job teaching children with dyslexia.
And share something about your writing. What’s your genre(s), your areas of interest…
I did articles on dyslexia but following two writing courses published poetry and a short story in Riptide. Then a friend commissioned the biography of Dr. Joyce Hill and Robin Hill in China, a couple who rescue abandoned babies. I was delighted to be asked to write their story, THE HOUSE OF HOPE.
How did you get started writing? Did you have a dream of being a published author?
A friend recommended THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron to help get over those initial self doubts. I began to give some time to writing. Then, about five years ago I took a diploma in creative writing at Oxford and recently completed a masters at Royal Holloway University in London. I still meet up with my group from the course to workshop.
After you started writing seriously–how long was it before you were published?
It’s hard to say since I have always written in a way, but at the end of the diploma I published poetry and short stories, and this year the autobiography of the Hills.
Aside from a cup of good, strong coffee, what helps you get all of your “brain cylinders” firing so you can write well? Do you have any favorite places and routines when you write? How many hours a day do you spend writing?
I work best in the morning, but carry on with editing until the afternoon. I try and get enough sleep – which means enough exercise – and I can’t really drink and write! I do a pretty uncensored first draft and let the ‘voice’ of a character speak, and then I re-read and edit, often many times. But I don’t like to be too tight to begin with or you miss what your character might have to say. In THE HOUSE OF HOPE, I kept as close to the Hill’s voices as I could. I have various places round the house where I write, and try not to get hung up on where I am as it can become an excuse not to get on. Anywhere quiet where I can be comfortable will work. Sometimes, I have to have a desk, especially when there’s a lot of notes to look at.
What has been the biggest help to you in the journey to publication? Writers’ conferences? Writing groups? Your mom as your first draft reader?
I still meet up with a group from my course and we workshop each other’s writing. It’s challenging but very instructive seeing what works and what isn’t playing. Also I recommend Sol Stein’s books on writing and editing.
Is the “writer’s life” what you thought it would be?
I spent three summers in China interviewing, writing the book, and promoting it. It was a fantastic experience and I fell in love with China and the children in the home. I really enjoyed the writing and used a lot of what I had learned in creative writing to see how to pick out the stories from the interviews. It was very different from writing fiction however in that I had to make sure I only included what was factual and kept to a style that was straight forward and not opinionated. The stories of how the Hills rescued a thousand dying babies over a decade and in fact saved over half of those children – many of them now adopted to the US- needed no embellishments from me. It really taught me to trust the story.
What are your biggest distractions?
Certainly I found having children at home made things more challenging as I was also working more at the time, but now my main issue is in keeping up enough concentrated energy to work on the writing for long stretches. That’s where exercise and sleep come in.
What was one of the best moments in your career and what was one of the worst?
I was so privileged to do the interviews in China and to meet amazing people like the Hills and also Steven and Mary Beth Chapman who work closely alongside them. The Chapman’s shared their story of Maria’s death and how they came to name the new 142 bed home in her memory. And above all- I got to meet those babies – though it was hard trying to understand how their parents could have felt that they had no option but to abandon their own child.
When it comes to the actual writing, it can be hard to realize you have a lot more work to do on a text, and it’s always more than you thought, but if you get through that the editing is very fulfilling.
What do you least like about being a writer? Most like?
I really love writing and get less hung up about not producing something perfect the first time. It’s all about pushing through till something is finished. I have so many projects I want to do, and want to get on with them!
What is the role and importance of an agent?
When I finished THE HOUSE OF HOPE, I researched the publishers and took it direct to Monarch at Lion Hudson- who accepted it the same day! Because it was a specific sort of book, an agent would have not really helped. Usually however, you do need an agent to approach publishers.
What advice would you give to new writers?
If you are starting out on the writing journey, then keep learning about your craft, keep working at it and don’t forget that there are many different kinds of writing.
|Robin, Joyce and Elisabeth|
Pretend I’m a customer at a bookstore looking for a good book. Give me a one or two sentence promo to convince me to buy your book.
THE HOUSE OF HOPE is a riveting true story of how a wealthy expatriate couple in China gave up everything to care for dying babies. Dr. Joyce Hill and her husband Robin now take care of 300 babies at any one time and work closely with Chinese authorities as an NGO. It is was very hard and shocking to hear about these children but in China there is great fear of child death as a curse on the family. I think reading this book will give people a window onto a hidden situation. People who have read it so far do say they could not put the book down.
What’s on the book horizon for you?
I have just completed a novel called DARWIN AND THE MERMAID, which has had some interest from agents, so I’m really hoping it will also get published. I’ll let you know.
Last question, how can readers find you and your books?
The best place to get THE HOUSE OF HOPE by Elisabeth Gifford is through the Book Depository online, the link can be found on the book’s website www.thehouseofhopebook.com and all profits go to Robin and Joyce Hill. You can also ‘like’ the book on www.Facebook.com/thehouseofhope
Thank you for sharing your writing life with my bleaders! (blog + readers = bleaders)