Monday, 16 January 2012

"TELL ALL THE TRUTH BUT TELL IT SLANT" by Linda Gillard

A LIFETIME BURNING   (Kindle 88p/$0.99)
I've just re-published my second novel, A LIFETIME BURNING on Kindle. First published in 2006, it was one of those still-born books torpedoed by its cover and ignored by reviewers, perhaps because it belonged to that non-genre, accessible literary fiction. My publisher had no idea how to market the book (neither did I) and it sank without trace. 

Well, not quite. 

Readers loved it. (And a few loathed it.) A LIFETIME BURNING has only 5-star reviews on Amazon (twenty-five of them) and over the years its devotees have described themselves as haunted - even disturbed - by the book. A few have complained they were up all night finishing it and one man told me he read all 410 pages in one sitting.

I started making notes for A LIFETIME BURNING even before I’d finished my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. I didn’t have a publisher then. I hadn’t even thought about trying to find one, I was just writing to amuse myself. I'd just written a novel where people were basically nice. EG was a celebration of a close-knit Hebridean community, the solace of creativity and finding love in middle age. It was ultimately a feel-good read. I wondered if I could write something very different, something more ambitious? Could I actually write bad people? Or rather people who behave very badly? Could I write tragedy?...

My maternal grandmother
With the innocence of a beginner, I set out to write a big dynastic novel about family and the changing role of women in the twentieth century - their different attitudes to sex, marriage and motherhood. I took five women from three generations of the same family and used their interwoven stories as a vehicle for looking at what it has meant to be a woman at different times in the latter half of the 20th century, what choices, opportunities and limitations they faced. (What you could make of your life depended largely, it seems to me, on when you were born.)

In an attempt to free myself from the distinctive rhythms of my first novel's narrator, I opted for a very different narrative voice in A LIFETIME BURNING. Flora, my middle-aged protagonist, would tell her own story, but she would tell it looking back, at the end of her life. Then I decided she would actually be dead, telling her own very colourful story from beyond the grave. There’s a line by Emily Dickinson that I had in mind while writing:  

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” 

Flora tells you all the truth, but she puts her own slant on it and she doesn’t tell you things in the right order. You have to piece her life together, like a jigsaw. She is in every sense an unreliable narrator. The narrator from Hell, in fact.

My family  (LG seated)
A LIFETIME BURNING is a book about family and the many different kinds of love. In particular it asks what it is to be a good father and whether love can ever be unconditional. Some characters have to face appalling dilemmas and those dilemmas lead them into moral grey areas. (ALB is a good choice for reading groups. There’s plenty to get your teeth into, including one incident that gave rise to a real blood-on-the-carpet discussion, from which, I heard, the book group in question never quite recovered.

ALB is essentially a love story, but it's no romance. I present my characters, warts and all. I show the choices they make and why they make them. I don’t defend them, nor do I condemn. This lack of authorial condemnation might have been why some readers disliked the book. A guiding hand through the plot's moral quagmire would perhaps have made for a more comfortable read.  
My father

 A LIFETIME BURNING wasn't meant to be a comfortable read (though it contains plenty of humour.) I wanted to explore how much damage you can do, trying to do the right thing. I wanted to show how the road to Hell can be paved with good intentions. As Flora says of her husband Hugh, a troubled clergyman: 

"I believed Hugh to be a truly good man. I still do, if one accepts that it’s possible to be good without being honest; that in fact it’s sometimes necessary to be dishonest in order to do good."

Re-packaged on Kindle, with an appropriate cover, garlanded with 5-star reviews (and a bargain at 88p), it's my fervent hope that A LIFETIME BURNING will now find its readers. 

Better late than never.


~~~

Linda Gillard
Linda Gillard has four indie e-books on Kindle: 

EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY
HOUSE OF SILENCE
UNTYING THE KNOT
A LIFETIME BURNING. 


EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY on Kindle
HOUSE OF SILENCE was an Amazon Editor's Pick BEST OF 2011 in the Indie Author category. 


EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY has been selected for the reading list of the book bloggers' Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge 2012 

You can find Linda's website here and her Facebook author page here.

7 comments:

Kathleen Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathleen Jones said...

Good luck with this Linda - I have no doubt that it will do as well as House of Silence or UTTK. You have some great titles - this is something I always struggle with!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

I'm off to download it Linda! Sounds like my sort of book. I need to find/make some time to do all the reading that's waiting for me.

Linda Gillard said...

Thanks, Kathleen & Catherine. Now I've sent off my supernatural novel to my agent, reading is top of my To Do list and BIRD OF PASSAGE is near the top of the TBR pile.

ALB's title is a quote from T S Eliot's EAST COKER:

"Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter."

The line about the photo album gave me the idea for the theme for the relevant pages on my website where I used old family photos. See http://www.lindagillard.co.uk/lifetime-burning.php

Susan Price said...

Sounds like another cracking book, Linda - I highly recommend both 'House of Silence' and 'Emotional Geology.'

lonestarsky said...

HI Linda
I can honestly say that 'A Lifetime Burning' is one of my favourite books ever. The first time I read it, I re-read it not long after as it reads totally differently the second time around!

I'd highly recommend it, as well as all of your other books. Looking forward to the next one!

Linda Gillard said...

lonestarsky, I've only just seen your lovely comment. Thank you so much! :-) When my fans nag (nicely) about the long wait for the next book, I always suggest they re-read because I write my books to be read twice. (Don't know why, since writing a book and expecting it to be read even once is ludicrously optimistic.)

I think the structure of ALB was deeply influenced by a ballet I saw many times - MAYERLING with choreography by Kenneth MacMillan. (There are 2 DVD versions. Watch the one with Edward Watson if you can.)

The ballet begins with a funeral scene as the prologue. Then you get the main body of the ballet which shows the events leading up to that funeral, then you get the funeral scene again, this time starting slightly earlier than before, which entails a ghastly twist.

That framing effect was what I tried to achieve with A LIFETIME BURNING.