Name Gill Hoffs, but I also answer to ‘Mummy!’ and ‘Miaoooooow’
Where are you from
I grew up on the Ayrshire coast in Scotland but now consider Warrington in the north west of England home.
A little about yourself e.g. your education, family life etc.
After gaining a BSc in Psychology from the University of Glasgow, I worked in children’s homes until I had my son. I’m married to a scientist and owned by Coraline Cat. I’m also the world’s worst vegetarian – I loathe fruit and veg – and would happily exist on chocolate, Nutella, and deep fried pizza and chips if I didn’t have to set some kind of example for my son.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I recently signed with the Red Sofa Literary Agency and I’m delighted to now have my nonfiction work represented by Jennie Goloboy. It’s really exciting to have someone efficient, effective, and experienced (I do enjoy a bit of alliteration) involved with my career. I’m looking forward to working with her and seeing what the future holds!
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Migraines. The hormonal changes caused by pregnancy altered how my brain works somewhat, leaving me with weird migraines – and a wonderful symptom of these happens to be compulsive writing.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I think in my earlier working life, which I found tremendously rewarding, I was a writer-in-waiting. I loved English at school and had a great teacher in the first year of secondary school (Miss Garven) who really helped me flourish, but it’s only since my son was a few years old that I got into writing, submitting, and studying the business of writing as a career – and I have social media to thank for that.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first title “Wild: a collection” (Pure Slush, 2012) came about through online discussion with an Australian editor I often work with, Matt Potter. He wanted to explore micro-publishing and I wanted to learn more about it, too, and produce a kind of showcase of my short fiction and nonfiction. It was really fun and gave me a lot of insight into the business of publishing and promoting, and since I got to photograph what can only be described as ‘Shrek candyfloss’ for the cover – it’s not often a writer following a traditional route gets to have such input into their cover – it really was an ideal experience.
My first full-length nonfiction book “The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’” (Pen & Sword, 2014) started as one of the short nonfiction pieces in “Wild” and was written in an attempt to exorcise thoughts of this terrible shipwreck from my mind. The more I learnt about the people on board, why they were there, what and where they came from, and what they endured, the more passionate I became about telling their story and raising awareness of their plight and that of their fellow emigrants and sailors.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Descriptive and smelly: I like to try and engage a reader as fully as I can, make them feel emotionally involved with the story, and have it stay with them once they’ve put down that book or magazine or clicked away from the link. I want to haunt their memory. With historical nonfiction, I like to use the juiciest, grisliest, most evocative contemporary quotes I can find, and allow the people involved to speak wherever possible – so long as it doesn’t compromise the readability of the piece.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
With “Wild: a collection” Matt suggested we think of something that described me and my writing, since this was meant to be a showcase of sorts, and while I was initially surprised when he said “wild”, it did fit. As for my shipwreck book, that title is the result of several rounds of discussion with Pen & Sword and my editor there, Jen Newby, as there were certain key words and information needing included but it also had to be attractive to potential readers (not just search engines) and fit with house-style.
Fiona: Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
Yes: shit happens, no matter what you do to avoid it. Respect all the little miracles and fortunate escapes that got you to this moment and pack what you can into your life, because it isn’t going to last.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
All of it.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life? a mentor?
Jeremy Scott, author of “Dancing on Ice: A 1930s Arctic Adventure” and “Fast and Louche” et al., has acted as mentor and friend since I wrote to him as a fan a few years ago. Matt Potter of Pure Slush has also helped me a lot and I would recommend any writers of short stories and nonfiction see what he’s currently looking for and send him something. As for books, everything I read has some kind of impact, but there have been certain titles that have dramatically changed my life:
“Limeys: A History of Scurvy” by David I. Harvie
“Dancing on Ice: A 1930s Arctic Adventure” by Jeremy Scott
“Slugs” by Shaun Hutson
“Riders” by Jilly Cooper
“Stone” by Joe Donnelly
“The Stake” by Richard Laymon
“Mirror” by Graham Masterton
“Mauve” by Simon Garfield
“The Small Assassin” by Ray Bradbury
“Blacklands” by Belinda Bauer
“The Book of Lost Things” by John Connolly
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Apart from several piles of history books that I’m annotating for research purposes, and a stack of 1960s Ladybird books for my son’s bedtime, I’m eking out “The Wolf In Winter” by John Connolly as I enjoy his books tremendously and hate to finish them unless I have another lined up.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
For short, dark, disturbing American fiction (that reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s less fanciful work), I can never resist Len Kuntz. Matt Potter writes brash, colourful, acerbic flash fiction that amuses me greatly, and the Scottish author Michael J. Malone is worth looking up for his nonfiction and crime thrillers. I’m also a fan of Rosie Garland and Ransom Riggs.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’m researching a Victorian shipwreck for my next nonfiction book, writing short articles and stories, and reading submissions for the special Scottish-themed issue of Literary Orphans, “Scotland and the Scottish: Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson”. http://literaryorphans.org/ttl/scotland-scottish-alexander-greek-thomson/
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
The confectionary industry (especially those in charge of Mars, Galaxy, and Nutella – who I actually thanked in the Acknowledgments section of my shipwreck book).
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Absolutely, although I’m not currently at the stage where it’s financially rewarding to the extent that I can support more than my research and celebratory cake with my family and friends every so often.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Barely a word … there’s a second edition coming out this summer in paperback, which includes new information from people who contacted me after reading the first edition (do feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you think you have more!) but aside from that, not a thing.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
My family are all keen readers and I was raised to delight in books, take comfort in them, learn from them, and embrace creativity in all its forms. I used to be quite artistic too but when I recovered from the depression I was ill with as a teenager and in my early 20s, I lost the urge and ability to do something with it – I regret nothing. It was a worthwhile trade.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
This is the blurb:
The wrecking of RMS Tayleur made headlines around the world almost 60 years before the Titanic. Both were run by the White Star Line, both were heralded as the most splendid ships of their time – and both sank in tragic circumstances on their maiden voyages.
On 19 January 1854 the Tayleur, the largest merchant vessel in the world, left Liverpool for Australia. Packed with approximately 580 emigrants, her hold stuffed with cargo, the iron clipper was all set to race a wooden White Star Line vessel to the Antipodes.
But the ship’s revolutionary iron hull prevented its compasses from working. Lost in the Irish Sea, a storm swept the Tayleur and the 650 people aboard towards a cliff studded with rocks ‘black as death’. What happened next shocked the world!
On the 160th anniversary of the disaster, Gill Hoffs reveals new theories behind the tragedy and tells the stories of the passengers and crew on the ill-fated vessel, including:
Captain John Noble, record breaking hero of the Gold Rush era, and an orphan who made good against the odds
Ship surgeon Robert Hannay Cunningham and his young family, on their way to a new life among the prospectors in the Australian Gold Rush
Samuel Carby, ex-convict with a tragic past, returning to the gold fields with his new wife – and a fortune sewn into her corsets
Follow the stories of the people involved with this unlucky ship, learn the identity and tragic fate of the unnamed orphan known as ‘The Ocean Child’, and discover why only three women survived compared to hundreds of men, despite the travellers occurring just a few metres from safety.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
When I have a bad migraine, I lose some of my physical capabilities which is enormously frustrating. I’ll have the words arranged just as I want them in my head but no easy way of typing or writing them out. But my love of the sea helps as I can think of it and tell myself everything’s tidal, and it’ll pass soon enough.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I couldn’t pick just one – that’s like choosing a favourite chocolate bar – but there are a few I always return to, and whose books I will reread until the spines crumble. John Connolly, Belinda Bauer, Jeremy Scott, and Dick Francis – I can sink into their books and get totally lost for hours on end.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Not that much, the internet is a wonderful thing and the people I contact are usually very helpful. I love to give talks and present workshops and sometimes go as far as Ireland to do so, but rarely travel for research purposes.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Hmm … wrangling my son and cat away from my notes, laptop, and manuscript?
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Apart from the stories behind the people involved in the wreck and subsequent cover-up, I learnt about how I work as a writer on a long project with a traditional publishing house, and how to pace myself (and the importance of a good sleep now and then!).
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t write what you know, write what you WANT to know. Indulge your curiosity and your passion. Love what you do, and relax into loving the process but also be sure to work your arse off. Nobody’s going to treat you like a professional if you don’t act like one in the first place.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
A big thank you for reading my work (and an even bigger thank you if you’ve taken the time to review it)!
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
No, but according to my Gran I used to climb into bed with her as a three-year-old and read her stories.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Everything and nothing – farts and wordplay (laughs), chopped onions, hormones and sad stories about animals and children (cry). I can’t be trusted not to cry at commercials and my husband says I’m a soft touch when it comes to any non-human animals, even stinky ones. Skunks are my favourite.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
Apart from the people involved in the Tayleur shipwreck and cover-up, I would definitely pick the so-called Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick. He is something of a hero to me and I try not to think about him too much these days as he breaks my heart.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
Better to light a candle than curse the dark – unless you’re in a mine shaft or firework factory.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Reading, gardening, petting stray cats, feeding ducks and pigeons, watching the cheesiest TV I can find (the more upsetting the research, the more light-hearted the programme), and eating cake. LOTS of cake.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Dollhouse, The 100, M*A*S*H*, Gilmore Girls, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, Bones, Coast, Futurama, The Inbetweeners, Gogglebox, American Pie, Scream!, Monk, Totoro, Coraline, Para-Norman, Luther, Sherlock, Alien, Spirited Away, World War Z, Afterlife, Glee, Seinfeld … but nothing too serious or depressing.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Anything sweet or garlicky is likely to be pinched off neighbouring plates. I like most colours except for certain shades of brown and sickly green (and I always wear teal green for events and interviews). As for music, I like many tunes and styles and adore BritPop in particular, and the Manic Street Preachers most of all.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Hmm … I don’t know, generally if I want to do something then I work to make it happen or read about it instead.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?