Carolyn (Kari) Gillespie is both an author and a pilgrim, but for this endeavour, she had asked to be interviewed as an author. And what an author she is! I’ve said this to Kari myself, that reading her book PILGRIM, is like watching The Lovelies in CAMINO WANDERING come to life. I listened to PILGRIM via Audible and devoured it, taking me right back to my own Camino wander and itching me to return.
I hope you enjoy Kari’s interview. She’s an inspiration to look inward and ask yourself, “who do you want to be?”
About Carolyn (Kari):
Born and raised in Scotland, Carolyn Gillespie now lives and writes in the South of England. Winner of the Wells Festival of Literature Open Poetry Prize, she has written a collection of poems for children and is currently working on a middle grade novel. Her work has appeared in Molecule Tiny Lit Mag, The Crank, Oddity magazine, Coin Operated Press’s Poetry zine and Scotland Outdoors. Shortlisted for the Soutar and Fish prizes. Carolyn was a panellist at the Guildford new Writers Festival where she read an extract from Pilgrim. She runs creative writing workshops in schools.
Married, with three grown-up children, Carolyn (Kari) is hooked on long-distance walking. When she’s not off a trek with the Sturdy Girls she’s fighting a losing battle to gain control of her unruly garden and Bernard, her rumbunctious pup.
Here’s my interview with Carolyn:
1. Why do you write – and why did you decide to write a book?
I suppose I write to try to make sense of things, to find some sort of meaning in the jumble of thoughts and feelings that occupy my headspace and my heartspace. I wrote Pilgrim after my first Camino. I had written a daily update for friends and family while we were walking, but I knew there was more to say, more to figure out. The writing helped me process my experience. In a way, I’m still figuring that out. Nowadays I write fiction – and that’s a lot of fun!
2. What genres do you enjoy reading?
I read widely – mostly literary fiction. But within that broad category I scoot between Dystopian fiction (Moths by Jane Hennigan), Sci-Fi (Klara and the Sun by Kashuo Ishiguro), Historical Fiction (Booth by Karen Joy Fowler), Short Stories (anything by Elizabeth Strout), Contemporary Fiction (Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi) and YA (The Eternal Return of Clara Hart by Louise Finch). I read a lot of Non-Fiction too – there are plenty of Camino books on my bookshelves!
3. How long did it take you to write your first book from first word to publish? If you’ve written or published more than one book, how long does it take you now to write and publish a book?
There were 5 years between completing the Camino and competing the book (PILGRIM). I have written three books since finishing the Camino and I’m about to embark upon a fourth. I haven’t published any other books.
4. What’s the most challenging part of being an author for you?
I was a teacher and there are lots of things I miss about that. I miss the kids and I miss the support and companionship I used to get from my colleagues. I miss laughing in the staffroom! I suppose that’s what I find hardest about being an author. There’s nobody to have a giggle with at breaktime! But on the upside, I don’t have to do break duty either!
5. What do you love the most about being an author?
I love connecting with people who have read PILGRIM. It’s the best feeling in the world when somebody tells me the book has inspired them to walk the Camino. That’s everything.
6. If you could give an aspiring author one piece of advice, what would it be?
Love the work. Love the words. Pick the best ones. Put them in the right order. Be demanding of yourself.
7. What is the best line you feel you’ve written in your published work(s)?
Oh, lord! That’s hard! ‘My stone was no bigger than a peach pit. It had slipped into my bag barely noticed but I had been struggling under the weight of it for years. Now I had a thousand years of pilgrims at my back, leading me onward on my journey. And tomorrow I would lay it down.’
8. What’s the shortest time you’ve ever written a story?
I wrote my last book in a year. I’m getting faster! I hope this next one will be done in nine months.
9. What was the hardest lesson you learned in the writing process, and what did you take from that?
Two things. Rejection is hard and things take time. I was someone who expected everything to be done in a hurry. The writing process has taught me to be patient and accepting. Sometimes.
10. What is the best book you’ve found on the writing process?
So many! I did an MfA in Creative writing a couple of years ago and I have a whole bookcase full of books on the subject. George Saunders’ A Swim in a Pond in the Rain and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic are two of my favourites.
11. Are you self-published, traditionally, or hybrid-published, and why did you take that publishing route? Would you choose that route for your next book?
Pilgrim is self-published. I am lucky enough to have a wonderful agent who was instrumental in the editing stages of Pilgrim. She encouraged me to go deeper and to be braver. I don’t think I would have got there without her. She was the one who suggested I self-publish. My subsequent books are for children and I would prefer to pursue a traditional route for them as the self-publishing market for children is a mystery to me! I need help!
12. What drew you to the subject of your latest novel?
13. What does writing process look like?
I spend ages sitting with my characters, imagining scenes, considering themes. This happens long before a plot emerges. After a while I begin to jot down scenes, make notes and then, when I know what the book is going to be ‘about,’ I start researching the topic. I read other books in the genre and make notes from non-fiction books.
Once I have compiled a huge mountain of information I start thinking about plot. I sketch out a plan and begin to write. The first draft is usually pretty rough – I try hard not to get in my own way too much.
On a good morning I will write, say, 1500 – 2000 words, and in the afternoon, I’ll do a cursory edit. Most of the fine-tuning happens in the second draft. I love both phases – the total immersion of the first draft and the intellectual challenge of the second.
Once I have a decent second draft, I send the MS to my agent and to my son, who is a freelance editor. After their comments are incorporated, I send it out to beta readers – typically about five or six. I consider their feedback really carefully, make the necessary adjustments and send it back to my agent for one last read through and final tweaking.
14. What does your typical day look like, when you are working on a book?
I like to write in the mornings, walk the dog, look for mushrooms (I’m obsessed!), edit in the afternoon. Keeping it simple works best for me.
15. What’s the most interesting book you’ve read in the last year? Or at least, one that kept you thinking about long after?
Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These. It is a perfect jewel of a book and it taught me so much about kindness and compassion.
18. Have you ever read a book outside of your usual genre – and found it surprising? Why?
I loved Touching the Void, by Joe Simpson. It was the first work of narrative non-fiction that I had ever read and it blew me away. It really encouraged me to read outside of my own field of interest.
19. Would you still be an author if you knew no one would read your books?
I would still write. For sure.
21. What three words would describe you?
Maker, grower, pilgrim.
You can find Kari here:
Instagram : /carolyngillespiewrites
Facebook : /KariGillespie
Website link: www.carolyngillespie.co.uk
Link to Kari’s book: PILGRIM.
Link to her most interesting book selection (#15): Small Things Like These by Keegan Claire