Author Gillian St. Kevern joins us to talk about the latest in the Read by Candlelight series, The Christmas Party. She discusses the origins of the series and what attracts her to telling gothic tales. Gillian also shares what got her started writing, as well as details on her other series: Thorns and Fangs and Deep Magic. She’s also got a couple book recommendations too.
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Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.
- Jeff & Will’s Stacks of Books from their Move on Facebook
- Hockey Hearts Box Set by Jeff Adams & Will Knauss on Amazon (on sale through December 2, 2020 in US and UK)
- Libro.fm Audiobook Gift Memberships on Libro.fm (available through December 31, 2020)
- Gillian St. Kevern Interview
- Gillian St. Kevern: website | Facebook | Facebook Group | Twitter | Instagram
- Read by Candlelight series by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- The Christmas Party by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- Big Gay Fiction Book Club October 2020: “The Mystery of Brackenwell Hall” by Gillian St. Kevern on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Dracula by Bram Stoker on Amazon
- Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and David Brian on Amazon
- M.R. James on Amazon
- The Secretary and the Ghost by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- The Haunted Bed Chamber by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- The Vampire’s Relic by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- The Well-Dressed Werewolf by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- The Art of Drowning by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- The Weeping Statue by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- The Lord and the Banshee by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- Turning of the Screw by Henry James on Amazon
- The Dead Letter Office by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- Project Guttenberg website
- Thorns and Fangs series by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- Deep Magic series by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- Don’t Read in the Closet Event on Goodreads
- The Ugliest Sweater by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles on Amazon
- The Other Side of the Mirror by Jamie Sands on Amazon
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
Interview Transcript – Gillian St. Kevern
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Gillian, welcome back to the podcast. It’s wonderful to have you here so we can do a more in depth discussion now.
Gillian: I’ve really been looking forward to this. I really enjoyed chatting with you and Will before. So yeah, it’s great to be back.
Jeff: And as I think most people know, we loved “Mystery of Brackenwell Hall,” which was the book club selection for October, and it’s part of your “Read by Candlelight” series. And you’ve got a Christmas story getting ready to come out which is super exciting. But let’s back up for folks who may not have heard about Brackenwell and the series overall, tell us about “Read by Candlelight.”
Gillian: This is a series of gothic novellas and they are gothic romance in the academic sense. There is all of the tried and true gothic tropes. There are big houses with deserted corridors and hidden rooms. There are lots and lots of unreliable narrators. There are things that aren’t what they seem, there are ghosts, there’s everything really. But the series was completely unplanned. Actually, at the time I wrote it, I was working on an urban fantasy series that I’ve been trying to…I decided I needed to be a more mainstream author, so I researched my tropes, put a lot of effort into writing this book, got it all the way into the second version of the first draft of the first book, and then discovered I needed to do some heavy revision of it.
And I was just exhausted, I decided to take a break from writing. And we were moving house at the time. I found a book of gothic romances that I’d bought as a teenager and never read, read them all in one night, went to a house set. I was in this really isolated corner of the New Zealand countryside. I was on the coast. I could not see another house without, like, walking down the road for a half-hour. It was just me and the dog. Occasionally, I would hear other people’s vehicles as they went down the road. But yeah, I was completely alone pretty much for 10 days. And then the first night I think that I was out there by myself, I had this dream and the dream was pretty much the plot for “The Secretary and the Ghost.” As a teenager, I had been big into gothic romance.
I loved “Dracula” although it took me a couple of tries to get into it. I loved “Camilla” and I love the ghost stories of, what is it, M. R. James. And I think that the gothic romances just was sitting there in my psyche, just waiting for a good opportunity to come out. And I decided, what the hell. I would just see where this goes. And I wrote all 30,000 words of “The Secretary and the Ghost” in six days which, yeah, that’s never happened to me before. Never happens, but this was a story that my subconscious really wanted to tell. And as soon as I let that out, other stories came bubbling up. “Brackenwell Hall,” I had been very, very sick for a long time in Japan and I’d been feeling quite isolated there because in addition to when you’re unwell, it kind of puts a barrier between you and other people, but I had the language barrier on top of that and my family who were in New Zealand at the time were like, “You’re perfectly healthy. What are you on about?” And so I wasn’t quite getting the family support either.
And so that had probably been sitting there in my soul sort of for a very, very long time. And once you sort of start delving into these things, more things came sort of bubbling out, which is what makes the series so interesting because it’s completely unplanned. And because of this, the stories appear not in chronological order. It’s whatever is speaking to me strongest at the time that I sit down to write. So quite often, I’ve thought, “Okay, I’m going to write this story next,” but then something happens and a different story takes its place. So, for example, the fourth story in the series is “The Haunted Bedchamber” and it’s another…it looks like a ghost story, but it’s got a New Zealand protagonist, a Maui protagonist called Wiremu. And that story had actually been sitting at the back of my mind for a very long time but I’d always said, “I’m not ready to write this. I don’t know enough about Maui culture, I’ll make a mistake. I need to do more research.”
And then the Christchurch terror attacks happened and I sort of sat down and looked at my writing and was like, “Every single character in ‘Read by Candlelight’ up to now has been white or European and this is kind of bad.'” So I kind of turned to Wiremu and was like, “I’m not ready but it’s time.” And he was like, “It’s about time.” And writing “The Haunted Bedchamber” was actually…it was tough but it felt right. And “The Vampire’s Relic,” which was my first lesbian romance, I was so scared to write it because I had only recently sort of told my friends and family, I’d only recently come out. And so it was kind of like coming out to readers. And again, writing it felt incredible.
So the “Read by Candlelight” series, every single book is different. “The Well-Dressed Werewolf” has kind of a Woodhouse flavor but it’s a murder mystery rather than any kind of romance. There is a romantic element but it’s got a very different tone. And in the “Art of Drowning,” Sarah, who beta-read it for me, that’s Sarah Trevor, she described it as a twist romance. So, it’s different again.
Jeff: What does a twist romance mean? That’s a term I’m not familiar with.
Gillian: Well, neither was I. Going into the “Art of Drowning,” Francis, who is the narrator, he thinks he knows who he’s supposed to end up with. He’s got his eye on someone. That someone is completely unsuitable for him. That someone is not at all human and does not want to be involved with the human world. So it’s kind of it was never going to happen. But while the story goes on, there is somebody else who is a friend to him but it’s not until the end of the story that Francis realizes that person’s feelings are not romantic rather than friendly and they’re actually…they have potential for something. The person who was sort of famed as the love interest was actually not the love interest.
But yeah, the series just gives me so much opportunity to kind of play with gothic tropes, to play with different monsters, to play with different elements and genres, all within the same overarching world. And I hope that it gives readers the ability to jump around and, you know, try things and skip the things that they don’t want to read or that might not appeal to them.
Jeff: Because they very much seem all standalone, too, so you can hop around as you please.
Gillian: I really wanted them to be standalone. There was a connecting thread, Pip and Cross, and later, Julian’s relationship. Their kind of family bond continues throughout the series. But very few of them, you’d need to read another book before reading them. There are two that I would say don’t read as your first book and that’s “The Weeping Statue” because it goes very, very heavily into Patrick’s head and his inner demons, and I think you should meet his inner demons beforehand. And in “The Lord and the Banshee,” I kill off a major character and I really do not want that book to be anyone’s first introduction to me because I do not make a habit of that, I promise.
Jeff: Because you said they don’t necessarily go chronological but then, you’ve got things that happen where this major character is killed off in what would be Book 13 of the series. How do you keep your timelines together as you go if you are writing out of order?
Gillian: I had a notebook in which I’d sort of carefully charted everyone’s ages, what year the books took place in, kind of what technology was available at that point, and then I lost the notebook.
Jeff: Oh, no.
Gillian: And so I’ve been trying to recreate it and sort of look back at the early books and were like, “Okay, I’ve given a date here and instead of build from there.” “The Mystery of Brackenwell Hall,” because of certain plot elements, has actually been very helpful to me in rebuilding my timeline.
Jeff: I can imagine that actually, yes. Let’s talk Christmas. You’ve got a nice gothic tale for us with the “Christmas Party.” What have we got to look forward to there?
Gillian: Well, I think it was “The Turning of the Screw.” There’s a tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve and I think it was used as a framing device for “The Turning of the Screw,” and it also shows up in a couple of M. R. James ghost stories and other Victorian ghost story writers, and I’ve wanted to do something with that for a long time. And there is a character in the series, I’ve known about her, I’ve known she was coming for a long time. Pip’s niece and Julian’s cousin, Pippa, who has her uncle’s sort of enthusiasm for everything supernatural, but she’s also an indulged heiress. So, she is totally spoiled and used to getting whatever she wants. What she wants is a Christmas party that will be remembered forever. So she’s decided she’s going to…forget telling ghost stories around the fire, she’s going to have a Christmas party on Christmas Eve in a real haunted house and you don’t do that and not expect consequences.
Jeff: It is asking for trouble, in my opinion. Yes.
Gillian: But yeah, I’ve just been really enjoying it because Pippa is just…she is pure fun to write. And Micah, he’s kind of the caretaker of the house, he is her opposite in every way. Pippa is a hopeless optimist. He’s a confirmed pessimist. He’s also a ghost, which he is trying to keep Pippa from working out because once she realizes, he’s gonna get no end of bothered. But that’s the other half of the story. I wanted to write a “Read by Candlelight” story from the ghost perspective.
Jeff: Oh, that’s really cool. How does that change the game for you in taking on a ghost POV from an actual person?
Gillian: It’s actually been surprisingly hard because part of what makes the “Read by Candlelight” series so…the gothic part so fun is because there’s the element of unknown. Like it’s always a little bit uncertain and you’re never quite sure what’s really going on. So when you’ve got a ghost narrator, you kind of lose that element of uncertainty. So one of the challenges for me, it’s kind of been introducing that back and we’ve also got the fact that Micah is…he’s very hopeless. Like some people, I think if they became a ghost, they would be like, “This is fantastic. I’m going to do all the things.” Micah has just tried to be as invisible as possible. So he’s not really aware of his own potential, and that scares him a bit. So part of his journey is kind of accepting his position and coming to terms with that.
Jeff: Interesting. I can’t wait to read this. It sounds like it’s gonna be a lot of fun.
Gillian: I hope so. Because that’s actually what I think the key to the “Read by Candlelight” series is. It’s just been pure fun. I try not to think too deeply about it, just go with kind of what feels right or what scares me. I’m trying to tap into my subconscious as much as possible and just not let me get in the way of the writing and just see what happens. Because that way, it’s kind of…it’s fun for me too because I never quite know what’s gonna happen next.
Jeff: What has to go in to one of these stories, and not necessarily from like a true planning point of view but at least as you’re getting the book together from draft to final to, like, get the feel of the gothicness and get all the historical elements pieced in there?
Gillian: Usually, I start one of these stories with like a really strong character, or place, or idea that I want to explore. Once I’ve sort of firmed down that I have, like, a few ideas for things, then I start doing a bit of wider reading. For “The Dead Letter Office” which revolves around a department of a post office, I actually hit a goldmine on Project Gutenberg. So this is an online digital library I guess where out of copyright books are scanned and transcribed by volunteers. So you’ve got things there, like you’ve got pretty much the works of Dickens, you’ve got everything by Bram Stoker, you’ve got all of the M. R. James ghost stories which I totally recommend. And you’ve got things like “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management” which is incredible. There is a recipe for how to make a sponge cake that includes the instructions since you’re made out to stand in a cold corner of the garden with a whisk and beat for 30 minutes.
So yeah, those really give you a window into life at that time. So for “The Dead Letter Office,” I found the postmaster’s manual for the Canadian post office service at about the same time period that I was writing. So that told you, you know, pretty much what was expected of each clerk and how they had to do their reports and stuff. There was also an amazing book called “Ten Years Among the Letter Bags” which was at the account of an American special agent who was in charge of investigating postal fraud, which is actually very timely right now.
Jeff: Indeed, yes.
Gillian: Yeah. So Project Gutenberg and reading, like, primary sources is a big thing for me but I just try to read widely around a topic as well.
Jeff: I wanted to ask you, too, you mentioned getting to employ the unreliable narrator in these gothic stories.
Gillian: Yep. Yep.
Jeff: What caution do you end up taking with that to ensure that it doesn’t completely annoy the reader when you’re using that device?
Gillian: I’m sure I totally annoy some readers with it. I am a sucker for the unreliable narrator. I was an English Lit major and it’s ruined me for life. I tend to write sort of close third or first person. So I’m closely following one person and I don’t think…well, you know, everybody has their own kind of blinkers on. We all have our own sort of preconceived notions and stuff, so no one is a reliable narrator. And I just really enjoy the scope that gives me for misunderstandings and to build that uncertainty where the characters know that they don’t know but they don’t know what they don’t know. My narrators are unreliable because their perceptions are not reliable. They’re never deliberately dishonest. I think that would annoy me. And my characters, their prejudices are usually very obvious to the reader. I think my longtime readers know now to kind of take my narrators with a grain of salt.
Jeff: You’ve been working on “Read by Candlelight” almost exclusively since March of 2019 and “Christmas Party” is the 14th book. How long do you think this series continues?
Gillian: You know, Book 10 was supposed to be the last book. I had a beautiful little narrative arc and it was gonna tie everything up tightly and then more books kept on coming along. So I’ve got a last book that will finish the series, but I want it to not just be the last book, I want it to be the last published book, so chronologically and actual published date, last. So I’ve written a chapter of it and then I’m sitting on it. But yeah, the ideas keep coming. From “The Christmas Party,” there is a character in it who makes a very bad decision, so there’s gonna be another book to deal with his bad decision.
Jeff: So eventually, you’ll get to the last book but undetermined when that may happen.
Jeff: Which is nice because it just means the fun gets to continue. Because this is such a fun series, just the way that it’s written. I loved how “Brackenwell” like just kept dodging in all kinds of extremely interesting and unexpected direction.
Gillian: Yep. And what I love is that as we get further on in the series, Steven and Charlie are starting to make appearances in their later careers. So in “The Collector,” Charlie is attending one of Julian’s friends at his doctor and then he’s like, “You’re having a séance, can I come?” So he kind of waggles himself into the story. And Mereweather attends Cross in Cross’s final illness. So yeah, that’s been…
Jeff: Oh, fascinating.
Gillian: It’s so cool seeing how all these different stories intertwining in ways that I did not plan and did not see coming.
Jeff: I think it’s an example that proves, you know, that panting can really work well.
Gillian: Yeah. I was like an over plotter up until this series. So it’s really challenged me to let go of a lot of my assumptions, though I still need a plot when I write. I just like having that kind of structure, though my plot kinda gets revised three or four times as I go along because the story keeps changing on me.
Jeff: Let’s talk about the past a little bit. Before you were doing gothic, you were doing a series called “Thorns and Fangs.” Tell us all about that.
Gillian: I’m going to jump back a little bit before then. In 2009, I decided I was going to write original fiction. And before then, I had been heavily involved in fan fiction and online role-playing games where you kind of you wrote and acted as if you were the character you were playing which was a ton of fun. But I was like, “I want to do something more.” And so I wrote my first original novel, “The Vampire and the Accountant” and it was a lot of fun but I got some well-deserved feedback on that story and was like, “Oh, no, this is too hard. I can’t deal with this.” And gave up for a few years and then I came back to writing. And I decided that I was not going to write sex, I was not going to write character death, and I was not going to write anything with violence in it.
I was just like, “I can’t do fight scenes, they’re too hard.” And my writing stalled. I struggled with writer’s block and just a complete lack of ideas or motivation for years and years. And then I thought, “What if I wrote a story that had all of those things in it?” And instantly, the writer’s block turned off and I had so many ideas. And “Thorns and Fangs” was just this big sort of outpouring of energy and ideas from 2009 to 2013 when I sat down. It was my NaNoWriMo project. I hit 50,000, maybe 60,000 words in November, carried on writing for the first week of December. I was still in Japan at that point so Christmas lessons kind of took over my entire life for the rest of the month and then I finished it in January. And then I was like, “Okay, what do I do now?”
But as you may have guessed, from the fangs in the title, this is a vampire story. But the main…what makes it more interesting is that it is a human pursuing a vampire as a love interest. So the protagonist of “Thorns and Fangs,” Nate and Ben, both have their own sort of baggage and emotional hurdles to overcome. It’s a full book series and they do not get the happy ever after until the end of Book 4 and I make them work really hard for it. But Nate is somebody who believes in his emotions. He is very intuitive. He kind of goes with the flow and does what’s right. And he’s got a hedonistic streak and he’s just all about what feels good in the moment and not really thinking long term or caring too much about the consequences of his actions.
Ben was turned and became a vampire after an attack that claimed the life of his father. He was saved, his father wasn’t, and he’s got a lot of guilt about that, but he also believes that having emotions opens you up to kind of losing control to those emotions and making poor decisions and putting people at risks. So they’re complete opposites but they have this immediate connection. And so they’ve kind of…they really make each other stronger, but they also…before they could come together, they both had to address their own issues and kind of work on building themselves up. So there was a point where it was actually healthier for them to be apart than be together, which is something that I hadn’t seen explored much in romance.
So it actually turned out to be a lot of fun. It is a big miss genre-wise. It’s got all the elements, it’s got erotica elements, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, kind of. Yeah, it’s very different to other things that I’ve written. But then, I think everything I write is different from everything else that I write. And these are massive books. They’re about 120,000 words each. They’re very twisty plots. Yeah, very fun to write but exhausting. You need a month to recover afterwards.
Jeff: And then you’ve got this other series, “Deep Magic.”
Gillian: Yep. “Deep Magic” is lots of fun. Again, this one was sort of pure accident. I signed up for the, I think it was the 2015 Don’t Read in the Closet event on Goodreads. And the prompt I got was from a German reader who wanted a story set in Wales with an Australian protagonist who is returning back to Wales after a long absence and is in search of the prince he remembers from his childhood.
Jeff: That’s an amazing prompt.
Gillian: It was so good. This is terrible. But at the time that prompt went live for people to claim, I was scheduled to teach an English class. So I was up in the English class, I was teaching. I kept my eye on the clock and as it got closer and closer to the hour, I turned to my co-teacher and said, “Oh, I’ve left something on my desk. Can I go and get it?” And he was like, “Yep, that’s fine.” So I went down to the staffroom. I had the page loaded on my computer. I just had to put in my password, click go, and went back up to carry on the lesson. And it wasn’t until the lesson was finished and I came down to my desk in my break period that I saw my claim had been successful and I got the story.
Jeff: That’s awesome. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to get those things when you want them.
Gillian: Yep. Yeah, so “Deep Magic,” at the time I wrote it, I was living in Japan so I could relate very strongly to that kind of homesickness and nostalgia for wanting to be somewhere else and, like, I had a great time researching it. I did a deep dive into Welsh mythology and I also spent a lot of time hanging out on Google Maps, just learning the town Aberdaron. But that’s kind of the writer story of “Deep Magic.” For the readers out there, Olly is…he’s inherited his grand’s house, so he’s returned to Wales after an absence of I think seven years to kind of revisit the house that was the center of his holidays as a child and kind of make peace with his past. And he and his mum suffer from something called the longing, which is this feeling that there’s someplace they need to be and it’s always sort of driving them onwards. They’re never able to settle in a place or in a relationship because they always have to keep moving.
It’s bittersweet because Olly is really glad to be back in Wales but he knows that, you know, the longing is going to come and he’s going to have to leave it all behind. So he’s kind of there to say goodbye to his grand. But the town he comes back to isn’t exactly the town he left. There is this utterly obnoxious priest who’s taken over the local church and acts like he knows Olly when he doesn’t. There’s this nan’s old neighbor. There’s this weird lady who is a bit of a hippie and is trying to insinuate that his nan was a witch. And then there’s this guy who looks weirdly familiar and whose voice gives him chills. And then Olly starts having bits of memories and he’s all connected with his childhood friend that he knew.
And so he gradually puts the pieces together, discovers that his nan was a witch and that he’s inherited her power and that there are forces on the Llŷn Peninsula trying very hard to drive him away. But if he can defeat them, he can get rid of the longing and possibly rescue his friends. This series is now a full book series. It’s kind of obvious that he finds his friends but, yeah.
Jeff: I didn’t get that happily ever after in there.
Gillian: The fifth book in the “Deep Magic” series was intended to be my nano project this year. As of today, I have yet to start but I’m still hopeful I can make it happen.
Jeff: Now, we’re headed into the holidays. Obviously, we’ve talked about “The Christmas Party” but you’ve got three other books. And for the love of Christmas, these look so adorable. The covers, I absolutely adore.
Gillian: They’re so cute, aren’t they?
Jeff: What is this series because they’re so cute?
Gillian: I’m going to be naughty and tell you the sort of behind-the-scenes story first but I’d just gotten “Thorns and Fangs” accepted by NineStar and I was checking out their website, and I looked at their submissions and they had a call out for holiday submissions. And the call for seasonal stories, it was for a romance, it was 12,000 words to 30,000 words and you had to provide a synopsis. But for erotica, it was up to 5000 words and you didn’t have to give a synopsis. So I was like, “Erotica, okay, I’m sure I can do that.” And the problem is that I have a pretty humorous writing style, well, occasionally, I do. And so I came up with a premise for the story but it was funny. And humor and erotica do not mix because it’s hard to, like, write sexy and then throwing in a joke. It kind of kills the tension entirely.
So what you’ve got instead is this really random story. I’ve been told it’s really funny but it’s… Yeah, it’s not sexy. I don’t think. Or maybe it is, but it’s just really random mix of genres. But the premise is, it’s based on a real sweater I owned. I was in a mall in Japan and I saw this sweater and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, everyone, come and look at this. It’s so ugly.” And everyone’s like, “Yeah, it’s an ugly sweater.” And I was like, “Oh, but look how ugly it is.” It was a Union Jack design but instead of being blue, red, and white, it was like navy, and tan, and cream. So it was just this really weird combination of colors. And then they just added random extra buttons on it, like the buttons didn’t match and they were like, you know, fake buttons that didn’t actually connect to anything.
And I went home and the next day, I was still thinking about the sweater. And I’m like, “No one is going to appreciate that sweeter except for me. I must buy it.” So I went out and I bought this hideous sweater and I still have it and I love it to pieces. But see, the premise of “The Ugliest Sweater” is that there’s this guy, Dan, who has this sweater and he loves it but it’s awful, and it’s so awful that his two previous boyfriends have dumped him because they refused to be seen with someone who’s willing to go out in public in the sweater. And he wears it for boyfriend number three who immediately dumps him. And so Dan is in Starbucks, sort of, consoling himself with a gingerbread latte after the end of relationship number three and he meets this guy who is absolutely infatuated with his sweater and they have a sexy moment in the Starbucks bathroom.
The guy takes off and Dan figures he’s just, like, so embarrassed to have had an encounter with a guy wearing the world’s ugliest Christmas sweater until he gets into work the next day and a local radio station is launching a hunt for the guy in the ugly sweater so they can set him up with Jake Boss, like superstar DJ. And Dan, who works in a gym, is sort of catapulted into the world of radio stardom which, you know, is not quite celebrity level but getting there. And so they’re going to like all these amazing gigs and stuff and he’s kind of… Jake hangs out with celebrities on a regular basis and he is incredibly cool and Dan is like, “What am I doing here? Is this like a rating stunt?” Like, “We’ve got nothing in common except for my sweater. Is this enough to build a relationship on?” As it turns out, Jake has a couple of secrets of his own, but I do not want to spoil the entire story for people so I’ll just leave it there.
Jeff: More fun Christmas reading for the season. You mentioned a little bit that before you started writing novels as a profession, you were doing fanfic and things like that. What did get you started with writing?
Gillian: I think I wanted to be a writer as far back as when I was in primary school which is elementary school, but I fell victim to the advice that somebody told me of, you know, you can’t be a writer until you have life experience. And I took that to mean you can’t be a writer until you’ve done something meaningful or you have suffered a lot. And I have had an amazingly gentle life experience. I’ve been incredibly lucky. I’ve done some amazingly cool things, but I have not had a lot of hardship especially in my, you know, early 20s and stuff. So I actually started writing fanfic when I was 13, and I was getting really annoyed that the characters in the books that I was reading were not doing what I wanted them to do and I kind of carried on. When I was writing fanfiction, I didn’t know what fanfic was. We were living in the Solomon Islands at that time and this was pre-internet. So it was literally just me and a computer. And when that computer died, my stories were lost which is…
Jeff: Oh, no.
Gillian: No, it’s actually probably better that way. I’m sure they were incredibly embarrassing. But when I was 15-16-ish, we moved back to New Zealand and I joined an elf cuisine in the States. And we used to get mailed out like a physical newsletter with our stories and art in it, and that was amazing. And then I went to university and in the lobby of our university hall of residence, there were two computers. And on one of those computers, I discovered fanfiction.net for the first time and the rest was history.
Jeff: That’s awesome.
Jeff: I’m sad for your older stories though because sometimes, it’s just nice to look back at those and go, “Wow, I wrote that thing.”
Gillian: It’s good, though, because I’ve got stories on LiveJournal and Archive of Our Own, and I go back periodically and I start reading them and I get to the end and I’m like, “You know, how dare this author not finish the story? Like, where’s the rest of it?” And then I’m like, “Oh, damn, it’s me.”
Jeff: I did that.
Jeff: What are some books you’ve read recently that you would recommend to our listeners?
Gillian: I recently read, I think, “The Magpie Lord” and I think that’s K. J. Charles, and that just…it was so much fun. It was exactly what I needed. It had been sitting on my Kindle for like years and I kept on thinking, “I’m gonna read this and I know I’m going to love it.” But for whatever reason, I just didn’t read it. And then, yeah, I’m so glad I did not read it earlier because it was exactly the book I needed. It’s pure fun. And another book that I haven’t read yet but I am really excited about, Jamie Sands’ newest book, I think it’s “Overdues and Occultism.” I got that on pre-order and it just arrived yesterday. So I’m super excited to eventually read that.
Jeff: Tell us what’s coming in 2021. I imagine there’s some more “Read by Candlelight” going on there given our conversation so far.
Gillian: Yeah. It will probably be the series that never ends, which I’m perfectly fine with. I’m really enjoying it, but I’d like to tie up the “Deep Magic” series. It’s kind of been sitting there unfinished for a really long time. And so, I’d really like to bring that to a close because I’ve got another very similar series that I’d like to write. And this is kind of testament to how bad I am at writing in a single genre. I plan this as a cozy mystery. One of the elements of cozy mystery, you do not have explicit violence, the murders are very much off-screen. And also another trademark of cozy mystery is that the love interest is like it’s a long build, a slow-burn relationship and it builds up over many, many books before there’s any kind of payoff. My amateur detective is a siren who has just been minding his own business sulking in a cave for the last hundred years.
It’s set in New Zealand in Banks Peninsula, which is where my family have lived for six generations. So I’m actually really looking forward to exploring it in book form. But yes, so Ishmael, he’s just minding his own business having a massive 100-year-old sulk, and then somebody dumps a dead body in his cave and he’s like, “Ah, what am I gonna do with this? Like, if I leave it here, it’s gonna attract sharks, but I don’t really want to move. I’ve been here 100 years. Okay, I’m gonna get rid of it.” Because once you get sharks, like they keep coming back. They’re just, ah, sharks are the worst. So he helpfully dumps this dead body on a bay so that someone will find it and it can be someone else’s problem. But having left his cave, he, like, felt the fresh air and heard the birdsong, he’s like…he starts feeling restless and he hears boats and stuff.
And so he goes back to investigate. He ends up getting caught by a witch who, like, bundles him up, takes him to the local police station, and is like, “Here’s your murderer.” And Ishmael is like, “What?” And the police are like, “We don’t think so.” And while the witch is arguing with the police, another victim is murdered, so Ishmael is off the hook and the witch stole Ishmael’s voice. So Ishmael is like, “Give me my voice back so I can murder you.” And the witch is like, “Obviously, I’m not going to do that.” And the witch has now lost all credibility because they’re in town setting themselves up as a psychic and now, they’ve made this murder prediction that’s just been completely, yeah.
Jeff: Oh, this sounds crazy fun.
Gillian: It’s great. But the problem is that Ishmael is absolutely…you never choose a Simon to be a character in your cozy mystery because I planned it so that Ishmael and Artemis, the witch, would have the long slow-burn relationship. But Ishmael has found a…I apologize for your iTunes rating, there’s no other term. He’s found a fuck buddy that’s going really amazingly well, but he’s starting to have feelings for Kyle and then he, halfway through the book, Ishmael in the cozy mystery murders a police officer. No, that’s not what you do in a cozy mystery. And then he is now having unresolved sexual tension with a different police officer. So, instead of having one low key love interest, he’s got three. And we’ve got an onscreen murder. And it’s just like I wanted a cozy mystery. I mean, it’s very entertaining but I’m like, “This wasn’t what I signed up for.” This is a hallmark of my writing career. I sit down to write one thing and I end up with something completely different.
Jeff: So how can people keep up with you online to know more about “Read by Candlelight,” where “Deep Magic” goes, how this cozy mystery finally gets to come to market and everything else?
Gillian: The best way to keep up with me is through my author newsletter. If you head over to my website, www.gillianstkevern.com, you can sign up there. Otherwise, I’ve just recently started a Facebook group, StKevern Saints. So that’s actually a lot of fun. A friend of mine keeps sharing Count von Count memes which was completely unexpected but so much fun.
Jeff: Excellent. Well, we’ll put links to all of that to let people know how to find you plus all the books we’ve talked about in the show notes. Gillian, thank you so much for coming and telling us all about your writing.
Gillian: It has been an absolute pleasure. It’s just been so fun getting to talk to you.