Interview with Journalist and Novelist, Gillian Harvey
Gillian, 42, is a former teacher who began her writing career in earnest in 2012 after the birth of her twin boys, Tim and Joe. She regularly writes features and opinion pieces for national newspapers and magazines and is now a mother of 5.
Her debut novel, Everything is Fine, is out on 28 May with Orion and is available in paperback, e-book and audiobook versions.
It’s wonderful to discover more about Gillian’s life.
Describe a typical day for you?
My day often starts abruptly, with a kick in the back or a breathy whisper in my ear. I have five children aged ten and under, so usually have at least one interloper in my bed by morning.
The next hour is usually a blur of preparing breakfast, nagging children to get dressed, checking schoolbags and cleaning teeth. After the school-run at 9, peace descends and I slip into my office to write.
At 4pm, it’s time to pick the little ones up. I always look forward to seeing them and hearing about their day, despite the inevitable arguments about who gets to sit in the front.
Evenings are spent reading stories, giving kisses and switching off lights, before settling down to a well-earned cuppa with my husband, Ray.
Since lockdown, our routine has been slightly different. We start the day later, and I spend most mornings helping the children with their schoolwork or chasing them in the garden.
What do you feel are your greatest achievements?
It’s a cliché, but my kids are by far and away my greatest achievements. Back in 2009, I didn’t think I’d ever be a mum. But three IVFs and two surprises later, here I am. I spent a lot of time feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, but a little smile, a tiny cuddle or hearing my children laughing together brings so much joy.
Aside from those beautiful humans, my upcoming novel ‘Everything is Fine’ is my greatest achievement. I’ve written a few books in the past but struggled to find an agent or a publisher. With this one, things have suddenly fallen into place – a lifelong dream has been achieved. I’m still waiting for my publisher to come to her senses and realise she’s made a giant mistake!
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
I’m currently experimenting with going handbag-free. I’m not sure whether it’s going to last – I definitely need more pockets. But I was so fed up of carrying a giant handbag full of debris other people had chosen to stuff in it: my husband’s wallet; half-sucked lollies from the kids wrapped in sticky tissue. Crumbs, receipts, a mangled hairbrush and if I was lucky, my purse lying at the bottom.
I also began to realise how much carrying a bag was actually getting in the way when I went out with the kids – where should I leave it at the playcentre? How am I going to carry a fussing four-year-old with a bag over my shoulder? So I’m trying to stick to just carrying a purse and phone and putting them in my pockets. Let’s see if I can continue a bag-free life…
What are your ambitions in life?
Career-wise, it’s always the writing. I want to write unputdownable novels that people enjoy. That said, whether or not my novels are successful, I know writing will always be part of my life – even if it’s just for me.
Career-aside, after going through several years of anxiety and depression, I’ve realised that the most important thing in life is being happy. Another cliché! But it’s really true. Feeling content and able to cope with what life might throw at you; feeling strong and able to face the world. Both of these things are invaluable. It took me forty years to fully realise that, and life is so much better for it.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
In terms of my writing, I wish I’d thought a bit more about my audience when I first started writing novels 20 years ago! I wrote for the pleasure of it, but didn’t always keep my reader in mind as much as I should have. Now I’ve learned to think more about how my work might come across, I’m not fussy about changing things around when it comes to editing. I suppose having confidence in my writing has helped this – I now understand that editorial comment and feedback is not criticism, but helps me to improve.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
That’s a scary thought! My children will almost all be teenagers, so probably pulling my hair out or staying up late to wait for the older ones to come home.
Career-wise, I just hope that I’m still writing – that I have several novels out and that readers are enjoying my work.
What advice would you give a budding novelist?
Don’t be too precious about your initial ideas. Take feedback on board. Sometimes when we have an idea, other people’s input can feel like criticism. But being prepared to listen to others can take a good idea and make it truly great.
I’d also say, if you feel you have something fabulous to share with the world – whether it’s a business idea, a product or something creative – never give up!
What advice would you give a first-time mother?
Expect to be completely bowled over both by how wonderful it is and how difficult it can be. Don’t beat yourself up and try not to buy into the idea of ‘perfect.’ There are no perfect mums – most of us strive to be ‘good enough.’