Keeping it real in writing – Gillian McAllister

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By Gillian McAllister

I always want to write about real situations. So many of the thrillers I have read become far-fetched or outlandish. I always wanted to keep my novel, Everything But The Truth, rooted in realism. The questions I held at the front of my mind were: what would reasonable people do in response to this? And what would I do?

Everything But The Truth opens with a woman whose boyfriend’s iPad lights up their bedroom in the middle of the night. She is startled awake by it, and unthinkingly looks, and sees something about an atrocity he may have committed. This leads my heroine, when the hero denies it, to commence a journey of trying to find out what he did.

From that opening I had to anchor myself to the realism within my book. It was tempting to have the hero never explain himself, but with the age of the internet, and with a book that I wanted to sit in reality, it was ridiculous that my heroine, Rachel, would not eventually discover his crime, confront him with what she had found, or simply walk away.

I therefore, during a structural edit I did before sending the novel to my agent, moved the big reveal – what did Jack do? – from the very end of the novel all the way to just before halfway. This way, the reader is getting what they want, and my novel became something else: an exploration of the lengths we will go to to find the absolute truth, about the things we will put up with when we really love somebody, and where the lines are that we simply cannot, and will not, cross.

It would have been easy, too, to go down the well-trodden thriller path: Jack would find out that Rachel had breached his privacy (she makes a police disclosure request, for example) and, being a dangerous man, would plot to kill her. I think that is the natural thriller arc that an opening like mine lends itself to.

But I didn’t want to do that. Not only because I wasn’t writing a horror novel that would scare people, but also because I wanted to do something different. I wanted to take the cliche and turn it on its head. And so I wrote, instead, about the consequences of crime on a relationship. I wrote about how far people will go to seek the truth, and what the truth – and trust – really is anyway. I wrote about what the criminal justice system does to a person, and how, in seeking truth from your partner, you must be honest about your own past. I wrote about good people doing bad things, and bad people doing good things.

Gillian McAllister is a writer living in Birmingham. She enjoys endless cups of tea, her orange cat, and occasionally having an idea for a novel.

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