The Who, What, When, Where and Why with Fiona Gibson

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By Jade Craddock

For over a decade, Fiona Gibson has been delighting readers with her brilliant romantic comedies. Now also writing as Ellen Berry, Fiona has gone from strength to strength. With her new novel, The Woman Who Met Her Match, out now, she’s dropped in to answer the who, who, what, when, where and why of her journey so far, and she’s even sent over a special doodle for us, above.

1. Who has been the most important person in your writing journey?

Before I wrote novels, I worked on teenage and young women’s magazines and loved it so much, it never felt like actual work. Maggie Dun was a wonderful woman who gave me my first magazine job (on a long-defunct teen mag called Jackie, based in Dundee). I was a clueless girl of 17 who had just left home and moved into a ratty old bedsit. Maggie really encouraged me and helped to shape my life as a magazine journalist, which led to me being an author.

Through magazines, I learnt about writing to connect with an audience, and developed what I hope is an accessible style. Magazines are about entertainment, and I learnt to have fun with writing and not to take myself too seriously. Really, any writing you do helps you to improve. So much of it is about practice.

2. What motivates you to write?

Well, it is my full-time job, and how I make a living – which tends to motivate me to get stuck in! However, I also write because I love it and it’s a compulsion really. Even if I didn’t get paid, I would still do it in some form. I enjoy telling stories and also find it helpful, just in general life, to get thoughts down in some kind of written form. If I’m particular stressed I’ll curl up with a notebook and pen.

There is something joyful and thrilling about writing fiction. A lot of novel writing is sheer graft, but when it’s going well, and something just ‘clicks’, then it is a brilliant feeling.

3. When did you first start writing?

I have written since I was a little girl. I enjoyed wwmhmwriting anything from diaries, poems and essays in English class to shaky early attempts at stories. At around 15 years old I was making up comic strips, sending them off to comics and getting paid what seemed unfeasibly generous at £5 per strip. ‘This is all right!’ I thought, and kept sending more and more until a very polite letter came through the post saying, ‘We have enough in stock now, please don’t send any more at the moment.’ I was one of those madly enthusiastic types.

As I neared the end of school, I had vague notions of trying to go to art college, but was lucky enough to get a trainee writer’s job on Jackie instead. My first job there was to write the horoscopes – which I made up!

4. Where do you write?

I have a workroom in our flat in Glasgow but don’t really use it that much. I tend to write on the sofa in the living room, or at the kitchen table – or out in cafes or libraries. I always have music playing. As long as there isn’t a huge booming voice by my ear, I can write anywhere. Trains are my favourite place to write as there is literally nothing else to do but sip coffee, glance out of the window occasionally and get on with the work.

5. Why did you write this book?

It started with an idea for character. I love make-up and was drawn to the idea of a woman who works on a make-up counter in a department store. I thought I could have fun with the various customers who came to Lorrie’s counter – and I liked the idea of her rather cynical teenage children being snidey about her job, deeming it silly and superficial compared to, say, being a social worker or running a donkey sanctuary.

The thing is, Lorrie is a single mum, and being a ‘pusher of lipsticks’ has supported all three of them through some difficult times! I started to feel quite defensive on Lorrie’s behalf. People can be scathing about make-up without realising that the very act of putting on can have an incredibly life-enhancing effect. It’s such a fun, creative and relaxing thing to do.

And then there’s the romance aspect. At 16 years old, Lorrie went on a French exchange and fell in love with a boy there. I wanted to imagine what would happen if that first love reappeared in Lorrie’s life – 30 years later. Writing a novel takes me around six months so it has to be an idea that excites me. Make-up – and, okay, foxy French lads – made this a book I was eager to write.

Fiona Gibson was born in a youth hostel in Yorkshire. She started working on teen magazine Jackie at age 17, then went on to join Just Seventeen and More! where she invented the infamous ‘Position of the Fortnight.’ Fiona now lives in Scotland with her husband Jimmy, their three children and a wayward rescue collie cross called Jack.

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