Writers Inspiring Change feature author: Jean Gill
Updated: 1 day ago
I’m a Welsh writer and photographer living in the south of France with two scruffy dogs; three beehives named ‘Endeavour’, ‘Resolution’ and ‘Diligence’; a Nikon D750 and a man. I taught English in Wales for many years and my claim to fame is that I was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in the county of Carmarthenshire. I’m mother or stepmother to five children so, life has been pretty hectic.
I’ve published 23 books, both with traditional publishers and self-published. You’ll find everything under my name from prize-winning poetry and novels, military history, translated books on dog training, to a cookery book on goat cheese. My work with top dog-trainer Michel Hasbrouck has taken me deep into the world of dogs with problems, and inspired one of my novels. With Scottish parents, an English birthplace and French residence, I can usually support the winning team on most sporting occasions.
Inspiration to write
I’ve always written stories and on special occasions my soldier father took me to work in the army hospital and let me type up a story on the big clunky typewriter in his office. My first novel was a melodrama of twelve chapters called Jill’s Stables, written in school when I was eleven. The teacher’s only suggestion for improvement was ‘More pictures please’. This was my first experience of how disappointing a review can be.
A degree in English Literature taught me that dead white men wrote literature and I was unworthy, but then I read Stevie Smith’s poetry and realised that writers were more varied than I’d been led to believe – and many of them were alive. Poets are great rule-breakers so I wrote poetry. I still remember the thrill of my first poem being accepted for publication in 1986, in Outposts Journal.
I’m a rule-breaker by nature as you can tell from how many genres I’ve written. I’ve learned from Guy Gavriel Kay’s epic sweep of history and lyrical style; Jane Davis’ range and depth of viewpoints; Sheri Tepper’s world-building; Dorothy Dunnett’s grasp of medieval politics; Colette’s sensuality, defiance of gender expectations and beautiful prose. I discovered Colette when I was eighteen and I have a framed poster of her above my desk. She was the first woman to be accepted into the French Academy, despite her wild lifestyle. She inspired me then and, now that I have read her work in French too, she inspires me still.
I’ve also been inspired by every writer who gave workshops to my students in Wales and especially by those who came to my house for tea.
Message in my book
I’m proud of becoming a beekeeper in my sixties from a starting point of zero experience. ‘Save the bees’ changed into fascination with the lives of this super-organism and I want each reader to shift into a bee; to fly with Mielitta on a queen’s mating flight; to fight invaders in the beehive; to be deceived by the mages and their self-serving politics; to walk on the artificial grassette of the Citadel and to compare purified water with that of fresh from the stream in the forbidden Forest. To love the natural world and fight corrupt politicians.
I see all around me the divide between Citadel and Forest, between urban living and nature, and the clash between the two. Humans are losing touch with nature. Artificial grass is touted as clean and labour-saving. Spikes and netting keep birds from trees and hedges. The sterile Citadel and its grassette shows the environment that would be the logical result of man’s war against other creatures.
My passionate reaction against this false divide underlies the novel but there are many viewpoints represented in what I hope is a compelling story. If we kill nature, we are killing ourselves, physically (by ‘allergy’ in my novel) and emotionally. But there are no easy answers and I don’t try to give them. Love and accept your own nature as part of the natural world would be one message I’d take away as a reader but the novel is open to many interpretations.
The wonderful reviews do motivate me to keep writing, especially those which refer to the bees as characters and say how much the readers loved them. I like the way each reader responds differently. Some see it like the Narnia series; others more like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ or ‘1984’. One review I treasure called the novel ‘the most original book’ read that year.
The book was a quarterfinalist in the Booklife Prize and a finalist in the 2020 Kindle Book Awards, so it’s motivating to get critical acclaim too.
Queen of the Warrior Bees
I had a beekeeping accident through over-confidence and stupidity, and was stung in the head more than fifty times. Although not allergic to bee-stings, I did have an anaphylactic reaction because of the sheer amount of venom and needed an injection. I have to say this was terrifying and it took me a while to get my confidence back working with the hive! I used my experience in the scene where Mielitta is stung in the Forest. Sadly, unlike Mielitta, I gained no super-powers but the novel grew from that incident. A fellow-writer and friend told me I really should write this story and it buzzed around my head until I did. I don’t know of any other novel where the heroine shape-shifts into a bee.
The Booklife Prize critic gave this description:
‘This immersive and atmospheric fantasy is focused on one girl’s rebellion against confining social constraints as manifested through a profound and magical transformation. Gill’s novel evokes traditional fairy tale elements, exploring forbidden realms, guarded secrets, and undiscovered powers, while weaving in subtle feminist and ecological threads.’
I’ve just finished Book 3 of the Natural Forces series, bringing the clash between Citadel and Forest to an epic conclusion. Publication date is 12th February. Pre-order HERE.
Preview of my next book
Here’s an exclusive preview of an extract from Book 3, The World Beyond the Walls. Mielitta’s younger friend Drianne is a character who comes of age in the this book.
‘Alone was something Drianne only felt with people around her. She sang as she prepared food for the animals, cat first to acknowledge his status as master of the homestead universe. Her mouth opened and closed in a song of springtime. No matter that others would hear no sound. She sang for herself and the rainbow colours of her mood showed in the garment Arven had knitted for her, currently lying cat-like around her neck.
Hui circled her legs purring, his eyes smiling in cat, a language which Drianne understood. As she did chicken, goat and horse. Communication in bee was improving, thanks to Qingzhao’s journal. She would never get inside a bee’s mind as Mielitta could but the journal was teaching her that she had different talents.’