Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Gilly Macmillan Author Interview

Photo Content from Gilly Macmillan

Gilly Macmillan is the New York Times bestselling author of What She Knew and The Perfect Girl. She trained as an art historian and worked at The Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery before starting a family. Since then she’s worked as a lecturer in photography, and now writes full-time. She resides in Bristol, England.


What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life in writing?
Be very realistic about why you are writing. If your goal is traditional publication, it would be wise to make yourself aware of the market. The more informed you are about the sorts of books that publishers are buying and promoting, the better chance you have of writing something that will appeal to them and to the readers who buy their products. If your goal is self-publication or you simply want to write for yourself, you are much more free to pursue projects that suit you. Whatever your goal is, I would say one of the most important qualities you need is persistence. 

What were your inspirations for the character development?
Having written about a relatively young and go-getting detective in What She Knew and Odd Child Out, I was keen to write about an older detective in I Know You Know because I felt experience would give him a different perspective on his cases. John Fletcher is a detective whose ambition has certainly been tempered by his years of work in the Criminal Investigations Department. I spoke to two retired detectives in Bristol to help me build his character and also listened to true crime podcasts where comparable detectives have a voice. The podcast research seemed especially relevant as a true crime podcast is at the heart of I Know You Know. My character Cody Swift was loosely inspired by real life podcaster, David Ridgen, who returned to his home town to look into an unsolved case in the first episode of the excellent CBC podcast Someone Knows Something. True crime podcasts were also an invaluable resource for hearing victims of crime and their families speak directly about their experiences. Often, they had a wealth of strong emotions, even years after the original crime, and, interestingly, some of these could be conflicting (for example, many of them longed for closure but were very wary of reopening old wounds by revisiting incredibly painful and frightening moments from their past). This very much fed into Jess’s character.

Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that writing was not just a hobby.
Writing was never really a hobby for me. I had done no more than write a few chapters of a potential book sometimes in my early twenties before I sat down and tried to write what turned out to be What She Knew when I was in my early forties. I had mostly been a stay-at-home mum for the previous decade, apart from a bit of part time work, so I found I had some time on my hands when my third child started school. I needed to go and get a job but I figured I had a couple of months before that became urgent, so I set myself a challenge first: to see whether I could write a whole book. I wrote 1,000 words a day until I had a draft of What She Knew and submitted it the first three chapters to a few agents. It became real the day one of them called after requesting and reading the whole manuscript. ‘You can write,’ she said, ‘but your book needs a lot of work.’ She offered to represent me if I was willing to work on the book. Of course, I agreed! We worked on it for a year before it was ready to be submitted to publishers. Everything else has led from there.

What was your unforgettable moment while writing I KNOW YOU KNOW?
The location the murders take place in is a real one. I went there one day to take a look at it to help me describe it in the book’s present day scenes and I discovered that in the corner of the parking lot of the gigantic superstore which is there now (in place of an old stadium that hosted football and then greyhound racing) there is a small building that escaped demolition when the stadium came down. It is still in use as a working man’s club. I entered rather nervously because it was dark and felt very masculine – I could hear the pool balls clattering from a room in the back – but I was made very welcome and chatted with a few of the men who were there. They told me all kinds of fantastic stories about the place and the past. I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to listen as they brought the past to life. It was perfect for adding colour, atmosphere and intensity to the book, which takes place both in the present and the past.

Are there authors that you’re excited to engage/work with?
I love having the opportunity to engage with or meet other authors, many of whom I have admired for years. I’ve been fortunate to meet Lee Child, Gillian Flynn, Linwood Barclay, Shari Lapena and Mary Kubica amongst many other wonderful writers and I often feel a little star-struck! As I type these answers I’m on my way to Harrogate crime writing festival in the UK and I’m really looking forward to spending time with other authors, there. The festival takes place annually and we descend on the town like a plague to swop notes and hang out.

What part of Cody did you enjoy writing the most?
I loved exploring how he felt about his early childhood now that he is an adult and has some perspective. It would be a challenge for anyone to return to the locations and people involved in the murders of your two best friends, twenty years on, and Cody is no different. It was important to me that he be thoughtful and aware of this. It was also interesting to think about how he might edit what he’s says about his family’s past in the podcast, given that it is for public consumption.

What book would you recommend for others to read?
I loved The Last Mrs Parrish by Liv Constantine.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Jess?
How strength and vulnerability can combine to create phenomenal resilience. Jess is a woman with extreme emotions, mostly due to what she has been through, and I loved exploring how she moved on after her son’s murder and how that experience lived on with her. I felt for her but I was never quite sure what she was capable of.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
My next book (out in 2019) is called The Nanny. It is a chilling story about a young woman who returns to her family home widowed and vulnerable with a daughter of her own. Her life is thrown into turmoil when her beloved nanny, Aggie, reappears, having disappeared without a trace thirty years previously. But is it really Aggie, and what does she want now that she’s back?

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would introduce Detective Inspector John Fletcher from I Know You Know to Detective Inspector Jim Clemo from What She Knew. They work in the same fictional department so in theory they already know each other but I’d love to be a fly on the wall for a meeting between them and watch them size each other up. They are both very canny, but represent different eras and methods of policing and have different personalities. Potentially, they could learn from each other, but I suspect sparks might fly instead.

What are you most passionate about today?
My family. The political climate and the world in general feel so unstable and unpredictable right now that I try to focus on those close to me and do the best I can by them. 

What were you doing at midnight last night?
Sleeping! I’m an early bird, not a night owl.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
I would appear in some form to my younger self and tell her to be braver and to stop worrying about conforming and to work hard at what she was passionate about. 

Can you define love in your own way?
Putting somebody else’s wellbeing before your own without a moment’s thought.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
My baby son’s diagnosis of cancer. It felt as if a bolt of lightning had struck our family. It made me reconsider and reevaluate everything I thought I knew. He is thriving now, thankfully, and you would never know he had been unwell, but I will never forget a single minute of the experience of his diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Tell me something about you that most people don't know.
I am ambitious.

Where can readers find you?
I love interacting with readers so I’ll be delighted if they get in touch. I am on social media and I have a website. Details are below:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/gillymacmillanauthor/
Instagram: @gillymacmillan
Twitter: @gillymacmillan

  • 1. Bristol, where the book is set, is my home city. I went to university in Bristol and returned years later to live with my family.
  • 2. The location of the murders is real. I chose it because I was fascinated with how Bristol has changed over the years and how much extraordinary and vivid history can potentially lie beneath a bland superstore car park. 
  • 3. I am a true crime podcast addict, which is how I got inspired to weave a podcast through the book.
  • 4. ‘Dishlicker’ is a slang word for ‘greyhound’ which is why Cody chose the name for his production company.
  • 5. The Lord Mayor’s Chapel, where Fletcher meets Annabel Collins, is a venue where I’ve listened to concerts performed by my sons’ school.
  • 6. I Know You Know has been my most complicated book to plot to date.
  • 7. Insights from the two retired detectives I consult on all my books inspired me to write about a detective who is almost at the end of his career. 
  • 8. The book is very loosely based on a real-life double-murder case.
  • 9. I was inspired to involve Jess and her husband in the world of film and TV because my son has had a role on BBC drama Call the Midwife since Season 2. He plays Timothy Turner, the doctor’s son.
  • 10. Bristol has an annual hot air balloon festival which takes place in August and attracts enthusiasts from all over the world. The skies above the city and surrounding countryside fill with balloons. It’s spectacular. It’s also not unusual during the summer in Bristol to see a few balloons overhead at dawn or dusk on any day when conditions are right.

From author Gilly Macmillan comes this original, chilling and twisty mystery about two shocking murder cases twenty years apart, and the threads that bind them.

Twenty years ago, eleven-year-olds Charlie Paige and Scott Ashby were murdered in the city of Bristol, their bodies dumped near a dog racing track. A man was convicted of the brutal crime, but decades later, questions still linger.

For his whole life, filmmaker Cody Swift has been haunted by the deaths of his childhood best friends. The loose ends of the police investigation consume him so much that he decides to return to Bristol in search of answers. Hoping to uncover new evidence, and to encourage those who may be keeping long-buried secrets to speak up, Cody starts a podcast to record his findings. But there are many people who don’t want the case—along with old wounds—reopened so many years after the tragedy, especially Charlie’s mother, Jess, who decides to take matters into her own hands.

When a long-dead body is found in the same location the boys were left decades before, the disturbing discovery launches another murder investigation. Now Detective John Fletcher, the investigator on the original case, must reopen his dusty files and decide if the two murders are linked. With his career at risk, the clock is ticking and lives are in jeopardy…

You can purchase I Know You Know at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you GILLY MACMILLAN for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of I Know You Know by Gilly Macmillan. 


  1. "What was the most frightening moment of your life?" That time where....

  2. It was probably when I was being followed home from the train one evening. He grabbed me & I spun around & whacked him across the bridge of the nose with my keys. That gave me enough time to get away & bang on the door of the nearest house for help.

  3. The most frightening time of my life was when we had to rush my daughter to the ER.

  4. I was on a really terrifying bus ride once in the mountains of Northern Greece. Every corner of the road had a little shrine where other buses had gone off the road and everyone died. I swear the wheels were often hanging off the edge!

  5. Watching my mom die after a long battle with cancer.

  6. One of my twins had an accident burning her leg with scalding water. The closest ER was too busy, so we did a 20 minute drive in 10, pausing slightly then going through stop signs and lights. I had to flag someone down to open the doors and asked for a room. They told me I had to wait, but I insisted since she was in my arms. After being treated, she unwrapped the dressing, so got another shot and a rewrap. Thank goodness we went to a plastic surgeon 2 days later, because the dressing was twice a day and scraping off silver nitrate cream and then reapplying was agony. The surgeon started over with Xeroform gauze and dressing that we left alone for 7 days. She still has some scars.

  7. I've had many frightening moments in my life, but nothing I'm willing to post online. Thanks for the giveaway!