Wales is my adopted country. After a nomadic childhood, I moved to Pontyberem in Carmarthenshire when I was 22 and then worked as a teacher in south Wales for 25 years, far longer than I’ve lived anywhere else.
Yet you live in Provence now. Why did you leave Wales?
Rain. My husband says I take weather personally and I found the endless rain depressing. I reached a high level in my career – my claim to fame is that I was the first woman to be a secondary Headteacher in Carmarthenshire (two of us were appointed that year in the whole of Wales) but I had little time for my ‘other life’ as a writer. I had two CVs and was more and more frustrated that I didn’t have time to write, having had two poetry books and a novel published.
When my husband retired in 2003, we moved to Provence and I’ve written eleven books since then. I wrote about my first year living in Provence in ‘How Blue is My Valley’ and compared my experience as an immigrant in Wales with that of being an immigrant in France. In writing the book I realised how much Welshness is in me now and always will be, wherever I live.
Tell us a little about yourself as writer and as person.
I’m a Welsh writer and photographer now living in Provence with a big white dog, a scruffy black one, a Nikon D750 and a man. Before 2003 I taught English in Wales and, at one stage, I was English Adviser for the 81 schools of Neath Port Talbot, a county without a single bookshop.
I’ve now written eighteen books in a wide variety of genres, from WW2 military history, through poetry and novels to a cookbook and dog-training translations (from French). My first book was traditionally published in 1988 but most of my books are now independently published; I am the publisher but I employ a professional editor (ex-Editor of Macmillan Africa) and a cover designer (Jessica Bell).
I’m mother or stepmother to five children so life was hectic. In addition to my Welsh background, I have an English birthplace, Scottish parents and French residence so I can support the winning team on most sporting occasions.
Why did you decide to write in your chosen genres?
Ideas come to me attached to the form in which they should be written – poetry, short story, plays, novels – I’ve even written TV plays and I won a place on a course run by ITV to seek writers for television. I made it to the second round to write for ‘Eastenders’ at which point I thought I should watch one of the programmes J I’m really glad I didn’t get accepted as I have had far more satisfaction from writing my ideas, my way.
It makes good business sense for an author to stick to one genre and tailor books to meet the market demands. So that’s not what I do at all J A story or idea takes hold of me and has to be written, whether it’s an account of a dog’s life based on true stories (‘Someone To Look Up To’) or 12th century historical fiction. It’s what I do.
Your books include a dog memoir and translated books (from the French) on dog training. Does this mean you’re a dog person?
I used to be a cat person too and bred Birmans when I lived in Wales, with the prefix Dryslwyn but yes, my family has always included a couple of dogs. I have special weakness for Pyrenean Mountain Dogs and have been owned by six of them. Blanche-Neige (Snow White) shares me with Sherlock, an adopted hunting dog, and they’re both willing to model for my book publicity or my photo portfolio. (I make an income as a photographer these days too so I left one career and started two).
When I moved to Provence, I spent time on French dog-lover Forums and Michel Hasbrouck’s book on dog-training was recommended. I got in touch with him, he asked me to translate his book and I went to Switzerland with Blanche to take his 2 days’ dog training course. We found an English publisher for ‘Gentle Dog training’ and I continued my own development as a dog trainer. I nearly ended up with a third career but my husband had an emergency appendectomy which made me realise that I was past the stage of taking on other people’s difficult dogs as challenge. It’s good to know how to deal with my own though, and problems with giant dogs are giant problems!
The 12th century warrior princess Gwenllian – I think she’d be full of interesting stories and I have a few questions to ask her. It would be tricky hiding what I know about how she died but it would be good to hint that she could be very proud of her son Rhys. As a meal fit for a wild Welsh princess, I’d serve good red wine, suitably watered down as was the custom, along with roast venison. I think a bit of poaching the king’s forests would be in order for the occasion.
Who is your favourite Welsh author?
Everyone who ever came to tea with me when I was running (and taking part in) writers’ workshops for Welsh schools. At one stage I was performing in ‘West of Whitland Poets’ with Robert Nisbet and Phil Carradice, so I have a soft spot for them and their work. I loved the Writers on Tour events and all the authors I met; Gillian Clarke, Iris Gower, Peter Finch, Catherine Merriman … all big names to me. One writer I hold in particular esteem is the poet Samantha Wynne Rhydderch, twice nominated for Welsh Book of the Year. I think her work is entertaining as well as intellectually challenging; she performs it well and once upon a time, she was a pupil in my English class. I take no credit for her success (!) but it is hugely satisfying to see an ex-pupil’s achievement.
What is the best thing about Wales?
The coast, whether marsh estuaries or eroded cliffs; the prehistoric standing stones and burial chambers; singing and poetry; Felinfoel and Buckley’s beer; hobbit-hill landscapes; men with valleys’ accents (think Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins); kingfishers, little egrets and cormorants, especially my cormorant, Cory, sitting on the motorway lights on the M4; Welsh vowels that look like English consonants and words like cwtch.
What are you working on now?
Book IV of my 12th century Troubadours Quartet. I am deep into the research at the moment so I don’t know exactly where my fictional characters will go but as the historical setting is always as factually accurate as I can make it, I am looking at what was going on in 1153. I have this feeling that Dragonetz and Estela might meet Gwenllian’s son, Lord Rhys of Deheubarth at some point, but once I start writing, I have to follow where events and characters take me.
Award-winning author Jean Gill is a Welsh writer and photographer now living in the south of France. Since 1988, she has published eighteen books in a wide variety of genres, including four non-fiction works translated from French.
Her credits include: Highly Commended in the Mail on Sunday’s annual prose competition; double winner of the London Writers’ Inc International Competition; finalist in the Wishing Shelf, BookHippo and Cinnamon Press Awards; Winner of the Global Ebook Award for Best Historical Fiction.
A member of the Welsh Academi and Writers on Tour scheme, Jean had to juggle her writing with a career in education and a family until 2003, when she committed to full-time writing and photography.
Her writing and her photos have featured in publications as diverse as France Magazine and poetry anthologies such as Not a Muse, which is on the syllabus of several university literature courses.
‘How Blue is My Valley’ http://smarturl.it/HowBlue
Sign up for Jean’s Newsletter http://eepurl.com/AGvy5
IPPY Award for Best Author Website www.jeangill.com
The Troubadours Page https://www.facebook.com/jeangilltroubadours
Youtube book trailers https://www.youtube.com/user/beteljean