Gail Schimmel on her writing process and new novel

We sat down with Gail Schimmel to chat about everything from writing, family, friendship, her bookshelf and latest novel, The Accident.

Please introduce The Accident...
When Julia was a child, her parents were involved in an accident that would cast a long shadow over Julia’s life. Now that Julia is an adult, facing her own challenges, it might be time for her and her mother to unravel the demons that they have lived with since the accident. The Accident is told from four points of view: Julia; her mother, Catherine; her lover, Daniel, and Daniel’s wife, Claire.

What connects you to the characters?
The story for me starts and ends with Catherine. Catherine’s story came to me because I was thinking about the fact that I seem to write about life phases before I actually live them – and Catherine is in a life phase that I have yet to experience. Of course, Catherine’s challenges are not any that I will hopefully ever experience first-hand! I loved writing Claire, who is on one level an embodiment of That Perfect Woman that we all wish we could be. I loved unpacking how those women actually feel about the pedestal that we put them on, and what happens when they want to step down. I also loved writing Daniel – because Daniel is a little bit awful, and that was so much fun to write.

What did you find most difficult with writing The Accident?
It’s the thing that is difficult with all my writing – time! Although that said, The Accident did want to be written rather badly. In some ways, it is the book so far that has been easiest to write.

This is your fourth novel; how did you get into writing?
I have always written – from the time I could string an ill-spelt sentence together. When I was a child (as I often relate) I wanted to be a writer. My father – who was himself an artist and would have been expected to support me – pointed out that there is a lot of editing involved and that in those days of typewriters, this would involve a lot of hard work. Being rather hard- work adverse, I decided to become a lawyer instead...
But the reality is that if you are a story teller, there’s not a lot you can do to fight it – and I am a story teller. I needed to write, and if I was going to write anyway, I was pretty determined that I would also be read!

Where do you write?
Honestly, wherever I can! Mostly at my desk between day job tasks. But I also get an enormous amount done on holiday – by the pool of any hotel is a favourite.

Family and friendship are recurring themes in your books, what is it that draws you to write about these dynamics?
I guess it’s that old story – write what you know. But it also comes from the source of my stories, which is the “what ifs” of life. And “what if” very often centres on these relationships.

How was writing The Accident different from writing The Park?
Hmm... every book is a bit the same and a bit different. I wrote The Accident at a very busy time in my work life but it was absolutely determined to get itself finished (even though I had actually told myself I could take a break and focus on my day job). So I would have to say that it flowed, in so far as my writing ever flows. It also had less research, which helps!

When not writing or spending, what do you fill your days with?
I’m the CEO of the Advertising Regulatory Board – so I think it is safe to say that I have a kind of “real” day job which keeps me very busy. My kids are also at that busy stage of Primary School – old enough to have places to be and things to do but young enough that I have to help them get to their places and do their things! And we have a puppy. I’d forgotten how hard that is
(Was I supposed to tell you about my exercise regime or something? I don’t exercise. I consider it very dangerous.)

What’s on your bookshelf?
Lots of books that will never be reread again because of my Kindle. I used to reread a lot – old favourites like John Grisham, Maeve Binchy, Gerald Durrell, Marian Keyes, Wally Lamb, Donna Tartt, Mary Wesley, JK Rowling and so many others are falling apart at the seams – literally – from rereading. And then came the miracle of “push this button for your next book” – and suddenly life is too short to reread!

Who would you be most flattered to have your books compared to?
I think Liane Moriarty. The reason is that she writes a similar type of story but like me, sets it in her home town – in her case, Sydney. Yet she’s done that thing we all aspire to – cracked the international market without giving up on her setting. I’d like to be that person for South African writing.

When can Gail Schimmel fans expect your next book?
After The Accident I promised myself I could take a break. I obviously then immediately had an idea that demanded attention and the first draft of my next book is actually done! But it needs a lot of polishing and there is always a chance that it’s a big load of drivel and nobody will publish it... but all going well, maybe towards the end of next year (publishing is a slow business!). But, to wet your appetites, I will tell you that it is a thriller...