Thursday 14 November


Publishing your First Novel with Gill Thompson

 Gill Thompson

Gill will be talking about the research and long gestation of THE OCEANS BETWEEN US, of her experience in publishing her first novel and running some simple workshops. Gill’s creative writing blog at is well worth checking out for tips and advice.

Gill Thompson is an English lecturer who completed an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University. Her first novel, THE OCEANS BETWEEN US, tells the heart-breaking story of a mother and son separated by war and by continents, fighting their way back to each other. The first three chapters were longlisted for the Mslexia novel award and the first page of her second novel was selected to feature in Mslexia magazine. THE OCEANS BETWEEN US has reached number one in Historical Australian and Oceanian Fiction on Amazon. Gill lives with her family in West Sussex where she teaches English to college students.




Review of meeting


Amanda introduced Gill Thompson to talk about ‘Publishing your first novel’. Gill is an English lecturer, who always wanted to write. Her debut novel, THE OCEANS BETWEEN US, was a No. 1 digital bestseller, its first three chapters were longlisted for the Mslexia novel award. Gill talked about her research methods, how to use research in fictional writing, and about her route to being published. After her talk she provided local history accounts as prompts for a writing workshop. There is a full account after the Notices.


Gill Thompson – Publishing Your First Novel

Writing, Finding an Agent, Getting Published

Gill was prompted to write her first novel, The Oceans Between Us, when she heard about the children who were transported to Australia in the 1940s. A legacy enabled her to hone her writing skills studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester. She told us that a photo of a young boy from a contemporary news story had given her a personality for one of her characters.

Once Gill thought she had her first draft she looked for an agent, at first got nowhere with her 3 chapters and synopsis, then Ann Williams at the Kate Hordern agency asked to see the rest of the book. Her view was that the book was not ready, and that Gill needed professional editorial help. The professional editor gave the book structure – time slices and two p.o.v.s. Gill spent a further six months working on the book, she has 80 different versions on her laptop. After two years of research and six further years writing/re-writing her agent pitched the book to a Hatchett’s editor and Gill got a two book deal. She had to write the second book in a year. The Child on Platform One, based on the Kindertransport, will be out on Kindle in December, hard copy next spring.

Doing, and using, research

Gill got in touch with the Nottingham social worker who had exposed the scandal, and then with people who had been on the migrant ships, or whose siblings had. These contacts both gave her accounts she could trust (when in doubt – rule of thumb – look for first-hand account), and validation, (she was told, ’tell the story’).

Quotes about doing/using research:

Dr Johnson – A man will turn over half a library to make just one book.

Hilary Mantel in one of her Reith lectures – (after doing research)… Close the book, then dream it.

Emily Dickinson – Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.

Other advice - Characters exist outside the novel, the author should know a character’s family even if they don’t appear in the book. Bury the research. Don’t shoehorn research in. Involve all the senses in descriptions. First-hand accounts are useful for significant details.

Writing Exercise

Gill had prepared a handout of various events from our area’s history (High Down Gardens creation, John Oliver’s grave and putative smuggled-goods cache, the Prince of Wales’ 1928 golfing holiday and dalliance, an 1896 shipwreck, and a shot-down German bomber).

We were asked to write something based on/inspired by one of these events. When some of the pieces were read out we heard that several people had family memories that were triggered by an event in the prompt sheet, and had written about them.



 Gill's Presentation of available here