Gill was a member of SCBWI Central North for ten years and for seven of those years, she shared the co-ordination duties. For all of those years she was my friend.
I sat next to Gill during David Fickling's keynote speech at Winchester last year. He began with the poem, 'Whoso List to Hunt' by Thomas Wyatt. When David mislaid some of the words, Gill whispered them under her breath:
"And graven with diamonds in letters plain,
There is written her fair neck round about,
'Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame."
She knew it. She knew a lot about A LOT. Wyatt's poem, I think, appealed to the folklorist in her. She was a talented writer of picture book texts through to teen novels. Her inspiration lay in folklore and family and her huge sense of fun and absolute joy in life. Gill was determined to learn her craft as well and she had that thing which all writers need - staying power.
Gill was an excellent and considerate critiquer of other peoples' work but she admitted to struggling when it came to accepting critique. To her immense credit she overcame this self-confessed fear and was then always looking for innovative ways to improve her work and that of others. She was up for workshops and 1-2-1s and masterclasses and Winchester - anything which could help her improve and be published. She wrote, she learned, she wrote some more. Always the writer.
Her knowledge of local lore was the inspiration for her teen novel, 'Red Eye, Black Dog'. Just after her death, the agent, Ben Illis, kindly took a look at this work and said:
"It's very strong writing, exceedingly well-paced and beautifully atmospheric, with a lovely sense of place, of mystery and most of all, of threat. I am a sucker for any well-realised retelling of British folklore and had been hopeful of finding a convincing take on Black Shuck - whose ghostly apparition had chilled my blood since I first encountered this terrifying hound and harbinger of deathly misfortune at the age of about 9, scaring myself witless in the process.
I have long hoped to see him brought to a contemporary audience and when Gill mentioned he was her subject I was very excited, but also nervous, as I see a lot of writing that takes folklore as its basis and fails to do the legends justice while simultaneously not quite making the mark in terms of contemporary relevance. Red Eye is quite the reverse. Thrilling and utterly relevant, it chills to the bone and excites in equal measure while still, at least in its opening, staying true to the legendary hound itself. I also particularly loved the pragmatism - and excellent use of foul language - of Fox's granny!"
Gill could write. We all knew that and, as she gained the confidence to submit her work, so did the gatekeepers come to know her talent. She had success when she won a Slushpile Challenge in 2014 with Sarah Frost of Hodder for her picture book text, 'My Mum's Bigger than Your Mum!' She submitted her picture book, the beautiful, 'Littlest Magpie and the Star' and had loads of positive responses. Here's a taste of the text:
One night when the sky was the darkest dark ever, Littlest Magpie woke up.
The Star shone so brightly, it made him blink.
He fluttered out onto a twig
Littlest Magpie struggled back onto the twig,
up onto the next,
and the next
"To-woo!" said Owl.
"What are you-hoo doing up here?"
"Catching the Star," said Littlest Magpie, "but it's so high."
"Stars are like that," said Owl wisely. "Far, far away."
"Let me think."
Owl closed his eyes and thought for so long that Littlest Magpie wondered if he had fallen asleep.
Gill was always the cheerleader. Her enthusiasm for individual achievements was so much part of who she was. It was like having the proudest mum ever on your side, always. She enjoyed every writing achievement from magazine letters to books. At Winchester she could not have been happier when Liz and myself stood up, as part of the organising committee, to take applause. She said, 'There - that's two of our group and we're only tiny.' She cheered and rallied and attended just about every event to demonstrate her support. In fact, she would get quite cross if a workshop was not well attended and sometimes you felt that if she had a sword she'd be dangerous.
Gill's great friend, Norah (here, from Christmas 2014) said of Gill, "What can I say, Gill was a good friend and the same age as me and a great sounding block, so thoughtful and full of life.'
Gill always organised Secret Santa. This year, her own gift was a mug with the words, 'Don't make me use my teacher voice!' Everybody laughed because we all recognised that voice. It was the one which she used (only very occasionally) to urge the group on if time was pressing. Her practical help over the years has been incalculable. She organised our monthly meetings and made sure that everyone was included. When we applied for the Awards for All grant for the first Professional Series in the North, it was Gill who steered us through the application. She minuted every crit and meeting and triumph. She was the engine behind our group.
Latterly, she gained a distinction in her recently completed MSc and the group was immensely proud of her achievement.
Central North Member, Sam Hawksmoor said, "Gill loved the MA course she was on and strengthened the programme with her iron will and galvanised her fellow students. I was witness to this and I am so happy she gained great success there, much deserved. She was generous with her comments on others' work and made a huge difference to their expectations as writers."
Mike Skinner said, "I was in touch only a week before congratulating her on her success in her creative writing course. I will always remember her kindness and helpfulness, I know she will be greatly missed by the group."
Suzanne Afford said: "I did something stupid a few days ago and it's just the sort of thing she would have laughed at me for, she laughed at the silly things I do a lot! Going to miss that, and her endless support and her humour and kind-heartedness. I hope she knew how much her support meant to me."
Linda Nicklin said, "I think that she lived her life to the full and did what she wanted. My sadness is that there was so much more for her to do, more life to live... She helped me massively to transition from redundant local govt worker to would be writer and more recently bowler. I didn't take photos of Gill with my phone, she would give me her camera to take her picture. Our last one was a series of pictures in party planet. She was choosing her pirate hat for the SCWBI conference and she wanted to know how each one looked. She tried on every one in the shop!"
Linda continued, "She once told me that most people had fight or flight, but when she was annoyed she just had fight."
Gill could bite. Margaret Connor said, " I have known Gill since the Autumn of 2007. As a short story writer I was taken aback at my first meeting of SCWBI when Gill said she hated short stories. However, she soon got over her dislike and gave me invaluable feedback on my writing. I particularly remember Gill emailing after we had critiqued my Little Sam (the chimney sweep) story, to tell me it had affected her so much that he had appeared in her dreams and the ghostly Grey Lady who helped him climb up the chimney was in fact his grandma (which was something I hadn't expected).
Gill was a supportive, well organised and jolly lady. She will be missed."
Liz Miller said, "I found this from an email Gill sent me a couple of years ago in response to some questions I'd asked in connection with a W&P article I was thinking of pitching. This was part of a longer answer but I particularly like this part because for me this was Gill. It feels understated in many ways but was obviously such a massive thing to do:
'I love making things work for people, whether this entails organising simple things like dates and venues or whether it is by encouraging them to write and enabling them to write better.'
This is typical Gill. Here she is at one of Liz's writing brunches in Nottingham, she learns her craft and holds the baby.
Gill's thoughtfulness extended to people she'd never met. Member, Katie Sone says, "I never met Gill but when I expressed interest in the conference she sent me a message to chat about it, she was very kind and open & thoughtful."
This Christmas we had the most wonderful lunch at our regular get-together restaurant, Browns' Pie Shop in Lincoln. Gill had prepared her usual rude crackers and this year's theme was excrement. Unusually, another diner saw Gill taking photos and offered to take them for her. We all parted with hugs. This was among her last photos:
Yep - Gill's wearing the antlers and the Christmas jumper.
So many Christmases, so many trips, so many laughs, so much friendship. Gill, was a sucker for Shakespeare (we'll not argue the attribution!), so I'll leave the last words to him, Gill, because they're about you:
"He that is thy friend indeed
He will help thee in thy need.
If thou sorrow, he will weep:
If thou wake, he cannot sleep:
Thus of every grief in heart,
He with thee doth bear a part.
These are certain signs to know
Faithful friend from flattering foe."
Shakespeare - The Passionate Pilgrim
From Addy and all at SCBWI Central North
Our group is going to independently publish Gill's picture book text, 'Littlest Magpie and the Star' to come out this Christmas – everyone is welcome to join the Littlest Magpie and the Star Facebook page.