Gill Lewis is a veterinarian and acclaimed children’s book author. Her previous books include One White Dolphin and Wild Wings (both Atheneum), both of which have won the Green Earth Book Award. She lives in England with her family and their collection of pets, including a rescued Shetland pony.
What made you decide to become an author?
I have always loved writing stories ever since I was a child. However, I had messy handwriting and awful spelling, and so I thought I wouldn’t be allowed to become an author. I studies the sciences and went on to become a veterinary surgeon, yet I still always maintained a thirst for stories. It was only after having children of my own and reading them many stories that I fell in love with storytelling again. We all have a need to share stories and experiences with each other—it’s what makes us human.
Can you tell us one thing people may not know about you?
I can call owls to me.
What makes you passionate about being a writer?
I believe that stories have the power to change hearts and minds and (in doing so) can change the world. Sharing stories tears down walls, builds bridges, and allows us to understand what it is like to be someone else and develop empathy for another. Many of my books focus on protecting the environment, and I love receiving letters from readers who say my stories have changed the way they live and see the world.
What’s a typical workday like?
There is no typical day! If I’m working on a book, I try to make sure I have time in the morning from about 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to work on it. I need headspace, especially for the first draft of a story. If the writing is going well, I can start at 9 a.m. and be surprised to see time has whizzed by. If I’m struggling with finding the words, the time passes like thick treacle and I procrastinate with making endless cups of coffee and doing mundane chores. I tend to do admin in the afternoons before school pick up, and then my evenings get pretty full of family commitments. Sometimes I go for long stretches without writing at all, and sometimes, if I’m working to a deadline, I get up early and work late.
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. A Story Like the Wind began as the Mongolian folktale about Suke and the White Stallion. I was fascinated by this story and wanted to tell it as a folk story, but there always seemed to be a much bigger story it was wanting to tell: one about the power of music and story to change our world. The story stayed with me for many years, and it was after hearing a true story of a Syrian teenager seeking refuge from war, that I knew how I wanted to tell the story. This teenager carried his violin, and it was when he played Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” that officials saw him as a person, not just a number. Music and stories connect us with our shared humanity, our hopes and dreams for our families and they enable us to imagine and work towards a better world. Stories break down walls set up by fear and hatred and build bridges of empathy and understanding.
How much research do you do before you begin a book?
I do lots of research, especially for my books about wildlife and environmental issues. If I can’t travel to a place, I talk to people who live and work there. I try to understand all sides of an issue and find a character who can help to tell that story. I want my protagonist to grab the reader by the hand and pull them into their world, and yet leave with knowledge and hope too.
Where do you find your inspiration for new stories and characters?
It’s a question I never really know how to answer. Because in truth, I don’t know the answer. I always try to think why I have written a book. I don’t go looking for stories, but they seem to find me. I have just finished a story about dogs, about the incredible bond we have with our canine companions. I’m not quite sure how I thought about this story. I just remember seeing Pup, the pup in the story, in my mind’s eye. He was sitting in the rain, having been dumped in a dark and cold alleyway, cruelly taken from the boy he loves. And I just knew I had to follow…
What is the process of writing a book: how does it go from an idea to a finished work on sale in bookstores?
I love the beginning of a story, when an idea forms. It’s a magical moment and you never want to stare a story directly in the eye, because they’re timid things at first. There are infinite possibilities and the story expands quickly like an explosion of ideas. Then the hardest part is trying to put the visual concept of the story into words. I often wish I could download thoughts onto my computer and bypass my fingers on the keyboard. I totally understand children who say writing is hard work and takes so much time! But all that hard work pays off as a story builds. After the first draft, I write and re-write and then send to my editor. My editor does a first read and gives advice on overall structure and plot and characters. I do a big re-write and send back and then we have lots more re-writes of more detailed edits. Then a copyeditor reads and corrects spelling, grammar, and continuity mistakes. When the text is signed off, I generally am given some say in the cover. Then the book is published about 9-12 months after finishing the final draft. By the time the book is published I am usually nearly finishing another book.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I’ve met so many inspiring people throughout my writing career. I’ve loved meeting readers at schools and festivals. But I think the highlight of my career is when I receive emails and letters from readers and hearing that my books have changed hearts and minds.
What do you hope kids learn from your books?
That we are all part of this wonderful planet and each of us has a part to play in protecting it.
Books by Gill Lewis