Susan Tepper:  Gill, your first sentence in “The Premature Ending of Annie MacLeod” gives a ton of information and sets up the story really well:

“I was gutting mackerel when they came for me, my fingers dipping in and out of rainbow’d bellies, trailing pink as I cried for dad, and island life carried on.”

Are you a spontaneous writer or did you know in advance what was in store here?

Gill Hoffs:  Thanks so much for being a literary fairy godmother, and granting me a wish from my wish list!  Generally, I’m quite a spontaneous writer.  I have a bundle of written-on receipts and post-it notes in my pockets at any one time, covered in crayoned titles, snippets of description, and first lines that *might* go somewhere when I’m not running about with my 4 year old.  Here ‘Annie’ was in my mind in a series of images: a semi-ruined church hiding in a ring of outbuildings, an unhappy child of secrets, and a sunlit island off the Scottish coast.  For The Lost Children Challenge, where this story first appeared, it was suggested we write descriptive stories with realistic dialogue from our home towns, and there was an extremely beautiful image supplied as a prompt.  With “Annie” I sat and thought of my childhood, wandering with my book and a pocket of biscuits along the shore, I wondered about who would be lost and where, and used names from my husband’s family to tie it together.  I didn’t know what would happen until my fingers typed it.  I really REALLY enjoyed writing this story!

Susan: It’s an intensely lyrical and visual story that made me, as a reader, want to go there and see their croft, the shoreline, everything about the place where they live.  It utterly mesmerized me.  I also love the way you use language.  You write:

“My mother, proper in mourning black, stuffed me under a pile of nets when she heard them riding along the shingle shore to our home.  The sun trickled through in tiny diamonds.”

This, in the first paragraph, sets up immediate tension in the story.  The girl has been stuffed under a pile of nets for protection.

Gill: I get intensely homesick for the beach.  It’s where I feel most at home, even or perhaps especially during a storm, or its aftermath.  When a story like this is in my head and I’m listening to the thoughts that describe it, I get to *be* there, even for a short while, and I actually feel a small sense of bereavement when I reach the end and have to leave.  The book I’m currently working on is set almost entirely at sea, and just a few days ago I went home to *my* beach for research purposes – who am I kidding, I go there whenever I can, but this time it was for something other than just fun and relaxation – and I sniffed the old nets and thought of my girl, Annie MacLeod.  Her protection is also her damnation.  Without education and a separate identity – which she loses in the story through the actions of her mother – she is nothing but a wraith in the wind.  This is unfortunately true of a lot of children both throughout history and now.

Susan: Sadly, yes.  And thanks to the hard work and dedication of Thomas Pluck and Fiona Johnson, and 30 contributing writers, The Lost Children Challenge has grown into an e-book anthology, The Lost Children: A Charity Anthology , on Smashwords and from Amazon starting November 1. (All proceeds donated to 2 child protection agencies.)

Let’s talk a bit more about your use of descriptive language.  You write:

“I heard the door of our croft scrape shut across the summer warmed flagstones… up through the blue hats of harebells and pink tufts of thrift dotting the coarse green of the island’s west face…”

I have cut sentences here, in order to showcase the beauty in your phrasings.  But your strength as a writer lies in the fact that you know how to intersperse tension and dialogue, and straight prose, too, so that the reader isn’t buried under the more descriptive parts.  That isn’t an easy thing to do.

Gill: Thank you!  I read a lot, I have since I was three according to my granny, and since I’ve been writing, I’ve found myself noticing telling details in other writers’ work – the sprinkling of words that light up their story in my mind so I can see/hear/feel and almost smell it.  Sometimes it’s a moment of colour or an unusual name, sometimes it’s the use of a specific product by a character.  I was discussing this with Matt Potter the other day- how if a character or a writer mentions a particular plant or flower by name it lights the scene for me, but if they just say ‘a flower’ or ‘a yellow flower’ there’s not the same vivid quality for me as ‘a daffodil’ or ‘a black-eyed Susan’, say.

Susan: Agreed!  As long as it’s not over-used, which, by the way, I’ve never seen done in any of your stories.  I want to touch on your use of vernacular dialogue.  It also can hugely brighten a story.  The mother in your story says:

“… you heartless toe-rags…  So you can just sod off back to the mainland…”

toe-rags / sod off:  Dialogue that cements her character, and adds vivacity and even a touch of humour (spelled it your way)!

Gill: Ha ha!  Yes – there are some quite deliciously repugnant terms used where I come from.  ‘Toe-rag’ – well, how disgusting is that?  I try to use Scots in my Scottish pieces so as to add flavour and a feel of veracity for the character(s), but sparingly so as not to turn off readers from ‘out of town’.  I grew up hearing people speak very VERY broad Scots, so broad I couldn’t understand a lot of what was said to me (I’d just smile and look a bit ‘glaikit’ as we’d call someone who appears a bit foolish or dimwitted.  But I’m not actually Scottish myself, I have an English mother and Irish father, so what I heard and said at home was very different from elsewhere.  Apparently in the USA they call folk like myself ‘switchers’.  I quite like that, it smacks of intrigue and derring-do!

Susan: Derring-do.  Well that’s a new one on me!

Read “The Premature Ending of Annie MacLeod” by Gill Hoffs

Monday Chat is a bi-weekly series in which Susan Tepper has a conversation with a Fictionaut writer about one of his or her stories. Susan is Assistant Editor of Istanbul Literary Review, fiction editor of Wilderness House Literary Review, co-author of new novel What May Have Been, and hosts FIZZ, a reading series at KGB Bar.

  1. Matt Potter

    Ah, thanks for the mention darl! It was nice to read things that we have written / talked about, but in greater length here.

  2. JP Reese

    Great choice for a conversation and another important plug for the anthology. Gill’s story is wonderfully lyrical in certain phrasings. Enjoyed it and this interview. I hope everyone will consider purchasing a copy to help the lost children.

  3. Joanna Delooze

    ahhhh, our lovely Gill! have never read a single thing of hers that didn’t immediately suck me in to whatever world, real or imagined, she was creating. feel blessed to have her as my friend, mentor and fellow feindish cake-aholic!

  4. Marcus Speh

    Thanks for the great interview—I’ve enjoyed Gill’s work since she came to Fictionaut and currently we’re partners in crime at Pure Slush. The new collection for charity is wonderful & I wish all authors good luck—featured this kaffe in katmandu, too.

  5. Robert Vaughan

    I have adored Gill since our very first interaction, always felt her special magic whether it be through our conversations or her literary prowess. What a great chat, Susan, you always bring it. And now, I have an even better picture in my head when I imagine these chats. I DO feel like we are sitting at the KGB, shouting over the din, and Gill is tipping back her drink of choice in between her savory, witty answers. Bravo.

  6. Darryl Price

    Gill is so intriging and interesting as a writer and as a person. I admire everything she says here and applaud her art loudly. We’re lucky to have her around.

  7. Christopher

    Lovely chat, you two, and I’ll be ordering my copy of the anthology of course.

  8. Sam Rasnakie

    Great discussion– Enjoyed.

  9. James Lloyd Davis

    Gills language inspires, easily. Rich like pudding, but not silky at all. The words spontaneously combust in place within their sentences, each sentence competing with the others as if they wished to become paragraphs all on their own. I imagine it won’t be long before Gill Hoffs becomes as well known as few of us could ever hope. Fascinating interview and the story is one I thoroughly enjoyed.

    Thanks, Susan and Gill.

  10. susan tepper


  11. Thomas Pluck

    Gill, your beautiful prose sets a tone that immerses us in the tale in so few words. I’m not surprised Susan chose to delve into its details.

  12. Gill Hoffs

    Thank you so much, everyone – I’m really touched by your comments and thrilled you took the time to post them here. Susan made my first ever email interview a delight and a thrill, and I’m incredibly grateful that it coincides with the release of Thomas Pluck and Fiona Johnson’s brainchild [or should I say ‘heart-child’?] the Lost Children Charity Anthology – and very pleased to have been involved with the challenge at all. Do check it out at Amazon, Smashwords or Barnes&Noble now – you don’t need a Kindle to read it. I would, however, advise a box of tissues and a comforting pudding to hand. But then, I find that a handy rule of life anyway!

  13. LindaSw

    Super interview and super story, even better on the re-read. Gill, I always love your writing — lyrical, a bit exotic to this ‘mainlander’, and evokes a part of the world I love (Scotland). Peace…

  14. estelle bruno

    This was without a doubt, a great author and a great interviewer.

    Enjoyed your chat.

  15. susan tepper

    I enjoyed chatting with Gill very much, as I loved the story and the way she weaves the landscape into her work. Thanks so much to all so far who’ve read, commented, or both~

  16. Jack Swenson

    It was a joy to read the interview; congrats to you both. I ALWAYS jump on Gill’s posts when they appear on Fictionaut. She’s the best!

  17. Emily Smith-Miller

    Gill, you fantastic girl! Congratulations on your much deserved success and beautiful writing! I love reading you and publishing your delightful stories. You have such an original and brilliant voice and it is a pleasure to work with you. So glad that fictionaut took the time to focus on your marvelous story! You rock! Oh and check out Gill’s winning Halloween short story at – NOT FOR THE FAINT!

  18. Gill Hoffs

    Thank you so much, guys! Fictionaut has truly changed my life for the better. And Emily – I carry my Winner’s Certificate in my notebook with pride and a smile! My son is very pleased with me :D

  19. susan tepper

    It’s a terrific Halloween story and deserved to win! More Congrats to Gill!

  20. MaryAnne Kolton

    Gill, I’ve loved you and your work since we both came to FN – at about the same time, I think. Your spirit and love of the sea both shine in all you write. I am so proud to know you, even virtually!
    Susan, this is certainly one of your best!

  21. Foster Trecost

    The best kind of chat. You give us so much Gill, just like with your writing. Wonderful, Susan.

  22. susan

    Nearly missed this wonderful chat between two favorite writers! Was out of electricity and connectivity (and heat!) for five days with the snowstorm. Loved to get inside Gill’s head on this one–thank you both!

  23. Andrew Stancek

    Most enjoyable and illuminating interview and terrific story. The atmosphere you create, Gill, always rings so true. And Susan, you are an amazing interviewer, one who thinks and listens. Bravo to both of you!

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