In conversation with Beryl Eichenberger
An introduction to Gail Schimmel’s novels had me devouring all three within a very short space of time and wanting more. Insightful, unpredictable and cleverly plotted they are at once stories of very real situations and how we resolve them but always with a twist that keeps you guessing. Never formulaic Gail has an extraordinary talent for producing page turners and how she does it amidst her hectic schedule is nothing short of amazing.
Born and bred in Johannesburg, she happily admits that she has lived in the same small section all her life and loves it; ‘We have the best weather and warm people and great schools.’
By day, Gail is the CEO of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and a qualified attorney. She runs her own consultancy as a specialist in advertising law and lives in Craighall with her family. By night she is a mother of two children. She’s not really sure when she finds time to write a children’s book, three novels (Marriage Vows (2008), Whatever happened to the Cowley Twins? (2013) and ‘The Park (2017) and a text book. If you could explain it to her, she’ll be very grateful.
Delightfully candid, Gail’s obvious talent for words stems from an early age having written stories since she could put pen to paper. She didn’t become a writer up front once her father, an artist, told her it was very hard work because you have to rewrite and edit. She chose law:
‘I started out studying law and psychology with a view to being a psychologist — but law was really easy for me for some reason, and because I am very lazy, I chose the easy option. I kept changing my mind – and as a result I have four degrees. They are only useful in arguments.
I now have my dream day-job as the CEO of the ASA — it is challenging and difficult and some days I want to cry — but I love it.
Unfortunately, it isn’t leaving me time to breathe, let alone write much.’
So how does she juggle her time and put the words on the page? ‘Theoretically, I write 500 words first thing in the morning at the start of my work day. I should be doing it now, actually. But this is strictly theoretical at the moment.
This week, I wrote ‘Start with the joy’ in my diary to inspire me to write before anything else… Hasn’t worked.’
Each of her books are quite different; her work in law and decision making contributing somewhat to her character’s careers: ‘Marriage Vows’ explores secrets within a marriage, the passing years and decisions; ‘Whatever happened to the Cowley Twins’ — an unsolved disappearance of twins decades ago, the brother left behind, a very curious reporter and connections; ‘The Park’: young mothers, friendship that is not always what it seems and a chilling twist. Gail uses her psychology training to clever effect.
She says that ‘stories are everywhere. Often they seem to hover around my toes in the bath. But lots of ideas don’t have a book in them. There is a particular feeling I get when I know that I have found a book — and that is a lot to do with being able to see the whole skeleton of the plot arc. I am a plotter — I need to know how a book ends or I get lost on the way. There are a few half written things which fizzled out because I didn’t know where they were going.’
Luckily for readers she did find her way and a new novel is in the works and will hopefully be on the shelves early in 2019. She tells me that her stories always start from the “what ifs” in real lives. The new novel is provisionally called The Accident, and is about the lives of a woman and her daughter after an accident when the daughter is a baby changes their lives completely. It has some twists and turns that she hopes surprise the reader.
And using social media to connect with her readers? ‘Tweeting is fast, immediate feedback, and allows me to keep in touch with my readers. I love Twitter — I really do — although I also love the peace of Instagram where no-one has political fights. I use each platform slightly differently — which is why I don’t accept strangers’ Facebook requests. I do have a writer page people can follow.’
As a thriller junkie my final question was to ask her if that was on her schedule — an enigmatic ‘ I think that the one after ‘The Accident’ might have a thriller element to it…’ was the answer.
Whatever comes after we can be assured that despite Gail’s busy life her focus will be sharp, highly readable and thought provoking.
Gail Schimmel will be at the Cape Town Jewish Literary Festival on 17 June