Q&A with Gill Thompson

Today I’m delighted to welcome Gill Thompson to Portable Magic as part of the blog tour for The Child On Platform One. My post is presented with thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me on the tour and of course, Gill Thompson for answering my questions!

Have you always wanted to write?

Hello, Kate! Yes, I’ve wanted to write ever since I was little. I was always scribbling down stories as a child. I was devastated when I realised I would be unlikely to make a living from writing and would have to do something else. If I could tell my former self that, fifty years after I first discovered my passion for writing, I would eventually have two books published, I think I would have been overwhelmed with joy!

What were your previous jobs? Have they helped you with your writing process?

I’ve been a teacher for nearly forty years. When I realised I couldn’t spend all day writing I decided I would spend my time reading instead so I took a degree in English Literature. That is the subject I teach and I’ve never regretted it as I love my subject and I enjoy the company of teenagers. Having to read widely for my course, and later my career, helped me to work out how novels are put together and what inspires a reader to turn the pages. Hopefully I have put that into practice in my own books.

What was your inspiration for The Child On Platform One?

Quite by chance, I came across the youtube clip of Esther Rantzen congratulating Nicholas Winton, the man who saved hundreds of Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Prague, fifty years after the last Kindertransport had left, surrounded, unbeknown to him, by a sea of adults whom he had rescued as Czech child refugees. It makes for poignant viewing:. That led me to research what had happened to Czechoslovakia during world war two and it was then that I read of the extraordinary events at Terezin (known to the Germans as Thereisenstadt) where Jews had been allowed to paint, sing, play instruments, give lectures and act. Most notably they put on a performance of Verdi’s Requiem, ironically and subversively declaring God’s judgement on the Germans listening. You can get a taste of it here  Finally I discovered the story of the ex RAF Czech pilots who staged a daring three way hijack in order to escape the Communists who had taken over the country and were forbidding pilots to leave. My challenge was to thread all these events together in a plausible narrative.

How do you construct your characters? Do they have traits of people you know?

Ha ha! That might be telling! I don’t base my characters on anyone I know but I do tend to give them some of the habits and traits I observe in other people. For example, John in ‘The Oceans Between Us’ has a habit of lining up objects, a kind of control mechanism, which I have seen someone do. I imagine Eva in ‘The Child on Platform One’ as having kind of stillness about her – she isn’t someone who fusses or fidgets. I know someone like that – they have a serenity about them that I find fascinating. When Eva is confronted with frightening events, she tries to find that calm place inside herself. The other thing I do is try to imagine how my characters would respond to the dramatic historical events that surround them. Once I know their personality and behavior I can imagine how they would react.

How did you research The Child On Platform One? Did you enjoy it? 

I am very conscious that I am writing about recent history so I need to be as accurate as possible (although hopefully this would be the case whatever period I was researching). As a novelist I am more interested in the personal stories than the key events, so I try to gain access to diaries or records people wrote. So for ‘The Child on Platform One’ I read Vera Gissing’s autobiography ‘The Pearls of Childhood’ which helped me to understand what life was like for a young Czech refugee. To find out about the experience of being interred in Terezin as a young girl, I found ‘Helga’s Diary’ by Helga Weiss very useful. I also tried to speak to the people who had personal testimonies. When I visited Prague I met a tour guide called Eva Kůželová who took me round the Jewish Cemetery and told me about Jewish customs. Her father had escaped from Auschwitz as a young man so she knew a lot about that period. Eva was kind enough to correspond with me for months whilst I was writing the book and patiently answered all my questions. I have named my heroine after her.

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The Child On Platform One is available from Amazon.

You can follow the rest of the blog tour here:

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