The hidden secrets of writing with Gail Gilbride

 In The secrets behind the practice of good writing, Tips for Writers


Gail Gilbride is part of the All About Writing furniture (in the best possible way), which is why we were as thrilled as she when a boutique American publisher took an interest, and ultimately, published her first novel, Under the African Sun (Cactus Rain Publishing).

Gail attended our Creative Writing Course – twice. She attended online initially and, some years later, in person, to refresh her skills. She has attended a number of our workshops and accompanied us to Venice more than once.

Here is an extract she chose for us, which I have chosen to showcase in our blog series on the books of our community members. Protagonist Deborah is searching for the horse belonging to her beloved boyfriend, a political activist who has been desperately injured in an accident:

Julia slowed down as she turned into Valley Road. ‘Don’t get your hopes up too much. We’ll try our best to find him. That’s all we can do.’

Deborah looked right and left. She scrutinized every horse and rider. When a group of children appeared from one of the side roads, Julia stopped so that she could make sure Hercules wasn’t among them. Riders emerged from the farms on either side, or some headed towards the path along the Disa River. Others trotted along Valley Road until they reached the stop sign at the end. There were more paths off Victoria Street. A few riders were clearly heading towards the beach.

At the World of Birds, Julia did a U-turn. ‘There aren’t any more stables after this.’ She went back down the road and Deborah peered into every property. It was impossible. They’d never find him. ‘Should we check the beach?’ Julia turned back into Victoria Street and then headed towards the beach.

Deborah kicked her sandals off and allowed the shallow waves to tickle her legs. She watched a group of horses enjoying the water. A few Jack Russells barked around them, but they didn’t seem to be bothered. Seagulls swooped for breakfast, and in the distance she could see dolphins diving in the waves. Surfers waited farther back, and glints of yellow and magenta boards broke the cobalt blue water. She lifted her face to the salty spray and turned to look at the horses again.

The Stables. She’d heard Chris use that name often. She knew Hercules wasn’t there. It was probably a waste of time, but she needed to go back one more time. ‘Do you think we could drive back past The Stables?’

Julia jiggled her car keys in the air. ‘Sure. It’s almost on our way home anyway.’

Valley Road was alive with horses now. Everyone seemed to be either on their way back, or else just setting out for a ride. Deborah scoured each group for a chocolate brown stallion. They crept along until they reached The Stables. ‘Go in and have another look. I’ll wait.’

Deborah squelched through the mud. She walked along the stables and checked the names once more. No Hercules on any of the plaques. The few horses left in the paddocks were munching at hay troughs. There were no big chocolate horses among them. All the grooms seemed to be on a break. The place was pretty deserted. She leant against one of the jumps. There was just no way she’d ever find Hercules. The wind was coming up, and she twisted her hair into a bun. Mud clung to her toes as her sandals disappeared into it. She held her feet under an outside tap before she climbed into the car.

‘No luck?’ Julia held out a lit cigarette and she took a deep drag. ‘I’m sorry, Debs.’

When they reached the World of Birds, Julia swung the car around. She sped up now. ‘We gave it our best shot. Don’t be too hard on yourself.’

Deborah stared at the road ahead. A trickle of riders was still heading out, but it had slowed now. People were getting ready for work, and horses were being led to the paddocks for the morning. Soon the Valley Road would be empty, except for the odd car here and there.

In the distance she could see a figure leading a huge horse along the footpath. He was heading in their direction. ‘Can we stop for a minute?’ They were still far away, but when Julia pulled over, Deborah got out of the car. The pair walked steadily towards them. Julia had climbed out now and was at her side. She couldn’t make out the horse’s colour yet, but as they drew closer, she could see he was dark. Another block or two and she’d be able to see properly.

‘Do you think it could be him?’

‘I don’t know yet. But I’d like to wait.’

They were three blocks away. The horse was definitely brown. She held her breath. Another few minutes ticked by, and the groom stopped to make sure there were no cars pulling out of the little side road. Then he led his charge across. They were two blocks away. It was chocolate brown. And a stallion for sure. His head was down and Deborah willed him to lift it. They were on the last block now. Deborah felt Julia squeezing her arm tightly. The groom was saying something, and as they came even closer, the stallion lifted his head. The white star on his forehead came into focus. His ears pricked up and he quickened his pace. The groom held the reins back as Deborah ran forward and flung her arms around his neck.

‘Hercules,’ she whispered into his mane.

In the context of the story, the search for Hercules takes on immense emotional importance for Deborah. He represents so much of what her boyfriend Chris was, as a man: his interests and preoccupations. Gail builds the tension, by holding us in suspense. She doesn’t hurry, and we feel the pressure grow. Our expectations build, along with hers.

Gail uses the need to find Hercules, and her ultimate meeting with him, to show the depth of the emotion she feels, in a subtle and oblique way. We feel it, and she has no need for explanation. Deborah is able to connect with the horse and feel the depth of emotion which she has had to suppress up to now. Hercules is a minor character, he plays a significant part in the story because of how much he illuminates our main character, and shows her state of mind.

Writing tips:

  • Emotion underplayed, shown obliquely, is far more powerful than overblown displays.
  • Be subtle. When emotions run hot (as the saying goes), write cool.
  • Play with our expectations by drawing out the tension. Make us wait, along with your character.


If this extract has intrigued you and left you wanting more, please buy the book here.

If you’d like to give yourself the time to write in a beautiful and inspiring environment, join us on our Venice Writing Retreat like Gail did. It might be just what you need on your journey towards getting your own book published.


Read our previous Hidden Secrets of Writing blogs

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