Friday, 15 November 2013

Interview with Tom Gillespie, Author of Painting by Numbers

A huge thank you to Tom for taking time out of his crazy schedule to sit down for an interview. Read about this amazing and talented author.

Where did you grow up Tom, and how did this influence your writing?

I grew up in a small town just outside Glasgow, Scotland. The town was pretty working class. It was an ex –mining and textiles community that had been decimated by the gradual (and then sudden) decline in industrial output from the 70s onwards.  In many ways I was lucky as my Mum and Dad were what you would call the upwardly mobile working class, but even so, the threat of poverty or re-possession was never far away. And although my writing is not immediately political, I think the lives of the people I grew up with inform how, what and why I write.

 When did you first start writing?

I think we are all born to be creative souls, but some of us defiantly resist growing up, or having our creativity twisted out of us by society’s pliers. When I was ten, I won a writing competition. I’d never won anything in my life before that (or indeed since), so I thought that this was something specific that could help me channel my galloping imagination. It’s interesting because my daughter is approaching her tenth birthday and recently she won a creative writing competition. She is really into words and art and music, and her mind is stuffed full of ideas, strange characters, pictures and stories. She is such an inspiration to be around, and she helps me stay connected to that wide –eyed wee boy who rattles around inside my head and likes to make a nuisance of himself. I hope she manages to cling on to her gift and remain defiantly ten for as long as she possibly can.

What's the story behind your book ‘Painting with Numbers’?

I love the visual arts and I have an interest in allegorical paintings. I am also into the relationship between science and art, and how many of the old art masters used early science to help them create their amazing compositions. The relationship intrigues me, and its not that long ago that science was considered one of the dark arts. So that is always bubbling away under the surface.

But then on a visit to El Prado in Madrid, I was in the Velazquez gallery, gaping at Las Meninas, the artist’s mind-blowing masterpiece, when I noticed a strange Magritte like man laying out lines of thread on the floor next to the painting. He was at it for about five minutes, before he got turfed out by a couple of security guards. But the incident lodged in my brain, and that night in my hotel room, I wrote up a very short, one page story.  A year or so passed, but the incident and the man wouldn’t leave me alone. I returned to my page of scribbles and developed it a little further, but then, his story began to unfold backwards and forwards, until I had the bare bones of a novel. 

The journey to complete Painting by Numbers was amazing. It gave me the opportunity to combine a number of my loves, art, science and the strange, inner workings of the human mind.  A number of brilliant people including a mathematics professor and art historian helped me piece together my central protagonist’s various mad obsessions. But although there is some weird science in my novel, it’s mostly all smoke and mirrors, as my tale is really about love and loss and the fragility of the human condition, all hidden and tucked away under the guise of a page-turning psychological thriller.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?

I love all of it, from stream of consciousness scribbles to complex and exhausting line editing. I love losing myself in my characters and narratives, and I love picking through words and sentences and thinking about language, structure and the arc of my story. The whole journey is a mad, joyous, frustrating and ultimately enthralling ride, and I don’t think I could live without putting myself through it on a regular basis.

What do your fans mean to you?
I don’t know if I have any fans, aside from my cat who enjoys sitting on my manuscript when I’m trying to work (though this may be a cupboard kind of love).. I suppose as writers, all we can hope for is that readers engage in a positive and constructive way with whatever we produce, and even if they don’t like what we do, the engagement and dialogue is still interesting and encouraging.

Who are your favorite authors?

Writing that sings to my heart, rattles in my chest and raises the hairs on the back of my neck.

When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?

That would be telling!

What is your writing process?

In my head I follow the Haruki Murakami method which is – up at 5.30am – write until 8.00 – light breakfast – write until lunchtime – steamed fish lunch – a long run through the park or along the beach, and then the rest of the day spent contemplating the universe.

However, back on planet reality, it’s up at 7.00 – mad rush to get all of the family washed, dressed, fed, bags packed and out the door for work and school. I’ll teach all day – come home exhausted –then another mad rush to cram dinner, help with homework, tidy up the mountain of dishes, dirty laundry and toys, try for an adult conversation with my wife.. And after all that, if I’m lucky,  and/or  in the mood, I’ll force myself to scribble a few words and try desperately to avoid crashing in front of the TV with a bottle of beer and a headful of sleep.

What do you read for pleasure?

I don’t read anything when I’m writing. I find that the style, characters or ideas start to bleed into my work. However, when I’m on a beach somewhere, I tend to turn back to the classics for comfort and the sheer thrill of the language and the power of the writing.

What is your e-reading device of choice?

Kindle - though if I’m brutally honest, I’m going off e-reading at the moment.  It’s a bit soulless. I miss the touch, the smell and the grubby physicality of printed paper. I always feel like a bit of an adulterer when I’m on my kindle. Somehow it seems like a kind of cheap betrayal of the written word.

Describe your desk

Orderly chaos , or as my wife likes to call it.. a bloody mess.

Do yourself a favour and read this gripping book.

Here are links to where you can buy his book, and links to websites he is on.

amazon UK


amazon US


facebook: /tomgilespiewriter
twitter:  tom_gillespie


  1. Great Interview you two! Thanks for sharing ^_^