Robin Pilcher was born in Dundee, Scotland on 10th August 1950, the second child of Graham, a director of the family jute business, and the novelist Rosamunde Pilcher. Robin attended school in Dunfermline and Bristol before returning to Scotland to complete his education at the Dundee College of Commerce.
Being described in The Publishing News as ‘having as many career changes as the River Thames has bends’, Robin has worked in his time as a cowboy, an assistant film cameraman, a farmer, a public relations and marketing consultant and a tennis coach. His first book, An Ocean Apart was published in 1999 and sold to 11 countries, as well as reaching the lower echelons of the best-seller lists in the UK and the USA. This was followed in 2002 by Starting Over, which reached #9 in the New York Times Bestseller Lists, A Risk Worth Taking in February 2004, Starburst, which is set around the annual Edinburgh Festival, in 2008, and A Matter of Trust in 2010. The first three books have been adapted for television.
Robin has been married to Kirsty for 39 years. Their children, Oliver, Alice, Hugo and Florence range in years from 35 to 25, while granddaughters Andalucía, Bianca and Connie are 7, 4, and 2 respectively. Their first cousin, Douglas Humphrey Hope Pilcher, the no.1 grandson, was born in November 2012. Robin and Kirsty now divide their time between Scotland and Spain.
Questions & Answers
What inspired you to write your first novel?
I didn’t write it until I was 48, although I suppose I was waiting for the ‘time to be right.’ I had been writing screenplays for comedy shorts because I loved writing for film and also I thought I was very funny! It was while I was working in public relations in Edinburgh that Ros, my mother, was approached by one of the big Hollywood film companies and asked to produce a treatment for a screenplay. She was writing September at the time and asked me if I could lend a hand. As her particular writing was so different from my own, I had to put myself into her head to work out the intricacies of her own special style, the way she handles families and their relationships. I really became very involved with the subsequent plot and not only wrote the treatment but part of the screenplay. The film company, however, was sadly taken over by another larger one and all ‘work in progress’ put on hold, so the whole project was banished to the depths of my computer. Some time later, sparked by a very good year in PR, I decided that I should take a year’s sabbatical to see if I could write a novel and resurrected the plot, simply because it was there and I knew the characters so well. Obviously the similarity in plot line was picked up immediately by the publisher and I was advanced to finish the book.
Do you think your name helped you get published?
It certainly helped me get noticed. But it was always going to be a double-edged sword because comparisons were always going to be made. Yes, there was thought given to my writing under a pseudonym, but in a way that would be making more out of being called Pilcher. Funnily enough, I’ve just been made aware of the fact that some people think that Pilcher is a pseudonym and that I’m just someone trying to cash in on Ros’ success, so it could be seen as a no-win situation! But you have to understand that it was not only me taking a risk, but the publisher as well. He had the capital outlay and if it was going to bomb for me, then it was going to be much worse for him.
You are known for your character development. Do you base them on people you know?
No, not at all, but I’ve always been a bit of a ‘voyeur’ in restaurants or in trains or airports, just watching people and the way they act and interact. It takes me a good few months to ‘live’ with my characters before I start writing. I have to get to know them and learn to like or dislike them. I suppose they are an amalgam of everyone I’ve met or seen, and I think that’s why people get an affinity with my characters. The best accolade an author can get is for his readers to ask for a sequel because they don’t want to let go of the characters.
Which of your books is your own personal favourite?
Everyone of them was very special at the time of writing, especially the first which had probably a bit too much of the autobiographical for my own good! However, if I was asked to point out one of the books in a line, then it would have to be Starburst. I loved writing the book and I loved the characters. They were just so diverse and so interesting to work with.
How long does it take you to write a book?
About a year, and then the rewrites take about 6 months, depending on how long the turnaround is with the editor.
Do you have a routine?
I am better at creating in the afternoon which seems the complete opposite to every other writer who seems to jump of bed at 5am with heading buzzing and fingers itching to get onto the keyboard. I work until about 9pm – or later, if I’m on a flow – and then I shut up my computer immediately. The next morning, I print out hard copy of everything I’ve written the day before, go through that with a red pen, make the corrections on the computer, and that usually takes me up to lunchtime. And then I start creating again.
What advice would you give to other writers?
It may seem as if I’m pointing to myself here, but I think the best way to get started and get yourself noticed is to join Shortbread which is a short story website I started up with a friend two years ago. It works like an old style publishing house, meaning there’s a huge amount of contact and encouragement, and this comes not only from ourselves in the Shortbread office, but from the community as well. And it puts your work immediately on a worldwide platform. The quality of writing on Shortbread really is quite wonderful – probably the reason why five of our authors have been picked up by publishers.
Are you willing to talk to book clubs/schools/library groups?
It’s all part of being an author and I really enjoy doing it. All you need to do is contact me through the website and I’ll be there.
“Robin Pilcher is popular novelist Rosamunde Pilcher’s oldest son, and living proof that talent does run in families…..with his Scottish sensibility and captivating wordplay, Pilcher is able to craft a fine and fulfilling novel.” (Booklist)
“If An Ocean Apart is any indication of Robin Pilcher’s works, then it is only a matter of time before the author becomes as well-known as his mother.” (Amazon.co.uk.)
“My family was brought up with the feelgood factor, so that’s what I write about. Real people and believable situations. My characters may be criticized by some as being stereotypical, but quite honestly, I take that as a compliment. One can associate with them.” (Robin Pilcher)