WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR IDEAS FOR DEVIL'S HARBOR?

I saw an ad in a newspaper that read, "Deckhands wanted for longliner, six months at sea. No experience necessary." The last part caught my attention; most rookies would find six hours at sea tough, let alone six months. I cut out the ad and stuck it on the wall, and the story grew from there. My first draft was actually called DECKHANDS.

I also keep track of the news. I get Google Alerts delivered to my inbox, tailored to whatever I'm writing about, and get ideas from those. 

WHY DID YOU WRITE A SEA STORY?

My dad's dad, Pierre Gilly, was a career officer in the French Navy (which is why my last name is pronounced the French way, with a soft G: Jilly). When the Germans invaded France, his ship, the fast destroyer Triomphant, was under repairs in Brittany, but managed to escape to England. She was reflagged under the Cross of Lorraine, and my grandfather took command. She joined the Free French Pacific Squadron, escorting troop ships and hunting Japanese submarines. In 1943, she rescued the survivors of the Australian iron ore carrier SS Iron Knight, and helped search for the sub that sank her (they never found it). She then put into Sydney, where my grandfather met my grandmother. Later that year the ship was struck by a cyclone in the Indian Ocean and almost sank, but was towed to port in time. My dad had the pennant from the Triomphant on the wall in his office, and now I have it. That's one reason why sea stories have so much resonance for me.

Triomphant

SOUNDS INTERESTING. WILL YOU WRITE A BOOK ABOUT YOUR GRANDFATHER?

Maybe one day. There are a lot of unanswered questions. A subsequent commander of the Triomphant, André Jubelin, wrote a memoir of life aboard her, including the time the cyclone almost sank her, when my grandfather was still in charge. It was published in English translation in 1953, under the title THE FLYING SAILOR.

WHAT BOOK MOST INFLUENCED YOU?

Years ago, I picked up a copy of Steinbeck's SEA OF CORTEZ in a second-hand bookstore. I'd never heard of it, knew nothing about it except the author's name. It was such a liberating read because it defies categorisation: it's a travelogue, sea-story and specimen catalogue all at once, as well as a compendium of esoteric musings. It planted vivid images of the Gulf of California and the west coast of Mexico in my imagination, and DEVIL'S HARBOR sprouted from those seeds. I always wanted to write a sea story, and SEA OF CORTEZ gave me the idea to set it in that part of the world.   

WHAT IS YOUR CONNECTION TO CALIFORNIA AND LATIN AMERICA?

I went to college in LA for two years, to Occidental College, although I didn't graduate from there. I've also travelled extensively through Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. I spent a semester at the University of Havana in Cuba, studying Spanish. 

WHAT BOOKS DO YOU LIKE TO READ?

Sea stories, especially Patrick O'Brian. Crime, especially American crime. Books friends recommend. Classics. I have a young son, so right now I'm reading a lot of books with titles like THE GREEN SHEEP and GOODNIGHT MOON. 

IS THERE GOING TO BE ANOTHER NICK FINN NOVEL?

Yes. I signed a two-book deal with my publisher, Forge, with an option on a third. 

WHEN?

I'm working as hard as I can!