Partner of Rosemary Neill; children: Ciaran.
Office—c/o Author Mail, Atlantic Monthly Press, 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.
IMPAC Dublin Award nomination, 2001, for The Sooterkin.
The Sooterkin (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 2000.
Miles McGinty (novel), Text Publishers (Melbourne, Australia), 2001, published as The Adventures of Miles and Isabel, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2002.
British journalist Tom Gilling moved to Tasmania in the early 1980s. The move made him wonder about the lives of the early European settlers there. In his first novel, The Sooterkin, he examines the lives of various settlers in the penal colony of Van Dieman's Land in Tasmania in the early 1800s; they include a chaplain, a midwife, and a family that includes a "sooterkin," a strange child who looks like a seal pup. When the child is born, the village is thrown into crisis as the authorities try to determine whether the birth is a hoax or not. The child's mother, convict Sarah Dyer, names the baby Arthur and treats him just like his older brother, Ned. Ned takes on the job of taking Arthur to the seashore each day so that he can swim in the waves. The sooterkin's father, William, spends most of his time in the local pub, trying to figure out how he can profit from the situation. However, when someone kidnaps Arthur, the entire village is roused to find him before he is killed for his furry pelt or sold to a circus. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described the novel's setting as "a drunken, scatological, violent world" of criminals and flawed characters. In Fantasy and Science Fiction, Charles de Lint wrote, "Gilling's prose is evocative throughout and both the setting and characters, however much caricatures they might be, remain vivid and intriguing." New York Times reviewer Alida Becker described the book as "irresistible entertainment." The Sooterkin was nominated for the 2001 IMPAC Dublin Award.
Gilling's second novel, Miles McGinty, set in Sydney, Australia, in 1856, also begins with the delivery of a child: Miles McGinty. An actress goes into labor on stage, giving birth to illegitimate son Miles. At the same time, so does Louisa Dowling, a woman in the theater audience; her daughter, Isabel, is her fifth child. The two children grow up in very different worlds, but they are bound by a sort of mystical or psychic connection throughout their lives. Miles, who grows up in the world of vaudeville, meets a hypnotist who finds that he can put Miles in a trance and cause him to levitate. Miles understandably becomes obsessed with the idea of flight.
Isabel grows up in a world of wealth and privilege, but she is also obsessed with flight. When she is seven years old, she becomes the first female flier in Australia when she takes a balloon ride with balloonist Tobias Smith. When she grows up, she escapes the various men who wish to marry her and heads into the outback to stay with her eccentric uncle, Dr. Galbraith. There, she meets Miles, who has inherited Tobias Smith's notebooks on flight. Their romance, of course, takes wing. In the Times Literary Supplement, Ben Ball wrote, "Gilling pulls off the best trick of all: not just diverting you, but making you care."
Gilling got the idea for the novel when he read about the Wright brothers, who made the first flight, and found that throughout their lives, they were approached by people who claimed to have flown before they did. What the Wright brothers had that these people lacked was proof: credible witnesses and a photographer. So, Gilling thought, perhaps someone had built a flying machine long before the Wrights. "That seemed to give me some sort of scope for imagining a character who might have done that," Gilling told a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Australian Book Review, November, 2001, James Bradley, review of Miles McGinty, p. 30.
Booklist, June 1, 2000, Nancy Pearl, review of The Sooterkin, p. 1856; September 1, 2002, Elsa Gaztambide, review of The Adventures of Miles and Isabel, p. 57.
Bookseller, February 1, 2002, Nicolette Jones, "Bringing the Thugs to Book," p. 36.
Fantasy and Science Fiction, June, 2001, review of The Sooterkin, p. 25.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2002, review of The Adventures of Miles and Isabel, p. 978.
Library Journal, June 15, 2000, Karen Traynor, review of The Sooterkin, p. 114.
New York Times, July 16, 2000, Alida Becker, "He Ain't Horrid, He's My Brother," p. G7; October 27, 2002, David Willis McCullough, "Frequent-Flier Miles," p. G16.
Publishers Weekly, May 1, 2000, review of The Sooterkin, p. 48; August 12, 2002, review of The Adventures of Miles and Isabel, p. 273.
Times Literary Supplement, October 18, 2002, Ben Ball, "Flights of Fancy," p. 24.
Christian Science Monitor,http://csmweb2.emcweb.com/ (June 8, 2000), Ron Charles, "A Birth Announcement from Down Under."
Guardian,http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (December 7, 2002), Margaret Stead, "Love Is in the Air."
IMPAC Dublin Award Web site,http://www.impacdublinaward.ie/ (April 30, 2003).
Sydney Morning Herald,http://smh.com.au/ (September 22, 2001), "Love Gets off the Ground."*