Candice: Phil and I saw Julia Crouch at last year’s Stratford Literary Festival. We liked her unassuming style and have gone on to read a couple of her books between us (reviews to follow). So, we thought she’s been an ideal person for our next interview.
A bit of background: Ex Theatre director and writer, Julia Crouch took a step away from the stress of the theatre to become a graphic designer. However, still harbouring writing plans she took an Open University course in creative writing. Through this she discovered NaNoWriMo and novel writing, and after that, there was no looking back.
CUCKOO came out in hardback in the UK in March 2011. Every Vow You Break, in March 2012, and TARNISHED, in March 2013. She is currently working on her fourth book.
Why did writing in NaNoWriMo inspire you? Do you need a deadline?
I have to have deadlines – I set myself daily and weekly wordcounts, and if I fail to meet them, I work the weekend. While NaNoWriMo introduced me to this concept for writing, it was inherent in my former lives as a theatre director (the opening night!) and graphic design (the print date).
More importantly, though, I needed a way to get past the part of me that had always previously lost hope around the third chapter. The speed of the NaNoWriMo process precludes going over what you have already written – you have to keep moving forward, accepting that you will have mistakes to clear up at the end of the process.
Why did you feel the need to edit your first book for so long? (7 months after initial draft)
I had many mistakes to clear up! But seriously, after just a month writing a first draft, seven months isn’t such a long time to edit. What you emerge with after NaNoWriMo will have a high pants-to-pearls ratio – in fact I always call it my draft zero, because it is really a pre first draft. In order to put it into a state where I felt happy to show it to someone else, I had to work hard at it. Cuckoo (the novel in question) also more than doubled in length from 50,000 words to 120,000. I must then add that after that edit, it went through another four before publication. For me the draft zero is just setting the parameters of the story, so that I have something to work with.
Where do you work? What is your typical day?
I work mostly in my shed – a comfortable insulated room at the bottom of our garden in Brighton. It’s my favourite place because it is removed from the house, but I am close to hand for when the kids get home, etc. I usually have at least one cat in here with me, snoozing in the warm spot behind my monitor. My best working days start with a run, then I get my son off to school (my other two kids are grown up now and live in London), then I get into the shed for about 9am, do a bit of admin, then switch on MacFreedom and some helpful music (favourites are Philip Glass Metamorphosis, Brian Eno’s Music for Airports or Glenn Gould playing Bach). and work in 90 minute batches, interspersed with a bit of internetting and/or domestic tasks to loosen me up. I work until about five or six. I rarely work in the evening unless I am really late with something.
Sometimes I take myself off for a day or two and I just wake up early, pull my laptop into bed and work for a good six or so hours before going for a walk or run then carrying on until the evening. This is the most productive way for me, but not compatible with having a family or any sort of real life!
Do you recommend writing courses? We notice you went on a few. Would you say this is a good way to move from amateur to professional?
I didn’t write prose from when I was at school until I did the OU introduction to Creative Writing about seven years ago. I just always thought I’d like to, but had never got around to it. The OU courses were essential for me to give me confidence and practice, but I also learned the craft side of writing – like how to use punctuation and grammar properly and creatively, what commonly constitutes good writing, how to read like a writer. I also became used to sharing my work, and therefore to writing for readers. I would thoroughly recommend doing a course, or, at least, joining a writing group.