How did you approach an agent or publisher and when did you expect from them?
I researched agents and came up with the one I wanted (Simon Trewin) because, like me, he had a theatrical background. He was also very open to new writers and he was very well respected and connected in the industry. This was what I needed, because when I went into Headline (my publishers) to talk to my future editor before they signed me, it was the first time I had ever met a publishing professional face to face. When I signed my contract, I was the only published writer I knew. I had not one contact in the publishing world and no understanding of how it worked. Simon was my intermediary in all that. He also negotiated a great deal for me at a point where, like any new writer, I would have done anything to be published – very handy indeed!
You come from quite a creative background – playwright and director, graphic designer. Do you think you were always destined to be a writer?
I’d often thought about it, but I thought writing novels for a living was what other people did. I lacked the background, contacts and temperament for it. But in fact now I’m here, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve never really planned anything in my life, just gone with the flow, guided by the need to make a living and raise my kids in a way that makes me and them happy. I have to say that, while I imagined from the outside that the publishing world was full of fierce naysayers, now I’m in it, I haven’t met a bunch of nicer, more fun people in my life. And that includes all those actors I used to hang out with.
It seems that an author’s ability to promote themselves is very important these days. How do you feel about doing publicity? Do you feel the need to blog or tweet or if it something you’d do anyway?
I think I would probably tweet and use facebook, but I doubt if I’d blog. I enjoy the blogging, and I try always to find things to talk about that other people find interesting – usually it’s about my process as a writer, and discoveries I make as I’m working. Obviously, if I weren’t a writer, I wouldn’t have that to talk about.
I don’t really view it as publicity – although I suppose it is all that in the long run. I see it more as a way of offsetting the fact that I spend most days entirely on my own. I like that, and treasure the rare day when I have no appointments whatsoever, but it’s nice to know there are other people out there when I surface from my 90 minute stretches. Writers seem to be the most prolific tweeters out there, for precisely that reason!
I do a lot of appearances now – festivals, talks, library events, signings and workshops. I have to say the old theatre me loves all that. And it’s a good excuse for a spot of frock-buying. At least that’s what I tell the old man.
Do you write the sort of fiction you enjoy reading?
I do. I have always enjoyed the more psychological literary type of books. I would say that encompasses a wide range of reading – from the Brontes through Virginia Woolf, to Patricia Highsmith, Ian McEwan, Julie Myerson and to my contemporaries like Sophie Hannah, Erin Kelly and Louise Millar. Since I have been moving in crime writing circles, I have come to appreciate that genre more widely, and now enjoy a bit of police procedural and the odd action type thriller. Not that I think I would ever write those particularly, but in the best examples, the demands of plot, tension and character require a certain skill that is rarely seen in other genres.
How you feel about the idea that you don’t look like you’d write the sort of books you do? I was quite shocked by the plot lines (incest,murder) from someone who came across as a ‘light and fluffy’ (I mean that as a compliment!)
I heard it said once that crime writers are generally sweeter people because they get all their dark side out in the writing. I think to some extent this is true of me. And for me, it’s all about understanding human beings. While I’m always imagining worst case scenarios in life and in fiction, I don’t believe in evil any more than I believe in original sin. I think we are inherently good and only do things because of life experience or accidents of internal wiring or chemistry. It’s the tipping points that interest me.
The greatest stories are those that throw the most challenges down for their characters and/or their readers. This has always been true – look at the Bible, at Aristotle’s Poetics, at Shakespeare. What we get up to at the extremes is endlessly fascinating.
Thanks again to Julia for letting us interview her. Happy reading blog readers and pick up a copy of one of Julia’s books to find out more about her ‘Hidden Darkness’