Tag Archives: Julia Crouch

Every vow you break by Julia Crouch


Candice:  Phil and I always like to do some research on the people we are going to interview so a few weeks ago I bought Cuckoo and Every vow you break by Julia Crouch.  He got Cuckoo, I got Every Vow.

Getting together a week later I asked how he was getting on with the book,  “I dont really like it, I have to admit.”  I was surprised as I was really enjoying mine, but wondered if it was a girl/boy thing.

Every Vow is about a family who have moved to Upstate New York for a summer as the father is an actor in a play.  Bringing with them two teenagers, a small child and the memories of an unwanted baby just recently terminated, the message at the start is this family is not in a good way.  The house they are to stay in is dirty, the father Marcus is only interested in his career, leaving his wife Lara to pick up the pieces, entertain the children and try and find something to do in a town that is more of a ghost town.

Lara stumbles on a secret, Stephen, the once love of her life and now Hollywood actor, is holed up in the town to escape a stalker.  No one is supposed to know where he is so she and her brood spend their days in his amazing home, while Marcus gets further and further away in the pursuit of his dwindling acting career.

The story twists and turns as things start to happen to the family: clothes get taken from the laundrette, they find out the house they are staying in has a dark secret and Lara begins to pull away from her husband.

I wont give away the ending but I thought it was clever and obvious but not obvious.

To book tackles some hard topics: abortion, the realisation that you may have married the wrong man, murder and even incest.  Though that last item is only touched on as it means that Olly, the teenage son, is in the right place at the right time to protect his twin sister, Bella, I would have like to have seen it explored more as I think its unfair poor Bella has to hide that horrible secret.

Having now read Cuckoo, I can see what Phil means.  Though in the same style, Cuckoo is a harder book to read as the characters are all unlikeable.  In Every Vow I wanted Lara to get out of this stuffy marriage and her situation, where as in Cuckoo I couldnt understand why the main female character would put up with an overbearing husband and controlling friend.  I can also see why they might be more ‘female’ books as both protagonists are very led by their children (something neither he not I understand) and particularly in Cuckoo the baby seems to be the centre of the universe.

Cuckoo was Julia’s first book, Every Vow her second.  Perhaps this is showing how her writing has developed from book 1 to 2 as she has made the characters more rounded and put a bit of heart into book 2.

Though we are well on our way to getting the Novel back out there, and would like to think its a well written piece, I think this is the case with all writers.  The more you write, the more developed your style becomes.  Just thinking back to the Harry Potter books, the first two or three are slim, more child friendly novels, and then they get more heavily plotted and thicker as JK’s style develops.

By the time we get to book seven it will be Booker prize winning….. or just a really good holiday read!


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After the darkness – ruminating on our chat with Julia Crouch

Julia CrouchPhil: Well done again for bagging another top interview.

Candice: Why, thank you. Your turn to get the next one.

Phil: Hmm. Anyway, the main thing I notice is that as with Daisy Waugh,  editing is the key to the finished book. I can understand this as Julia’s books rely heavily on a well-planned plot. You can’t just let the characters run off and do their own thing, they have to perform like actors on a stage so you reach the denouncement and tie up most, if not all of the plot strands. This is, I suspect, the difference between “real” authors and the rest of us. They see the big picture whereas we are too busy enjoying the details. I even found this post on her blog that shows the novel split up into Post-it notes. I suppose this must mean we are heading in the right direction.

Glad you asked the question about being “light and fluffy”. We were both completely fooled by Julia at Stratford Literary Festival. I’m glad I didn’t get to ask a question because it’s obvious that if she didn’t like it, a horrible death would be plotted for the questioner! Seriously though, I read the first two novels and wondered where the author stopped and character started. Every Vow You Break takes place around the background of a theatre company and I wonder if there are people reading it who are thinking, “Has she based XXX on me?”.

Maybe this is catharsis – you can do things on the page that you shouldn’t do in real life. In fact, people generally want to read an extreme version of real life and that’s exactly what the crime writer provides. The trick is to keep things believable which must mean reining in the imagination at times.

Work-wise, Julia is very organised. Deadlines. 90 minute writing sessions. Word targets. Even a proper office, albeit a shed at the bottom of the garden. Yet again though, there seems to be a lot of running involved. Not sure I like the sound of that.

Candice: I seem to be handling the running part of this partnership. Perhaps we should share the workload here?

Phil: Maybe not. I mean, I’m sure that running is fine if you can get yourself “in the zone”, let your mind float free and enter a Zen-like trance. Becoming a frustrated, sweaty lump isn’t quite so helpful.

Candice: Hum. I really like this idea but am not a morning run person so I wonder how this works for me? The idea of doing something before settling down it is good though, hence the idea of leaving the home as otherwise it takes me ages to concentrate.

Phil: Yes, we always seem to be more productive when using a library for work. When fame and riches arrive, we’re going to hire office space so a working mindset takes over. Thinking along those lines, the targets are a good idea. At “real” work, everyone has deadlines and I bet if we’d had something definite to aim at, our book would be finished by now.

Another area to look forward to is publicity. We can both do the showing off bit, so the thought of appearing at festivals, talks, library events, signings and workshops appeals. This is another difference between “real” authors and the rest. They understand that writing is just part of the job. You have to sell what you produce and this can’t be done from an ivory tower, or even well-insulated shed at the bottom of the garden.

Candice: I’ve been thinking hard about needing to buy new frocks for public appearances. In fact I’m planning to do some more research on Asos.com as soon as I’ve finished writing this post…

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An Interview with Julia Crouch – Part 2

Candice: Part 2 of our interview with thriller writer – Julia Crouch.

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’

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Crouching Tiger Hidden Darkness – An Interview with Julia Crouch Part 1

Julia Crouch

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.

Continue to Part Two of this interview


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Stratford Literary Festival Part 2

Candice: Phil has given his thoughts on the Stratford Literary Festival so I though I’d give mine.  As always, I am as much interested in what people are saying as what they are wearing.

As we sat down, my first thought was “someone’s got my coat on”.  Sat in the next row was a lady in a cobalt blue coat not my exact coat but a similar colour – so I took mine off rapide, as we can’t have that.

I sometimes judge a book by its cover, this is one of the reasons clothes are important to me.  As our three authors lined up, plus chair, my first thoughts were.   Author one was channelling the cool university professor vibe, with turned up jeans, funky specs and jacket, our second was more of a mystery as she was clad in all black with her hair up (but in a slightly messy cool way), and our third was more wafty hippy, with maroon tights and boots.  Well in two cases the book matched its cover, with author one (SJ Watson) being a NHS boss gone author and exclaiming he’d had a mid life crisis to get there, Rachel Joyce being the more intellectual writer type (having already written Radio 4 plays) and very slow and deliberate (but posh) in her delivery.  And then there was Julia – who would be more suited to bright colours than black as she was sweet, depreciating and fun, and very much in awe of the fact she was on to her second published book.

And the Chair – well he had the funkiest snake print shoes on with a more sensible outfit, but I think it went well with his PR head but also intellectual book knowledge.

However, there were no good Mulberry handbags to be seen (other than my own).

The experience was interesting and informative, as Phil has said, backing up some of the things that we already know and adding some other juicy insights that might help.  Though Gareth, the chair, pointed out afterwards that the three authors seemed to have had a charmed life compared to other authors he dealt with as far as being picked up and their deals with agents and publishers.  Oh, to have that experience.

I think the biggest shame of the evening was that they didn’t not tell you anywhere how long the event would be, so we didn’t know we could have gone to the Sue Townsend event afterwards.  Though it did give Phil and I time to cogitate in the very nice One Elm Pub over the way, and for him to down enough strong local brew to have a sore head the next day (I stayed on the water!).

Hum, where to now?


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Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival

How to get published stagePhil: Yesterday evening, Candice and I wended our way to the Shakespeare Centre, next door to the Bard of Avon’s birthplace, for an event called “How to get published….or How we did it”. Along with around 30 other eager wannabee authors, we hoped to find the secret code or incantation that would take The Book from a file on our computers to the front window of Waterstones bookshops.

Hosted by Gareth Howard (CEO of authoright.com), there were a panel of real authors: SJ Watson, Rachel Joyce and Julia Crouch. All had been through the process of writing, submitting, editing and then watching their book get published and the idea was that they could describe this to us and we would learn the tricks of the trade.

Each writer started with a little of their background and then a very short reading from their book. After this the chairman asked a few questions to get the discussion going and then threw it open for the attendees to ask thier own.

Sadly, none of the panel seemed to have a big pile of rejection slips from agents or publishers, pretty disappointing as the owner of such a pile myself, but we did get an insight into the process once you are accepted.

There was a lot of talk about the mountain to be climbed before getting there. SJ had reduced his full time job in the NHS to part-time to free up writing space. A couple had been through a very demanding Faber course where they’d been told to cancel all extraneous appointments for 6 months. Basically, writing is hard work was the message. Julia wrote the main part of her novel during NaNoWriMo, which is a serious commitment in itself and the first time I’ve heard of anyone getting anything out of this.

Once you get there published of course, it’s fabulous. I loved Julia’s description of the joy of seeing the book in print. I have a feeling it’s like the first time I placed an article in a magazine (I haunted WH Smiths for days around the date it was due) but times 100.

Funnest moment though, had to be either the loud “Oooof” issued by one of the audience when Rachel mentioned she was a mother of 4, or SJ’s advice on the famous Artist’s and Writer’s Yearbook.

The story goes, he was on a writing course and the tutor asked how many people had bought a copy. All the hands went up.

Then he asked, how many people still owned it. Half the hands went down.

To the rest, his advice was simple.

“Burn it. It’s full of dead people”

Not something the W&A marketing department would be entirely happy with but you can see his point. After all, you can just as easily look at the books on sale that you like, or your novel could happily sit alongside. Check out the agent details in the back and look them up on t’interweb. That’s 14 quid saved. Which allowing for the cost of entry, would go a long way to an after show drink.

Which is exactly what it did do. We sat and talked, the results of which we’ll be blogging in the near future. Watch this space – writing mojo has returned.


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