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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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