1. Julie, as a mother of a young child, can you tell us about your typical writing day?
When my son was very young, I only wrote while he was sleeping—I wrote my entire novel ONE NIGHT STAND during baby naps and whenever my husband could take him out for walks. We used to call it “Mummy’s Mucky Book Hour”. But now that my son is older, he goes to nursery three mornings a week. So at 8.30 am, when I get back from dropping him off, I sit right down at my computer and get to work. Well, actually that’s not true—I check all my emails and my website and Facebook first, and THEN I get to work. I try to write 2000 words a day in the mornings when he’s at nursery, and 1000 words a day on the other days, while he’s taking a nap or after he’s gone to bed.
I used to do this six days a week, but as I was finishing up my last book this past autumn, I was struck down by repetitive strain injury in my hands from typing so much. So now, I take Thursdays off computer work and do yoga instead.
In the afternoons, I hang out with my son. Quite often I meet up with other mummy friends and I force them to listen to my plot problem of the day. I have a strong suspicion they think I am totally mad.
2. I write in a shed with a Miniature Schnauzer snoring next to me. Do you have a particular writing space where you work?
I envy you your beautiful shed! I work in our dining room, because we don’t have any space for me to have an office. It’s right in the middle of the house between the living room and the kitchen, which means I am constantly trying to train my husband not to walk through on his way to the refrigerator asking things like “Do we have any cheese?”
3. Nina Jones is a PA to a celebrity chef. I was wondering where you get the inspiration from for the characters in each of your books?
Well, to be honest, I have a bit of a fixation with celebrity chefs. Edmund Jett in NINA JONES is my second one; I also had a celebrity chef hero in one of my earlier books. He’s still the character I’ve had the most reader mail about, so I think other people must fancy chefs too.
I try to make my heroines a bit unusual, but vulnerable and sympathetic—when I was writing Nina Jones I wanted to make her a typical shoe-loving chick lit heroine, who is actually someone quite different underneath. And I try to make my heroes flawed but with that little slice of fantasy in them. There are three main males in NINA JONES; Nina thinks two of them are ideal romantic leads, and she thinks the third is a surly freak, and possibly a blood-sucker to boot. I had fun playing with the idea of how the three men appeared, versus what they were really like. The secondary characters quite often take on a life of their own. For example, the bickering eccentric married couple Evangeline and Michael in NINA JONES jumped into my mind fully-fledged and they have refused to leave ever since. In some corner of my mind, Evangeline is ever chain-smoking and wearing a bizarre wig.
4. How do you go about writing each of your books? Are you a meticulous planner, or do you have an idea and see where it takes you?
I am very nearly an anti-planner. Generally I get a seed of an idea, and a character to go with it, and I spend a little bit of time developing those and researching anything unusual (for example the setting of Highgate and Gothic revival architecture for NINA JONES, or the creation of comic books for GIRL FROM MARS), and then I just jump in and start writing with absolutely no idea of where I’m going or what’s going to happen. This is always totally terrifying. Usually about halfway through, I start to see where this whole mess is leading me and that’s the time when I get out the index cards and try to guess what’s going to happen next. This is a very harrowing process for me, but after thirteen published books now I’ve discovered it works. Eventually.
5. How did you go about getting published?
I read a lot and wrote a lot and submitted a lot and collected quite a few rejections. I found myself some critique partners I trusted. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association in the UK, and Romance Writers of America in the USA. Through the RNA I met so many experienced and generous authors who helped me with my writing; that’s also how I met my agent and my future editor. About the same time, I finalled in the RWA’s Golden Heart contest, which is the world’s biggest contest for unpublished romance writers. These two things, which happened within about three months of each other, changed my life for good, and within another couple of months, I had sold my first book.
I know some people manage to get published on their own, without help, but I’m sure it would have taken me much longer without the support of fellow writers.
6. What was the best piece of writing advice given to you?
It was probably from Kate Walker, who is a dear friend of mine. She told me never to hold back; get the conflict and the emotion on the page. That simple bit of advice revolutionised the way I wrote. I used to find it hard to express emotion on the page, or to explore topics that meant something to me, or to make my characters suffer. When I broke through those fears, my storytelling got miles better.
7. What advice would you give to an unpublished writer?
I’ve got it up on a Post-It on my own computer: Write Crap. This doesn’t mean you must write badly; it means you should give yourself permission to write something imperfect rather than not write at all. A lot of people expect to get everything absolutely right in the first draft, as if good prose were something that should come without an effort. But sometimes you have to make mistakes, so you can learn from them. When you give yourself permission to write crap if you need to, then you can let go of the fear that stops you from writing and learning. And then you can revise what you’ve written afterwards, and try to make it the best it can be.
Thanks for having me on Novelicious, Debs! I know I’m going to enjoy Little Black Dress Thursdays.
Thank you for saying so, Julie, and for such brilliant answers.
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