When and why did you begin writing?
I wrote my first ‘novel’ while I was still at school. It was a couple of hundred pages of drivel, an appalling rip-off of lots of ‘school stories’ I had read at that point. My English teacher waded through it and was encouraging (while suggesting that I might think about writing something different). It got thrown into the fire long ago, to avoid embarrassment later. But I went on to study English Literature. In later life, as a civil servant I wrote as part of my job, Press Releases, Ministerial briefings and government reports (only some of which could be regarded as fiction ).
I continued to write stories for friends, in letters and for my god-children. Then, to exercise my imagination, I started writing longer tales. I enjoyed the creation of characters and places and the possibility of engaging with ideas in an accessible and readily understood way. I enjoy the word-smithing element too, of getting a phrase or description just right. Now I can’t stop.
What are some day jobs you have held?
I was a teacher of English Literature but then moved into the British Civil Service and had a twenty-seven-year career doing some amazingly interesting jobs in several government departments in Whitehall and in various other agencies, like the Commission for Equality & Human Rights.
Do you have a special time to write, or how is your day structured to accommodate your writing?
Having retired from salaried employment, I write full-time. For four weekdays out of five, I begin work at around 9.30 and continue until about 6.30 (with necessary breaks). Depending on what stage I am at with a work and how I am doing against (usually self-imposed) deadlines, I often also work/blog/do publishing work on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Of course, I do other things connected with publishing, go to meetings, visit fairs and exhibitions etc.. At the moment, I’ve been heavily engaged in organizing the Clapham Literary Festival which will take place from 3rd – 8th May this year. Clapham is the part of London where I live in the UK.
What have you written so far?
My first book was a collection of short stories entitled The Village; A Year in Twelve Tales published by The Story Bazaar in April 2015 as a paperback and ‘e’ book. Since then I’ve been working on a novel for young adults entitled Reconquista, set in 13th century Spain that is now available on Amazon and other online retailers. I’ve also edited a compendium of web-site articles, blog posts (by myself and others) and short fiction which has appeared on my website at www.thestorybazaar.com. The book is called The Story Bazaar 2015 and I hope that it will be the first of many.
Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?
So far, I’ve been unfocused, but I’m learning that this is a convoluted and disorganized way to work. I wrote a couple of articles, here and here, on my website about the lessons I have learned about the process of writing. I could have saved myself a lot of time, effort, and money if I had been more organized about writing when I began.
Did you make any marketing mistakes that you would avoid in the future?
How long a list would you like me to provide? I wrote about this on my website, too.
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
Reconquista is an adventure story set in 13th century Al Andalus (Spain). This began ten or more years ago as a serial story for my nephew and godson. We have a home in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain and it is a place full of history. My nephew was about to visit there for the first time. I wanted to engage him in the history and romance of the place, so I wrote an adventure story, delivering ‘episodes’ on a gradual basis. He’s almost twenty-two now and the story which I wrote for him has changed out of all recognition.
The book opens on 9th October 1264. Outside the walled city of Jerez an army awaits the signal to attack. Within the city walls, fourteen-year-old Nathan, his older cousin, Rebecca and their friend, Atta, have to face an uncertain future. Their city is about to fall and everything they have always known is about to be torn apart. Friends and family will be scattered far and wide. Each of them has a fateful decision to make and a perilous journey to undertake.
In war-torn Al Andalus King and Emir vie for supremacy. Bandits and pirates roam land and sea in their wake, as our heroes set out on their desperate journeys to find freedom and safety. If they are to succeed, they must first face down their fears and decide what sort of people they want to be. All of them have to grow up. But not all of them will make it home.
Reconquista’ is the first book in the Al Andalus series.
What is your next project?
Once the Clapham Literary Festival is concluded, my next project is the next book in the Al Andalus series. This is the sequel to Reconquista, currently called Convivencia. This means ‘living together’ and it charts what happens after the heroes home city is conquered. I’ve already drawn up a rough outline. It resolves some of the issues left open at the end of the first book.
What role does research play in your writing?
Given that Reconquista’ is a historical novel I have had to do a lot of research. Not just about the background – the ongoing campaign by the Christian north to re-take the southlands from the Muslim south. This is, in itself, full of stories of real heroes, El Cid, for example, but the truth is often more interesting than the legend. So, even though this is presented as a religious war, in fact, lots of towns and cities changed sides, depending on circumstances rather than religion. El Cid himself fought for Muslim cities as well as for the Christians and, sometimes, on his own account.
Writing historical fiction can be fraught with potential pitfalls, especially when professional historians cannot agree.
What do you do to get book reviews?
I ask all my readers to write reviews, there is a request at the end of my books asking them to do so. I also seek reviews from book bloggers, like ‘Bookidote’, ‘A Cheeky Booklover’ etc.. and from Goodreads reviewers. I’ve had some success, but it’s by no means 100%. I won’t pay for reviews – that’s cheating in my view. But it’s hard. Without big budgets for publicity or the commercial relationships which the big publishers have with media and bookshops, it’s very difficult to get your book in front of people. Reviews are one of the few ways to influence potential buyers/readers, yet many people don’t have the time or the will to give you a review.
How can you discover more about Julie and her work?