Interview with author Julie Houston
This week I have enjoyed and reviewed two books: Goodness, Grace and Me and The One Saving Grace. I am delighted that their author, Julie Houston, agreed to an interview with The TBR Pile. Thank you so much, Julie, for taking the time to answer my questions. And here they are ...
I love the one-liner type humour in your books. Does that come naturally?
Julie Gosh, I’m not sure if it comes naturally. I do tend to see the funny side of most things so I suppose at times it does!!
You write quite movingly about some serious issues but your books are full of humour, and you manage that balance very well. How do you do that?
Julie Again, I’m not sure!! I do think there is humour in so many issues. I broke my hand very badly last year and, while it was extremely painful, the moment I came round from the general anaesthetic I wrote a blog about it on my website (www.juliehouston.co.uk) which I still read out to people if I am giving a talk about where I find my ideas for writing. It always raises a laugh. I’ve tried to write with a more serious head on but this comic voice seems to come to the fore and take me over. My work in progress Looking for Lucy has issues about drugs and prostitution but the characters are human – they see the funny side of life!!
Have you ever written something you found humorous and then decided to edit it out because it was disrespectful of your serious issues?
Julie In The One Saving Grace I write about Auntie Barbara tutting that all young mums with babies can’t go anywhere these days without a muslin over their shoulder. My agent made me edit out what I actually wrote to begin with – I will leave it up to you to work out what I had Auntie Barbara actually saying – as she thought it offensive. I didn’t feel it was, but there you go!! The last thing one wants is to offend anyone, especially the lovely readers who buy and read my books!!
Your two books so far have quirky, irreverent Hattie as your main character. What made you invent her in this way?
Julie Everyone assumes she is based on me and, to be fair, she probably is really! I can be fairly dippy and irreverent and, at times, it was a bit like writing a diary!! Not that I have five children, God forbid!! Or ever had an affair!!!!
When you wrote Goodness, Grace and Me did you have in mind that you would write a sequel?
Julie No, not at all. After I’d finished Goodness, Grace and Me I started writing something completely different but Hattie wouldn’t let me go and I had to pick up with her again. I’m really pleased that I did, but I don’t think a third is on the cards. Having said that, after a couple of glasses of wine last week I emailed my agent to say I was thinking about a Christmas novella, i.e. Christmas with Harriet and Grace, and she was extremely enthusiastic!!
What made you decide that your second book should be a sequel, rather than a stand-alone?
Julie I suppose I thought there was still a story to be told with the characters. I could have had totally different characters but in the same storyline I guess…!!
In your next book, you have a different main character. Is it hard to make her different from the character of Hattie?
Julie Yes it is. It really is. I haven’t quite got into her skin yet but she’s growing on me. I do think one has to like one’s characters or one’s readers won’t either. Mind you, I don’t suppose Mary Shelley (who is actually my husband’s great great many times removed grandmother) liked Frankenstein!
Do you need motivation to write, and if so what do you do to make yourself sit at your computer and start typing?
Julie Yes I do need motivation! I can spend hours looking at ebay and Ancestry and the long-range weather forecast for the summer (still haven’t got an answer yet!!) rather than actually getting on with a few thousand words. The best motivation is when you’ve written something you’re pleased with – you just want to go back and write more. The biggest motivation for me at the moment is that a character from Looking for Lucy was put up for auction on ebay last week and I now have to make sure that I fulfil that promise. It was a brilliant idea to raise money for a children’s cancer charity and some great authors – Lee Child, Katie Fforde – offered a character.
Do you listen to music while you write?
Julie No! I need complete silence to write.
What sort of editorial help did you get with your books?
Julie I’m very fortunate that Anne Williams, my agent, is a former commissioning editor for Headline so has done a lot of editing in her previous role. She is brilliant at pointing things out, e.g. I had Hat and Grace talking about their going into All Bar One as teenagers, and Anne pointed out that the chain wasn’t around then and certainly not “Up North”. She polishes and edits and won’t let it out until I have done my homework and got it back to her!!
Did you keep the same editorial team for both books?
Julie No. The proofreader for Goodness, Grace and Me, Susanne Hillen, had changed her email and by the time she realised I was trying to get in touch with her again for The One Saving Grace we’d found someone else.
Why did you decide to publish with White Glove? What was your experience of using this service?
Julie It was my agent who said we should go with White Glove. White Glove is an arm of Amazon and is only for agented writers. Basically it is a triangle between author, agent and Amazon. The agent works with Amazon to publish the book and can then apply every month for the book to be promoted. I meet up with Tracy Bloom, who wrote No One Ever Has Sex on a Tuesday, for regular walks and "book rants", as we call them, in Derbyshire and she had gone down that route with her agent. She has obviously done fantastically well!!
How long from "Chapter 1" to pressing the publish button did each of your books take you?
Julie The first one several years and several titles!! The second one eighteen months.
What did you learn about writing and publishing from your first book that made you write/publish/market your second book differently?
Julie It was Tracy Bloom, again, who said every morning she dropped the children off at school and then went to Costa or some such place and wrote notes about what she was going to write that day. My kids are now well able to sort themselves out and we still don’t have a Starbucks in Huddersfield – take note, Starbucks – but I certainly now sit and write and make notes in longhand in an old exercise book rather than plunging straight in on the computer and hoping I will get where I want to be!! With Goodness, Grace and Me I went a bit over the top with promoting but, to be honest, as a new writer it is the only way you are going to get noticed. I probably spent too much time jumping out at people rather than getting on with writing the next book. There has to be a sensible ratio between promoting and writing and, certainly, the best promotion is another book!!
Which part(s) of writing do you love/hate?
Julie I love finishing a chapter and putting it to bed. I actually really like editing too, which I know a lot of writers don’t like doing. I like reading back what I wrote the previous day and realising that actually it’s better than I thought. I’m not too good at putting the very first word onto paper. I equate starting a new book like being pregnant again – there’s a tendency to feel a bit sick and think what the hell am I doing all this again for!! And then, it begins to fall into place, and you’ve created a new “baby” and you’re going to love it as much as the others!!
Which part(s) of publishing do you love/hate?
Julie I’m not sure that I hate any of it. I sometimes panic a bit if I’ve been too busy with the other areas of my life and not written as much as I should have.
Would you like a contract from a traditional publisher, or are you an out-and-out indie?
Julie My agent took Goodness, Grace and Me round the traditional publishers but when it wasn’t accepted she wasn’t too happy about going down the indie route. With The One Saving Grace I said I’d rather not spend time going through all that process again to begin with and suggested we put it out as an ebook first, but this time through White Glove. Yes, I would love a traditional publisher to decide they would like to take me on and, hopefully if the books carry on doing as well as they are, someone might come a-knocking!
Do you write with a writing group?
Julie No, I don’t. I was going down the MA in creative writing route from Sheffield Hallam University – a much acclaimed course – but pulled out at the very last minute as I just thought I needed to write rather than go back to studying literature, which I did with my first degree. I would like to give it a go at a later date but am pleased that I don’t have that pressure to go to lectures and complete course work. I don’t think I’m very good at writing alongside other people either. It’s a bit like running – I prefer to run by myself rather than panic that I can’t keep up!!
Do you belong to any writing/publishing body?
Julie I’m a member of the RNA [Romantic Novelists’ Association] and they are a fantastic group of people to be with. My advice to anyone who writes stories with even the teeniest bit of romance is to join the RNA New Writers' Scheme.
Who is the first reader of your drafts?
Julie I have a lovely friend called Fiona who I used to teach with and she was the very first person I let read Goodness, Grace and Me. She was also the first to read The One Saving Grace along with another teaching friend, Debbie. I ask people who are lovely but honest!!
Do your children read your books? What do they think of them?
Julie I have one son who is twenty-one next week and at present in New York on an internship from university, and one daughter who is eighteen this week and studying maths and biology (!!) at A level. Between my husband and my children they have never read a book in their lives. They would rather fling themselves down mountains or dive down deep holes!! My husband has obviously some pretty strong genes that don’t include reading! So, in a nutshell, although very supportive of my writing, they haven’t read them.
Can you give us any hints on work in the pipeline?
Julie Looking for Lucy is my work in progress and, as with the others, is set in mythical Midhope. I hope it will be available next year. I suddenly had an idea this week to give Hat, Grace and Amanda cameo roles in the story so we might meet them again. And then there is the idea brewing of a Christmas novella. I quite like the idea of sending them all away skiing for Christmas. Hat, like me, will be totally unable to ski and give up half way through and spend the rest of the time drinking gluwein and reading as well as singing The Carpenters’ I’m on the top of the world … as she gets in the way of serious skiers (a private joke with my good friend Anthony Brook!!).
What is on your To Be Read pile?
Julie Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I read A Secret History last summer and loved it. I will also read the new Kate Atkinson when it comes out. I’ve always thought I preferred books by female writers but one of my favourite books is Ferney by James Long and I’m reading Andy Jones The Two of Us which I’m really enjoying, and I have just finished David Nicholls’ Us.
I’ve really enjoyed answering these questions, thanks, Clare.
Thank you, Julie. And I think it's an excellent idea for Hat, Grace and Amanda to have cameo roles in the new novel.
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