If you think Julia Roberts looks familiar then she probably is – especially if you’re a fan of televised home shopping.
While she’s had a long and varied career in the entertainment industry – including parts in Dr Who and The Price Is Right – Julia is perhaps best known as a presenter on QVC.
There since its launch in the UK in 1993, she continues to front programmes for the channel. She also does voice over work and other TV appearances as well as supporting various charities.
As if that wasn’t enough, she has also realised a long-held dream to write books, with a popular trilogy, a standalone novel, various short stories and a memoir to her name.
Her latest book, Alice In Theatreland, is about to be made into an audiobook but, before that, I am absolutely thrilled that she agreed to let me quiz her for my new Behind The Book post.
You wanted to be an author from the age of 10 but it was another 47 years before that dream became a reality. You’ve obviously done a huge amount in between but was the dream always there in the background? What finally made you put pen to paper?
It’s funny you should ask this question. I am currently doing a series of blogs to celebrate the upcoming 25th anniversary of QVC in the UK, the research for which has had me looking through lots of boxes of saved mementoes and paperwork. I came across an article in a magazine that QVC used to circulate, prior to having a website, and in the last paragraph I was asked what else I planned to do in my career. My response was, ‘I have some great ideas for books I intend to write when I find the time.’ The article was from April 1998… twenty years ago. In a way, that answers both your questions. Working full-time at QVC and bringing up two children took precedence but once I had seen them off to university I began to write, initially a memoir entitled One Hundred Lengths of the Pool, which was published by Preface in 2013, before trying my hand at novels.
Your first novel was part of a trilogy. Did you plan it as such before you started writing?
The idea for the Liberty Sands trilogy came to me while I was on holiday in Mauritius, directly after the publication of my memoir. We were there for 10 days, during which time I copiously scribbled enough notes to fill a whole notebook. I immediately realised that the story was too much for one book with all the twists and turns, so decided to create three standalone books, which don’t necessarily require the reader to read on or have read the previous ‘installments’ – although it is intended to be enjoyed in its entirety.
Is it nice going back to the same characters (and adding new ones into the mix)? Are you ever tempted to add a fourth?
I got to know the characters so well over the course of the trilogy it was almost like writing about friends, but I also enjoyed introducing the new people as the story unfolded. I have been asked by many people who have fallen in love with Holly, Harry and co., if I will write a fourth book in the series but I’m not sure if I will revisit them and certainly not for a while.
Can you talk about your path to publication? Did you submit to many agents/publishers? What made you go the route you did?
As I mentioned above, my memoir was published by Preface, an imprint of Random House. When I had finished Life’s a Beach and Then… I sent it to my contact there who passed it to a colleague for consideration. Apparently, she loved it but it wasn’t suitable for her list at the time.
I also sent the manuscript to half a dozen agents, and had positive feedback from a couple saying they liked ‘my voice’ but clearly not enough to want to represent me.
I find the whole business of trying to sell myself and my work quite daunting, which is strange considering I can sell almost anything else and it’s what I do to earn a living, so I decided to follow a friend of mine down the self-publishing route.
I must admit I like the control I keep as a self-published author and I’m very lucky that I have a fantastic working relationship with my editor, Justine Taylor, who I’d worked with on One Hundred Lengths of the Pool. The only drawback for me is the marketing side of things and the lack of time I have available while still working full-time and trying to write.
Do you ever get mixed up with the other Julia Roberts? Were you ever tempted to change your name before you published your book?
I don’t really get mixed up with the Hollywood actress. A friend suggested that maybe I should write as Julia G Roberts but I decided against it as I didn’t want to confuse people who already know me as Julia Roberts through my work on television.
On a similar note, did you ever feel like it was a risk, because you were so well known in a different career, to publish a book? Or was it helpful that people already knew who you were?
I think it was helpful that I already had a public profile. There were a few people who left reviews on Amazon along the lines of, ‘You should stick to presenting,’ after my first novel came out, but the majority of reviews are positive and think my writing style is similar to my presenting style. As long as I’m certain that I’ve made each book the best it can be I’m happy – you can’t expect everyone to love your work.
You’re turning your latest novel, Alice In Theatreland, into an audio book, which sounds very exciting. Can you talk about why you decided to do it? What was the process like?
I’ve had a lot of requests to turn my books into audiobooks but it was a bit tricky committing to do all three books in the trilogy. Alice is completely standalone so I thought it would be a good way to test the water and see if there is any interest. To be honest, I have hit a bit of a delay with the voice artist/producer who has agreed produce it for me through a company called ACX so it now won’t be available until July at the earliest. The process of putting a piece up for auditions on ACX is fairly straightforward, even for a technophobe like me, and listening to the auditions and choosing the right voice to bring your characters to life was great fun. It’s a watch this space currently though.
From the hundreds of Amazon reviews, the majority of which are five stars, it seems like readers adore your books. That must be an amazing feeling? Does it add to the pressure for the next book though?
I’m extremely grateful for every review and I must confess that it gives me a warm glow inside to know that readers have liked what I have written. I’ve even been moved to tears on a couple of occasions because writing is still quite a new experience for me and also I’m a bit of a softy at heart! I think it does add to the pressure but mostly because you don’t want to disappoint readers who’ve spent their hard-earned cash on your book. That’s why there has been more of a gap since the release of Alice in Theatreland last year. Although I wrote a Christmas novella, Christmas at Carol’s, I haven’t been able to dedicate sufficient time to my next full-length novel and don’t want to release an inferior product.
Can you talk about what you’re working on next?
I am actually working on two full length novels at the moment. One is set around Bonfire Night so I will be looking to publish in October, the other I might submit to agents and see if it generates any interest. I’ve also promised a sequel to Christmas at Carol’s so I will need to get started on that around September time.
You still seem incredibly busy with work and also your charity events, how do you find time to write?
I’m fortunate that I have a set shift pattern at QVC that gives me a five day break every fortnight after working eight days out of nine. They are my writing days although I do also ‘tinker’ with my manuscript before going in to work if I’m not on air too early. I only do a few events a year for Rotary International and British Polio.
Do you have any writing tips you can share please?
My main tip is the most obvious, just sit down and do it. I think all writers are different in their approach.
The final chapter of Alice in Theatreland happened because I wasn’t satisfied with the ending I had written. The book had already gone to Justine for editing and I rang her up to say I’d had an idea for a different ending. She was totally supportive and we both agreed it worked so much better, a view echoed by the reviews on Amazon, many of which comment about it. The only other thing to add is that I write from my heart.
Thank you so much to Julia for letting me interview her. It just shows that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. I’m so pleased she managed to achieve hers – and so successfully too.
If you want to read some of Julia’s work, she has a free short story to download via her website. You can also follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. All her books are available via her Amazon page here.