A Look Behind The Book With Julia Roberts.

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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.

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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.

ALICE in TL CoverYou’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.

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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.

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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.

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A Look Behind The Book With Jane Davis.

IMG_2953Award winning novelist Jane Davis is about to publish her eighth book, entitled Smash All The Windows, which has already been described as an “all-round triumph”.

In 2008, Jane’s debut, Half-truths And White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and she was hailed as “one to watch” by The Bookseller.

While she has continued to write compelling fiction it has been on her own terms, which is why I’m delighted to invite her to take centre stage in my latest Behind The Book post so she can tell us about it.

But first, here’s the blurb for her latest book, which is released on Thursday:

For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than 13 years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.

Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.

If only it were that simple.

rsz_smash_all_the_windows_final_final_ebook_cover 325 x 521 for websiteIf someone asked me to describe your new book in three words I would say it was emotional, hard-hitting and gripping, what would your three words be?

The same three words I always aim for. Honest, authentic and true.

Can you talk about how the story came together? What was your initial inspiration?

You can probably sense from the title that the novel began with outrage. I was infuriated by the press reaction to the outcome of the second Hillsborough inquest. Microphones were thrust at family members as they emerged from the courtroom. It was put to them that, now that it was all over, they could get on with their lives. That had me yelling ‘what lives?’ at the television.

I know it’s a work of fiction but it feels very real, not just the way you present the facts but emotionally too. As someone who suffers from claustrophobia parts of it made me feel breathless. Obviously that’s a sign of amazing writing but how much research was also involved?

The answer is ‘a lot’. My favourite description of fiction is made up truth. I didn’t want to be the one to add to the pain I saw on the faces of the Hillsborough families, so I unpicked elements from Hillsborough and other large-scale disasters such as Aberfan and Bethnal Green and then created a fictional disaster, making sure they were all present.

Because writing should always take you outside your comfort-zone, I combined two of my fears – travelling in rush hour by Tube, and escalators. It helped that I also suffer from claustrophobia, anxiety and vertigo. And it ‘helped’ that I suffered a fall down an escalator at Bank station in 2016. But having chosen an Underground station for my setting, I needed to research how an accident might happen and the particular difficulties that the emergency services would encounter, which meant looking at accident investigations from Kings Cross and London terrorist attacks. In order to demonstrate an element of foreseeability, I documented everything I could about the vulnerabilities of the system and weak spots, and that meant tracking down reports on transport policy, overcrowding, the impact on health, recommendations that haven’t been implemented… the list goes on.

The rule in fiction is that research shouldn’t show up on the page, but I made an exception for Eric, the law student who pieces together the sequence that led to the disaster and, in doing so, overturned a miscarriage of justice. I wanted the reader to really feel that the late nights in front of a screen drove him to the brink of madness.

The story is told from the viewpoint of various characters, male and female, young and older, but they all have distinctive voices. How much prep work do you do in creating such different 3D characters?

I write in what is called ‘close third person’, which means that, instead of writing as a narrator, I’m inside the characters’ heads. I’m not a plotter or a planner. I get to know my characters through writing them. Over the two years that it takes to write a novel, I get to know them pretty well. Of course, it’s helpful to have a character like Jules Roche, my French sculptor, who speaks in broken English and is angry and unguarded, but can also be charismatic and surprisingly vulnerable. It’s far more difficult to create an everyman (or woman) character, like Donovan or Gina or Maggie. These are ordinary people who have found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. I focused on specific characteristics. For Donovan, it was his hidden sorrows. The disaster killed not only his only daughter but his unborn grandchild. It meant the end of his family line. Gina’s son was somewhere he shouldn’t have been at the time of the accident, doing something he shouldn’t have been doing. The disaster not only robbed her of her son and her idea of who her son was, but it also destroyed her idea of who she was. She was not, as she’d thought, a good mother. Maggie’s situation was different. Her daughter was blamed for the disaster, and whilst the verdict overturns this previous ruling, it isn’t popular. She’s someone who’ll always be the outsider.

You won the Daily Mail First Novel Award for Half-truths And White Lies. What was that like? How did you find out?

This was back in 2008. I had only found out about the competition by chance. I attended the Winchester Writer’s Conference for the first time in June of that year. There were many different lectures I could have attended, but I chose to go to a lecture given by Jack Sheffield of Teacher, Teacher! fame and a very nice lady from the publishers, Transworld, whose name I forget. She urged everyone with a finished manuscript to submit it, promising that they would all be read. For me, that was the incentive to enter. At that time I had an agent who had come very close to placing my previous novel (the novel that won the award was actually my second), but the manuscript that became Half-truths And White Lies had been sitting in her ‘in’ tray for six months and she hadn’t found time to read it. The closing date for competition entries was only two days later, so it was a case of getting to the Post Office as soon as it opened and praying it would reach them in time.

The timing of the announcement was absolutely perfect. I knew I had made the longlist when I left my job of 23 years in September. Three weeks later, the honeymoon period was well and truly over. Every time I turned on the television there was talk of financial doom and gloom. I began to worry that leaving a secure job at the start of a recession had been a terrible mistake.

I got the call from Transworld when I was at home on my own and, because I was alone, there was no one to ask, ‘Did that just happen?’ I can completely understand the sentiments expressed by Myrrha Stanford-Smith who, at the age of 82, signed a three-book deal with Honno. She says she insisted on putting down the phone, pulling herself together and ringing them back to make sure it was true. I tried ringing my partner but he was in a meeting. I tried my best friend. Another meeting. Eventually I got through to my mother, so she was the first person to know.

Many people (me included) would assume that winning the award meant your writing career was made but I know from reading your incredibly honest (and helpful) “journey as a writer” page on your website that wasn’t the case. Are you able to tell us what happened next?

JDV-AFFAO2015-CS-02AWThe book sold well and I was told that my job was getting on with writing the next one, which was already well underway. But when I presented my publisher with A Funeral For An Owl, they told me that they loved it but they were going to turn it down because it wasn’t a good fit for their women’s fiction imprint. I admit that I was very naïve and I hadn’t thought to discuss what subject-matter I should have been writing about. I’m a woman and a reader, and I’m still not sure what women’s fiction is. This was the year when the shortlist for what was then called the Orange Prize was incredibly diverse: Room dealt with confinement; Grace Williams Says It Loud, disability; The Tiger’s Wife dealt with living in a time of conflict; Annabel dealt with being a hermaphrodite. None of these issues are women’s issues, they’re human issues. Joanne Harris – one the judges for the Daily Mail First Novel Award – has always argued that there’s no such thing as women’s fiction. But somehow I’d been pigeon-holed.

I love that you managed to keep your passion for writing and your confidence in yourself, which led you down the indie route. What are some of the good things about self-publishing?

With Half-truths And White Lies, my publisher was very prescriptive. They asked me to write a different ending, they changed the title (I’d called it Venn Diagrams) and they gave the book a strong cover which was bang on trend, but it wasn’t right for the book. Self-publishing, on the other hand, allows creative freedom and artistic control. I write about subjects I’m passionate about, without worrying about ticking the right boxes or following the latest trend for psychological thrillers, and I get to collaborate with professionals (structural editors, copy editor, typesetters and cover designer) of my choice, people who share my vision. If something isn’t working, I can react to the market and change it. I changed the cover of my first self-published release, I Stopped Time, because I felt the original design wasn’t working hard enough for me.

Who are your favourite authors and why?

That’s a constantly evolving list but I greatly admire Ali Bacon and Sarah Hall both of whom write so beautifully about life and art and landscape. I also love writers who deviate from linear structures. Here I’m thinking of Jennifer Egan and A Visit From The Goon Squad, Emily St John Mandel and Station Eleven and John Ironmonger and The Coincidence Authority or Not Forgetting The Whale. What I love about these books is that, when you reach the end, you can head straight back to the beginning and start again without feeling that you’ve left the story. Because there’s no beginning, middle and end in the traditional sense, the stories are both cyclical and enduring, like one of Escher’s optical illusions. And you might think that the running order is random, but it takes enormous skill to pull off a work like Goon Squad whose chapters can be read in any order you damn well please, because each has to be perfect and complete. In Station Eleven, the reader remains in the present while the book travels between the near past and a near future in which all technology has been wiped away. And then there’s The Coincidence Authority, where you have the feeling that this is the precise order in which the story must be told, because in fiction the big reveal must come near the end but in life it may show up early.

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Do you write full-time now? If so what’s your day like? Do you have set office hours?

I work two days a week and write the rest of the time. As with anyone running their own business from home, there are no office hours. My ‘writing time’ includes everything relating to books. I finished writing Smash All The Windows last autumn, but it’s only just coming up for publication some six months later. I receive about 350 emails a day, all of which have to be answered. Much of my time is spent on marketing – not all advertising but writing guest posts and interviews. I do a small amount of self-publishing mentoring, usually by Skype but occasionally in person. This summer I’m giving a series of creative writing ‘masterclasses’ to students preparing for their GCSEs. At the moment there’s preparation to do for pre-launch events. On November 6th I’m compering at Novel London, so I’ve just written the introductions for the speakers and questions to put to them. Next, I’ll be reading entries for a competition that I’m judging. There is no set pattern. I simply do whatever is the most urgent and hope that I don’t drop too many balls.

Can you please share any writing tips for those who might be struggling? 

The only time I ever suffered from writers’ block is when I started a creative writing MA, so my main advice is ignore all of the advice. Every book I read that I love breaks all of the ‘rules’.

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There are many ways to write a novel and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. You learn how to write a novel by writing a novel. My first took me four years and is unpublished. I consider that time well spent.

I love the phrase ‘made up truth’. Jane kindly let me have an advance copy of Smash All The Windows and I actually had to stop reading at one point and Google ‘St Botolph and Old Billingsgate Tube Station’ to see if it was real and if the disaster really did happen (the book is that good). Thank you very much to Jane for sharing her writing journey with us, I was inspired by her answers (I hope you were too).

For more information about Jane you can visit her website, follow her on Twitter or like her Facebook page. Smash All The Windows is released on April 12th but you can pre-order now for the special price of £1.99/$1.99 (price on publication will be £3.99) by clicking here.

If you’ve missed any Behind The Books posts, please check out the archive here.

A Look Behind The Book With Natalina Reis.

MeWhile Natalina Reis has written other genres, she always comes back to her first love – romance.

Currently working on her sixth novel, Natalina juggles writing with teaching and family life.

Her latest release, Blind Magic, came out in November has been winning lots of praise on Good Reads so I was delighted when she agreed to let me quiz her for my Behind The Book series.

Here’s what she had to say.

You’ve strayed into other genres but always come back to romance. What is it you enjoy?

Romance makes me happy, gives me hope that no matter how bleak things look, there is always hope. Love transcends everything else, even death to a certain extent. And of course, there is always the happy ending.

You wrote your first book at 13. Has writing always been your thing?

Yes, I’ve been writing ever since I knew how. I wrote stories even in elementary school. Being an introvert who had the worst time expressing my feelings, writing offered me a way of doing so. For some reason the written word was always a form of solace, of therapy for my soul.

That first book was a collaboration with your best friend, can you explain how that worked? Do you write together or do you do a bit and then send it to her?

We were both on spring break and we spent our evenings in my room discussing characters and parts of the plot. She would suggest something and I would suggest something else. Once we agreed on what to write, I would write it down as part of the story. It was fun. Even though I haven’t done anything like that since, I still enjoy when my critique partners or friends make suggestions. Some great ideas came out of discussions just like those.

Blind Magic for jpegs_frontcover310In Blind Magic your main character, Marcy, is a witch. What made you want to include that magical element?

Marcy happened as a happy accident to be truthful. She first appeared as a sidekick on Loved You Always where I needed her as comic relief and also as an outrageous way of helping my two main characters out of a very dangerous situation. Turns out Marcy became so much more than that. My sister was also a great inspiration for Marcy’s occupation and beliefs, since she has always been interested in the esoteric.

Did you already have an idea for Marcy’s story when you were writing Loved You Always?

I never expected to love her so much and I definitely didn’t expect the readers would fall in love with her as hard as they did. There were so many requests to write Marcy’s own story that eventually I gave in and wrote it. She is one of my favorite characters.

Blind Magic is winning a lot of praise. How does it feel to know your readers have connected with your story?

It’s amazing. As a writer I love all my characters, but to have others love and connect with them as well is heartwarming and makes everything worthwhile. One of my favorite parts of the publishing process is the beta readers’ comments as they read the book. Marcy got a lot of oohs and aahs. She really touched a chord in many readers’ hearts (and so did her man, Oliver) and I’m still shocked (in a good way) by the reactions.

You don’t just write about male/female relationships, in Lavender Fields your main character, Sky, an angel of death, falls in love with another man. Can you talk about what made you want to explore that angle?

I wanted to write a story that my son, who is gay, could identify with. But most of all I just wanted to write a love story. It just happened that the two main characters are both men. All my books have a few things in common, and one of those is the theme of diversity and universal love. In fact I wrote my first M/M romance when I was about 19 years old (a story that will never see the light of day!).

Let’s go right back to the beginning and talk about your first published book, We Will Always Have The Closet. How long did it take to write? Did you submit it to many publishers?

I wrote The Closet in 30 days during National Novel Writing Month. I polished it, hired an editor and on a whim participated on a Twitter Pitmad and was shocked to have a publisher request the full manuscript. I was offered a contract shortly after and I think I’m still in shock.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a romantic comedy that started as a short story. It’s called Fictional-Ish and it’s set in Scotland where I lived for four years a long time ago. It’s a friends to lovers, second chance story with a lot of humor and, as in most of my stories, a bit of mystery drama.

Do you have any tips for writers?

Write, never stop writing no matter how much you doubt yourself. And don’t get too stuck on what the “experts” say because writing is as individual as humans are and what works for one writer may not work for another.

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What fabulous answers, a huge thank you to Natalina for taking part. I love that she wrote a story for her son and her writing tips couldn’t be more relevant to me this week when I’m having yet another crisis of confidence. I’m definitely going to be taking note.

If you’d like to connect with Natalina you can do so in various ways. On Twitter, Instagram,  Facebook, and, of course, you can buy her books via Amazon.