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 S D Robertson.

SDRobertsonBestselling author S D Robertson took a risk when he quit his job as a newspaper editor to follow his dream of writing a novel but, thankfully, it has more than paid off.

Stuart has just published his third book, Stand By Me, which has already received rave reviews on Amazon, including being dubbed “a heartwarming and tearjerking triumph” by one reader.

As a fan of his work, I was delighted when he agreed to be my latest Behind The Book interviewee.

Read on to find out what he had to say.

You started your writing career as a journalist, ending up as editor of a local newspaper before leaving to pursue your dream to become a novelist. Did you find the transition to a more creative style of writing difficult?

Writing creatively is very different from writing news stories or features. However, I found that my time as a journalist did prepare me well for becoming a novelist, particularly in terms of being self-motivated, meeting deadlines and having confidence in my ability to communicate effectively to readers. I think it’s also important to write sparingly in fiction – particularly with books of a commercial nature, which need to be pacy and easy to read. In my opinion, a good journalist’s greatest skill is the ability to convey complicated ideas in a straightforward, easy-to-comprehend way. As a novelist, I try to do much the same in terms of my characters, plots and themes.

SBM2You’ve just published your third novel, Stand By Me, can you tell us about it please?

This book is about the powerful and changing nature of a long friendship. My two central characters, Elliot and Lisa, meet as 11-year-olds in the early 1990s and remain great pals as they traverse secondary school and grow into adults together. Then life pulls them apart – until one day, totally out of the blue, Elliot returns just when Lisa needs him most. As the story flits between past and present, we gradually learn the remarkable truth about Elliot’s return and what it means for both of their futures.

Are you ever sad to say goodbye to any of your characters? They live in your head for such a long time, do you find yourself thinking about them once the book is done and dusted?

Yes, definitely. As an author you spend a great deal of time with your characters and you really miss some of them after you finish working on a particular project. At the end of a story, I often wonder about what might happen to them next. In fact, one character from my debut novel, Time to Say Goodbye, does actually make a cameo appearance in Stand By Me. I won’t say who, as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. But it was great to reconnect and to see how things had progressed for them since the end of that novel.

Can you tell us about your route to publication with your first book? What was it like getting that phone call (or email) telling you they wanted to publish it?

I left my job as a local newspaper editor and wrote a novel inspired by my early experiences as a reporter. I sent this off to various literary agents and publishers, but after lots of rejections, I stuck it in a drawer and returned to the drawing board. The next novel I wrote was Time to Say Goodbye, which went on to be published by Avon HarperCollins. The first exciting moment was when my (now) agent phoned me to say that she loved it and wanted to represent me. Then, several months and a few tweaks later, I got another call from her saying that Avon wanted to publish it. Both of these were fantastic moments that I’ll never forget. They validated all the hard work I’d poured into pursuing my dream and inspired me to keep on going.

You took a risk to follow your dream, was there ever a moment where you doubted yourself and, if so, how did you bolster your confidence again?

There were lots of moments when I doubted myself at the beginning; there still are from time to time. Authors tend to be introspective types and I’m no exception. Beating your insecurities is one of the many hurdles you have to overcome in order to finish a novel and then get it published. My advice to any would-be novelist struggling with this is to channel it into their work by creating characters with believable flaws, issues and contradictions.

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Surrounding yourself with positive people who believe in you and encourage you to follow your dreams is always a big help.

Your novels seem to twist and turn. Do you know before you start writing what is going to happen and when? If you are a planner, how do you do it? Do you use Post-it notes or write a chapter by chapter plot?

I start with a plot synopsis and I do tend to stick fairly strictly to the beginning and end. I think it’s important to know where you’re heading when you start out. However, in terms of the middle, I’m very flexible. I like to allow room to develop things as I go along: particularly the twists and turns, which I find often work best without advance planning. (If I’m surprised, the reader is likely to be surprised too.) I don’t work with Post-it notes, but rather that initial synopsis together with a notebook that I update as I go along. This includes character profiles and any other information I don’t want to forget.

What role does social media play in getting your books out there? Has it changed much since the first book in 2016?

I think social media is a great way of reaching out to your readers and vice versa. It’s hugely important nowadays, although it can be quite time-consuming. As an author working from home, it’s all too easy to procrastinate rather than actually writing; social media can be dangerous in that regard. In my experience it hasn’t changed an awful lot in the last couple of years, although it is probably a little harder now to communicate with your readers on Facebook without paying for adverts.

On your website you say you’re a film buff (who doesn’t love a rom-com?), which of your books do you think would make the best film? Have you ever considered writing a script?

Any of them could be made into films or TV shows, in my opinion. It’s a dream of mine that I do hope will come true one day. I think my love of movies seeps into my writing, giving it a visual quality that would translate well on to the screen. I have considered writing a script, because I particularly enjoy creating dialogue, but so far I haven’t done so.

Are you working on something new at the moment? Can you share any details?

I’m currently working on my next novel, which is still at a pretty early stage, so I don’t want to say too much. What I can tell you is that it’s about a childless couple who suddenly find themselves looking after their estranged teenage niece.

Do you have any writing tips to pass on please?

One of the best writing tips I can offer is to complete your first draft before you start editing it. I don’t recommend reading anything back until you’ve got to the end of the story. Otherwise you’ll probably find yourself so busy tweaking things that you never actually reach that point. And you’re not going to get published without a completed manuscript. Think of it like creating a sculpture. Start with the basic shape and add in the detail later.

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Many thanks to Stuart for his thoughtful answers, I especially loved his advice for beating insecurities. Fingers crossed that his dream to see his work on the big (or small) screen also comes true one day.

If you’d like to know more about Stuart you can visit his website, follow him on Twitter and buy all his books via Amazon.

A Look Behind The Book With Ralph Webster.

Author PictureInspired by an overseas trip, Ralph Webster set about taking his family history and turning it into two books, which feature topics not only important to him personally but also the world in general.

His first, A Smile in One Eye: A Tear In The Other, which tells the story of his father’s flight from the Holocaust, was nominated for Best Memoir/Autobiography in the Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards.

His second, One More Moon, which is due to be published next month, tells the true story of his grandmother’s desperate journey from Naples to America as countries across the world closed their doors to Jewish refugees fleeing the spread of Nazi evil.

I couldn’t resist asking Ralph to be my latest Behind The Book interviewee and was thrilled when he agreed to answer my questions.

Here’s what he had to say:

I know that becoming an author was never really in your grand plan but the tale of how you came to write your first book is inspiring. Can you tell us about it please?

Thank you for asking that question because it really goes to the heart of what I am trying to do with my writing. A little more than two years ago my wife Ginger and I spent eight weeks in Europe travelling. We are retirees and have the luxury of being able to take off for big chunks of time. This was a pleasure trip. We were taking trains, backpacking, hiking, and biking. I suppose you could say we were celebrating the good life. We started in France and ended in Stockholm for their jazz festival.

Ironically our trip coincided with the escalating refugee crisis in Europe. Refugees in large numbers searching for safety, security, and economic opportunity were fleeing Syria and other areas under siege with literally the clothes on their backs. At night we watched the news reports on CNN and BBC. And, by day, we encountered groups of refugees on trains, at train stations, in cities, in small towns, and at border crossings. Right before our eyes we watched mothers, fathers, children, and groups of young men literally just trying to survive. We saw conversations and confrontations with authorities – some civil, some heated. We saw people being removed from trains and taken away by police officials. We recognised the difficulty and frustration in trying to communicate across the medium of different languages. It was easy to see that these were people simply looking for a hand up, not a hand out.

This touched our hearts and brought tears to our eyes. I hope we all feel compassion for those forced to leave the lands of their mothers and fathers through no fault of their own. Watching this I realised that this is what my family must have experienced when they had no choice but to leave their homes. It may have been a different time, a different circumstance, and a different generation. But I am certain that the feeling was much the same – the anguish, the loss, the confusion, the uncertainty, the isolation, the fears, the unknown, the way others reacted.

That is what inspired me. This is the story I want to tell. Far too often, particularly in the United States, refugee and immigration issues have become involved in the politics of fear. I wanted to do my part to shine a light on this issue. I want others to understand the personal depth of this humanitarian crisis. Mine is not a plea for money. It is a plea for compassion, respect, and dignity. I want us all to recognise that refugees, those forced to leave the lands of their mothers and fathers, are the victims. They should never be made to be the enemy.

How much research was required before you started writing? Did you have any family files to help you? How much involved talking to people and how much was spent in archives or online? How much is fiction and how much is fact?

Wow! That’s a lot of questions! I really can’t say that there was a great amount of research required before I started writing and that was true for both of my books. I did have to take stock of the items that we had in our possession. This meant checking in with other family members which can sometimes become complicated. They were curious to know what I was doing. Some wanted to become part of the process and they had their own opinions of various situations. I was resistant to share too much with others because I was still trying to get my arms around what I was really trying to do. I needed to complete my vision before I was ready to share. We had some items – mostly copies of official documents like birth certificates and marriage licenses. For my second book, One More Moon, I had a few pages my grandmother had written about various times in her life. As for talking to people, too many years had passed. Memories were lost and people who had been around then were no longer alive. For my first book, A Smile in One Eye, I had some communication with the British Archives and had to petition for the release of my father’s World War II records. As for what is fact and what is fiction? Both books involve real people, places, actual events, and pretty specific timelines. Connecting the dots between them often involved some informed speculation and conjecture. Admittedly, like a stage play, sometimes there are moments that need to be more expressive than real life. Sometimes fiction is more interesting than fact.

One other point and I think it is important. I wasn’t interested in family trees and ancestry research. Those are stories for others. I was trying to tell a very specific story of one generation (actually for a very specific time in our history). My focus has been on the story and personalities. I want the reader to intimately know my family – for the reader to feel that they are on the inside looking out.

Your first book was a Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards Nominee for Best Memoir/Autobiography. How did it feel to find that people were connecting with your story?

That is always especially gratifying. I think that is what we all hope is accomplished with our writing. What sometimes gets lost in the book description is that there really are two parts to A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other – actually two stories that are married together into one book – two voices. The first is my father. He is telling the story of his journey from Germany to America. Remember his was a Lutheran family who were informed of their Jewish roots. They considered themselves Germans through and through. They had a difficult and emotional journey. The second voice is my own. I tell the story of the last eight weeks of my father’s life and how our family dealt with this family crisis. Every family at one time or another has to deal with the passing of a generation. I always receive comments from readers about this, especially when I meet with book clubs. It is a connection we all share and it is deeply personal.

OneMoreMoon_eBook_Cover_finalizedYou are about to publish your second book, One More Moon, where you go back another generation to your grandmother. Both books are important in terms of your family history but also for the wider world so we don’t forget what happened. Did it feel important when you were writing it?

Absolutely. I wanted to convey my message by telling a story. Isn’t that what all storytellers try to do? I want the reader to feel that they are in the moment. I suppose that gets to the heart of the difference between trying to write a family history to pass on to family versus a book which one hopes to share with a broader audience. When you write for a broader audience there is a certain commercial aspect to it. Afterall, what purpose does it serve if no one finds the book interesting enough to pick up and read all the way through. I want to write books that readers don’t want to put down. I want readers to stay up all night to get to the end. Those are the books I like. You don’t have to consider that when you write a family history for family members. The other thing that comes to play in all of this is defining the line of what is personal and what can or should be shared with others. I suppose that is a reflection of our personalities. Some of us are extremely private – others want to tell it all. Writing a book for others to read about real people within one’s family can become very complicated. My wife Ginger and I had many conversations about that very issue. I think she was aghast when she realised what I was doing. Consider that a forewarning for others who might attempt it.

On that same note, are you ever tempted to write about current refugees? You say “we must remember that refugees are the victims, not the enemy” something I that I think some people have forgotten. Do you think your books are a reminder of that?

I truly hope they are a reminder. If little else is accomplished with all of this I hope all of our children and grandchildren embrace this as an important value and a way they look at the world they live in – a world where some have more and some have less. As for writing about the current refugees, I honestly believe that is a story for others to tell. I believe I write with passion and emotion because I know my family’s story. Readers would recognize the difference. I think a good story has to be told from the depth of the heart.

How have you found promoting your books, being interviewed, and speaking at book clubs?

I love it. Apart from being good for the ego, the books have become a wonderful platform to express some values I find important. Even more than that, I have learned so much from the stories of others.

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What about the technical side of publishing? Can you talk about the route you have taken with your books?

My gosh! I have learned so much and continue to learn so much everyday. Writing a book and getting it noticed is quite an adventure. Fortunately I don’t have to make a living doing this. Perhaps that gives me some freedoms that others don’t have. I can write for the pleasure and for my purpose. Of course I value my time and I want something in return. That is where the readers come in. I want them to read my book. And when they do, when they leave a review or send me a note, whether it is good or bad, that is my joy.

It didn’t take me long to realise that I wasn’t a rock star, a controversial politician, a talented sports figure or an extremely imaginative writer. I am an older guy who wrote a book or two. I was not embarking upon a series or trying to build a brand. I took the self publishing route.  I chose not to invest the time in searching for an agent or a publisher. I wanted to get from point A to point B as quickly as I could so I could be here to see the finished product and enjoy the mystery of what might result. I suppose that adventure is the word that best combines rewarding with frustrating!

Are you working on writing anything new at the moment?

No. I am taking a breather. I think I have exhausted all of my dead relatives. I know my family agrees.

Do you have any writing tips you can share?

Make the story your passion. Remember writing begins with the reader. Always find an editor. Be humble and have a thick skin.

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Thank you very much to Ralph for answering my questions in such detail. I love the way he was inspired to write and hope, after a well earned rest, he carries on (maybe he can find another family to write about?).

One More Moon is scheduled for release on February 28th in soft cover and Kindle formats and is available for pre-order at Amazon. You can also follow Ralph on Twitter and visit his website.

I’ll have more Behind The Book posts for you next month.