The Mistress of Pennington's Tour

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Welcome my friend and very first mentor, Julie Cohen...

I am so thrilled to have you here today, Julie!!

As the first reader of my debut novel, "Searching For Sophie", Julie has been nothing but encouraging and supportive of me since I began seriously writing almost eight years ago. Intelligent, funny, kind and approachable, Julie is an amazing tutor as well as a great writer - she will undoubtedly be too modest to say, but she has mentored many writers, including me, who have gone on to achieve goals they never believed possible. Over to you lovely lady, I give you the floor...

1)   What is your writing routine?

I generally write when my son is in school…so 9 am to 3 pm, weekdays. The first thing I do is make myself a flask of tea—I’ve had to give up caffeine so my favourite is decaf Yorkshire tea mixed with redbush chai—and I take it up the ladder to my writing garrett, which is at the top of the house in the loft, with a window with a view of chimneypots and a gargoyle’s backside.

First, I check my emails, and play on Twitter, and then I turn the internet off and try to write 1000 words before lunch. At lunch, I’ll try to do some exercise—a walk, a run, a bike ride—and then get back to writing for another hour or so, with another flask of tea.

2)   Which is your favorite kind of novel to read? To write?

I like to read everything, from classic English literature to sci-fi comic books, and I totally read according to my mood. Sometimes I like to read for pure escapism, and sometimes I want to learn something, and sometimes I want to be blown away by beautiful language and ideas. So I don’t have a favourite, but I am a sucker for a good, unusual love story.

My favourite sort of novel to write has changed quite a bit over the years. People ask me sometimes why I’ve switched genre, from romance to emotional women’s fiction, and it’s purely because I felt like writing something different. But all of my books, whatever genre, have, I hope, been emotional and heartwarming, with some quirky characters and some humour, even if it’s bittersweet.

3)   What do you expect from an editor?

I’ve worked with several publishers now and I’ve been lucky to have some wonderful editors. To me, a good editor should understand what you’ve been trying to do with your story, and help you to find and accomplish the vision you had all along. The best editorial suggestions are the ones where you yell out, ‘Yes! I was trying to do that, and I didn’t know how, but I do now!’

Mostly, I want my editor to be a champion for my books within the publishing company. There is absolutely nothing better when you find an editor who is passionate about your work.

4)   What are you working on right now?

I’m working on the follow-up novel to Dear Thing. It’s another emotional, issue-driven women’s fiction novel, about a woman whose brain is telling her she’s in love with the wrong man. I’m enjoying exploring two very different romantic relationships in it: one is dangerous, exciting and forbidden, and one is safe, warm and predictable.

5)   Your biggest piece of advice to aspiring novelists?

Keep writing, and write as much and as often as you can, remembering that everything can be changed and made better. So often beginning novelists write something and think it can’t be changed at all; or, they go to the other extreme and rewrite the same piece over and over, at the expense of getting on with the story or starting something new. You learn from writing lots and lots.

6)   Tease us with a blurb or short excerpt

Dear Thing is the story of Ben and Claire, who are perfectly in love—in fact, perfect in almost every way. Except one. They can’t have a baby.

It’s also the story of Ben’s best friend Romily, who, after years of watching Ben and Claire suffer, offers to have a baby for them.

But being pregnant stirs up all sorts of feelings in Romily—feelings she’d rather keep buried, but can’t. Now there are two mothers—and one baby who belongs to both of them, and which only one of them can keep…

Dear Thing,

I want to tell you a story.

Once upon a time, when we still believed in wishes, there lived a prince and princess. The prince was handsome and clever, and the princess was beautiful and good, and they were deeply in love.

That’s something you might ask about one day, when you’re older. What is love? Some people think it’s magic. Some people think it’s biology. In this case, the prince and his princess seemed meant for each other. It’s difficult to explain why; he liked football and she liked concerts. She liked old things, and he liked new. Their life together was a series of compromises. Maybe that’s what a ‘happily ever after’ really is.

I wish you’d been there to see it. In a way, you were: the princess and the prince had certainly thought of you. They already wanted you. A perfect child, who would make their love complete.

But the years went by, and went by…and you never appeared.

It’s not much of a fairy tale, is it?

7)   What was your favorite subject in school and why?

English Literature! I loved reading everything, and reading as much as I could.

8)   What is your favorite dessert?

A nice New York style homemade baked cheesecake. Any flavour.

9)   High heels, sneakers or flip flops?

I love high heels, and I have a few pairs that are comfortable and which make me feel great. But I recently injured my foot whilst running, so I have to spend most of the time in my Dunlop Green Flash sneakers.

10) Where can readers find you?

I grew up in the small town of Rumford, Maine, just up the hill from the local library. I spent most of my time reading and at age 11 I wrote my first novel. It was about a sorceress who had to defeat a devilishly good-looking evil wizard, and it was pretty much a copy of Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, with added romance. I followed that up by plagiarising The Dark is Rising, The Diary of Anne Frank, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
They were all terrible.
I studied at Brown University, earning a summa cum laude degree with honours in English. I became a peer writing tutor and drew a weekly cartoon for the Brown Daily Herald entitled “Georgie and Squid,” about an Elvis lookalike with a pet cephalopod.
During my junior year abroad at Cambridge University, I fell in love with the United Kingdom. I moved there in 1992 to pursue a postgraduate degree in English literature at the University of Reading. My M.Phil. thesis was a study of fairies in late nineteenth and early twentieth century children’s fiction.
I began teaching English at secondary school level, writing novels in the evenings after I’d finished my marking (and sometimes, before). My first three novels were all rejected, some of them several times. The fourth one was a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s 2004 Golden Heart competition, and I sold that one. It was one of the most memorable days in my life when the editor rang me to tell me they were going to buy my book. I do believe I screamed in joy.
I’ve been writing constantly since then and have had, to date, fifteen books published under my own name and pseudonyms. My books have sold over half a million copies and have been translated into fifteen languages. I’ve won or been shortlisted for several awards, including the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Romance Prize, the National Readers’ Choice Award, and the HOLT Medallion. I give workshops for fiction writers all over the UK and the US.
I live in Berkshire, England, with my husband, a guitar tech for rock bands, and our young son, who loves books and fast cars. I’m teased daily about my American accent, and wouldn’t mind having a gorgeous neighbour possessed by the devil.

Julie would love to hear from you! Questions? Comments?

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