'The Summer of Living Dangerously' is a super story taking us into a bygone era. As usual it's written with the fun and wit we've come to expect of Julie's novels, and this is her second book for publishers Headline.
Alice Woodstock is avoiding the real world because there's something – someone – in her past that she's desperate to forget. So when she's commissioned to write about life in a stately home, Eversley Hall, she jumps at the chance to escape into Regency England, even if it does mean swapping her comfy T-shirt for an itchy corset. Perhaps she'll meet her own Mr Darcy. If she can escape reckless, unpredictable Leo, who reminds Alice of the painful price of following her heart. And the new Alice doesn't live dangerously – or does she?
Q. Where did the idea for 'The Summer of Living Dangerously' come from? You tend to delight the readers by introducing them to heroines who do some unusual and off-the-wall jobs – previously including private detective/aromatherapist ('Honey Trap'), comic book artist ('Girl from Mars') and stunt-woman/ice-cream maker ('Getting Away with It').
This time she's Alice, a model aeroplane magazine journalist/Regency England actor.
A. I like giving my characters usual jobs! It's fun to research them. I got the idea for a heroine working as a historical interpreter in a stately home a couple of years ago when I was in Brighton for my anniversary.
We went to the Brighton Pavilion and there were tour guides dressed up as Regency members of the household. There were servants, gentlewomen and even someone acting as the Prince Regent! They never once slipped out of character and I though that would be a very interesting job to have. So that's why Alice takes on the re-enacting job part time for the summer, so she can write about it for a magazine assignment.
Alice's everyday job as a technical writer is quite a contrast to dressing up as a spirited Regency heroine; I wanted the two sides of her life to appear to be quite different. Plus it lets me make grommet jokes. And there's nothing quite as satisfying as a grommet joke.
Alice actually thinks her technical writing job is boring, but as the story goes on, she meets some people who think she is like this goddess for writing about model aeroplanes. That was fun to write.
I talked with several historical re-enactors in researching this story and spent some time hanging out in stately homes. It was brilliant.
Q. Your last book was a bit more gritty, dealing with Alzheimer's in a very sympathetic way. Are there any such matters in the new book?
A. Yes, there's a very sad incident in Alice's past which she's attempting to ignore and escape from, and this tragedy is a driving force in the book, although you don't find out all the details until quite a way into the story.
I think it's important not to shy away from gritty, real problems in commercial fiction. Even though the reader wants something upbeat and entertaining, these issues are important and relevant to all of us. I want my readers to both laugh and cry when they read my books.
Q. Which characters are you most proud of having created – and why?
A. I have this crazy whacked-out aging rock star called Max DeMilo who wears many, many rings and spends his spare time in Yorkshire raising llamas. He's appeared in some way in four of my books so far and I love that dude.
But in 'The Summer of Living Dangerously', I am most in love with Leo, who is Alice's tortured, sexy, suffering, sexy, sarcastic, sexy, tender, sexy, artistic, sexy, reckless, sexy, repentant, sexy ex-husband. Did I mention he's sexy?
Q. You used to write for Mills & Boon of course, then Little Black Dress books, how different is it writing for your current publisher?
A. My current books are longer, and they're broader in focus. While there's always a romantic aspect, the story is more about the heroine's development as a person, rather than focusing strictly on the romance as Mills & Boon novels do.
I used to write three Mills & Boon novels a year, and then when I switched to Little Black Dress I wrote two novels a year – whereas I'd have trouble writing more than one of my current novels a year, not just because they're longer but because they take more time to research and revise. There are more subplots, more characters and a more complex structure.
At the most basic level, though, the stories I write haven't changed that much through the years. And I've been lucky enough to enjoy writing all of them.
Q. As you know, I'm interested in writing and like to ask my guest novelists for their secrets! Particularly how successful authors get the job done. What's your insider's tip?
A. I don't know if I have any secret insider's tips, Debbie! I think the only way to get the job done is to get the job done: sit your butt in the chair and write. And then write some more. And then rewrite. And then rewrite some more…
Of course there's the Secret Published Author's Code Ring, but if I tell you about that I will have to kill you!
Q. 'The Summer of Living Dangerously' will of course be available on Kindle – what's your view of e-books, including the tidal wave of self-published titles – from half a million titles available on e-book last year to an estimated five million next year?
A. I've got an ereader myself and I love it. It's so light and small and convenient and it's terrifyingly easy to buy books for it. I've also written for two e-book-first publishers (under pseudonyms), so I can definitely see the benefits of e-publishing. I've self-published a short story too, which is, as I write, number 3 in Amazon's Kindle short story chart. It's an exciting time for authors, with more opportunities than ever before.
The problem is that with so many titles available, how can readers find any one book? In such a huge market, you'd have to find a way to really stand out in order to be successful and sell more than a few copies.
Traditional publish ers have always been the gatekeepers, the quality control; without them, great books that publishers have overlooked can see the light of day, but books that really aren't ready to be published can also be thrown out there. And publishing books that aren't good enough yet doesn't help either the author or the reader.
So there are pros and cons, like everything.
Q. You're a mum and wife – how do you fit in the solitary task of writing a 100,000 word novel every year?
A. Well, I don't iron and I only watch one hour of television a week. I try to spend all of the time when my son is in school writing like a crazy thing… although Twitter is rather too much of a distraction. Generally it takes me about six months to write a first draft and the rest of the year to research, revise, and recover.
Q. What's coming next?
A. I'm working on my next novel right now. I've written less than a quarter of it, but they tell me it'll be out in hardback next year. No pressure then. Yikes!
Thanks for having me, Debbie! See you soon.
It's always a pleasure to chat to Julie – and I'm very much looking forward to her book, just out. If you've read it, or any of her books, do leave a comment below! All people who comment, whatever it is, will go into a randomly picked draw to win a signed copy of the book, closing date at midnight on Sunday 11th March. I'll announce the winner next week. Don't forget to read the terms and conditions!
P.S. Just heard that the legend that is Katie Fforde will be appearing on QVC on The Morning Show at 9am on Tuesday 6th March, selling her fabulous new hardback book 'Recipe for Love'. It's a romance set in the very trendy world of – TV cookery shows! A great Mother's Day present and an excellent way to get your books is from us, with delivery included!