Julia Crouch: Author Interview
I’m delighted to have an interview with author Julia Crouch on the publication day of her widely anticipated second novel Every Vow You Break. It’s a gripping psychological thriller with some pretty dark themes of incest, infatuation and obsession.
Your first novel Cuckoo made a splash and got great reviews. How different was writing the second book? Did you feel the weight of expectation?
It was very different indeed. When I wrote CuckooI had no idea that anyone else would ever read it, let alone that it would be published. I did it just for the sheer love of writing my story. That’s an incredibly liberating thought for a writer, and I look back at the process and I only ever remember it as entirely pleasurable. Also, of course, it takes you your entire life to get around to writing your first novel. With the second, I was contractually bound to deliver in a year, and I had people very keenly waiting for the draft. So there was quite a lot of pressure, which wasn’t alleviated by the new, exciting addition to my life of being a published author – festivals, appearances, lunch at Soho House and drinks at the Groucho (once each, but still, a first on both counts for me and quite memorable). Not to mention the interviews, TV and radio appearances, blogging, tweeting, feature writing and the piles and piles of proof copies of novels sent to me for comment by editors. It has been such a gear-change and such a lot of food for an arch procrastinator as myself. I have had to be super-disciplined about carving out writing time for myself. For example, I am writing this on the train, having chosen not to drive, so I can work as I travel. But I found that when I sat down and did my daily words (2000 while drafting), I still enjoyed it. I think the key with writing a novel at the drafting stage is to concentrate on the moment you are writing in, to look at the trees – the world of your scene, how the characters inhabit it, what happens – and not let the big scary wood – the world outside, the way the finished novel will look, what your agent/editor/husband/parents/children will think. That way is the way of madness. And the straitjacket.
Photo: Matthew Andrews 2011
Both Cuckoo and Every Vow You Break are deliciously dark and twisted. Have you always had that side to you?
I have always had a vivid imagination that tends to the dark. When I was a child I used to love to read ghost and horror stories. Not surprisingly, I used to have terrible nightmares, that would sometimes haunt me into the day. I would love to live in the country, in a clearing in the middle of a forest, say, but I know I would be useless if my husband were away and I was on my own at night. I’m not very good at going for walks alone in the middle of nowhere, even in daylight. When I did my MA in Illustration, I wrote and illustrated two children’s books, which were rejected by publishers for being too dark. When I started writing short stories, I found they always tended to twist nastily. So it is with my novels. That aside, I guess, from a storytelling point of view, it’s much more fun to put your characters through the mill. If you make life too easy for them, where’s the story?
What’s been the most exciting bit of becoming a published author?
To be able to say ‘I’m a writer’ when people ask me what I do. To meet the writers I hold in awe (although I was still completely tongue tied when I met Patrick Gale) and to meet readers who actually like my novels.
The times I’ve met you, you seem a naturally gregarious person. How do you cope with the solitude of a writer’s life? What’s your routine – if you have one?
Having had (until recently) a house full of offspring, I still relish my solitude. Most days, I see my youngest off to school (the other two are away at University), go for a run, eat my breakfast then get down to my shed at the bottom of the garden to hit my daily word target. I find email, facebook and twitter provide enough companionship for the working day (although I block the internet for two-hour stretches with a software called Freedom so that they don’t distract me). I do like to get out, though, perhaps go for coffee with a friend, but I make sure I can still get my writing time in.
You did an Open University Course in creative writing, attended a book group and participated in Nanowrimo before landing your 3 book deal. How did they help you? Do you think it’s possible for a writer to write in a vacuum?
It might be possible for some, but certainly not for me. I needed affirmation and feedback to help me believe in my work enough to spend those serious chunks of time necessary to write a novel. It was important to me to connect with other writers to help understand what I was doing and why I was doing it. Still is. I still need affirmation and feedback, but now, pre-publication, I get it from the very trusted sources of my husband, my adult children, agent (Simon Trewin) and Editor (Leah Woodburn at Headline). The great reviews Cuckoo got helped too!
What would your last Google search reveal about you?
I live up to my publisher’s billing as the new Sophie Hannah – both she and I share a fantasy property website addiction.
Name one book you wish you’d written.
Mrs Dalloway. I’m a bit of a closet Virginia Woolf fan. Don’t tell anyone.
Can you give us a teaser for the third book?
My working title is Bad Jean – the Jean in question is the obese, bedridden aunt of my protagonist Peg. Peg hopes to unravel the mysteries of her childhood and find the focus she knows she needs. But sometimes the truth you wish for isn’t the one you uncover…. Bad Jean is about the layers that shield family histories, how they get there, and what happens when they are lifted.
What events are you appearing at in the near future?
I’m very busy! I’m at Crawley WordFest on 5 April at 7.30. It’s very exciting (and a little scary…), because Cuckoo has been chosen as the Crawley One Town One Book, and everyone’s reading it for a massive bookgroup meeting with me!. On 12 April, I’m at East London Book and Media festival with Claire McGowan. On 19 April, I’m at Thanet Waterstones at 5.30 with Erin Kelly and Elizabeth Haynes. Then I’m at Stratford upon Avon Literary Festival to run a workshop on 23 April and appear on a debut novelist panel with SJ Watson and Rachel Joyce on the evening of 24th April. I’m at Bristol Crimefest on 26 & 27 May, and Harrogate Crime Writing Festival on 21 July. All details are on my blog http://www.juliacrouch.co.uk/outings.
Every Vow You Break is published today – 29th March. Cuckoo is available in paperback.