Julia Crouch started her working life in the theatre. For ten years, she devised, wrote and directed for theatre, it was during this time that she had twelve plays produced. Her debut book “Cuckoo” was released last year and her second book “Every Vow You Break”, tells the story of Lara Wayland and her family, who up sticks from Brighton to a small rural town in up-state New York for the sake of her husband’s failing acting career, it is there that she is faced with a series of sinister events as the past comes back to haunt her. Julia Crouch lives in Bristol with her husband and their three children.
- Julia, your latest book is called “Every Vow You Break” Can you tell us what the book is about?
It’s about an English woman, Lara, who goes with her three kids and her actor husband Marcus, to spend a summer in steamy upstate New York, where Marcus has a job in a summer stock theatre company. While she is there, she bumps into an old flame, and, old passions reignited, she starts playing a dangerous game. What she doesn’t realise is that it is also deadly. The hills have eyes, and the secrets they contain are monstrous.
- To the readers of the website, that may not be familiar with you or your writing. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
I started off as a theatre director/playwright, but I realised, as I was directing a play nine months pregnant with my second child, that this was not a sustainable future. So, in order to make enough money to pay the bills while staying close to home, I retrained as a graphic/website designer. The desire to tell stories never faded, though, and I did an MA in Illustration that took me into writing and illustrating children’s books – all of which were rejected by publishers for being too dark. I realised that the writing was far more enjoyable for me than the drawing so, when my youngest (third) child started school, I enrolled on an Open University creative writing course, which quickly led to another, and then I was hooked.
- What was the first book you have ever read?
I read the Cat in the Hat at a rather precocious four. After that, I was quite famous at our large and sprawling family parties for plonking myself on the sofa, in the middle of everything, and losing myself in a book. My daughter (now 22) is and was exactly the same.
- How do you feel about the current state of the publishing industry? Do you feel it is an exciting time for authors?
It’s a time of enormous change, but the great thing is that there’s a real hunger for reading. I think there’s this exciting self-publishing e-book thing, and, while many self-published authors are great, many others have not found a traditional home for their work for very good reasons. Since getting my deal with Headline, I have been completely amazed at how much work goes into the process of editing and marketing a book, from agent through to getting the mass-market paperbacks onto the shelves of bookshops – and all that is missing for a self-published author.
I think people will soon realise, when they’ve filled up their Kindle with 99p self-published e-books, that you get what you pay for. If I’m going to give two to twelve days of my life to reading a book, I want some kind of quality control before I do that, some kind of assurance that I’m going to get something out of it and not waste my time.
But for those authors with back lists which are out of contract, which they can bring out on e-book: well – that’s exciting!
However, I’m not in it for the money, nor are most writers I know. I want to write the best work I can, and I know that to do so, I need my agent’s sage advice, my editor’s belief and wisdom, my copy-editor’s eagle eye and my publishers’ marketing people and publicists to get it out there. For me to say I could do it alone would be enormously arrogant.
- I always thought the opening line to “The Lovely Bones” was quite memorable, are there opening lines to books that stuck out to you?
“Kafka’s Metamorphosis” “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect” is perfect, in that it sets out the parameters with which the story is going to be told. Also, “Anna Karenina”: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Is so powerful, that, even writing it down again, it makes me pause and think.
- What authors do you admire?
I am a great fan of A M Homes. I love Joanna Trollope, Anita Shreve, Alice Monroe, Faye Weldon, Virginia Woolf, Colette. Oh yes, and the boys: Raymond Carver, Stephen King and Patrick Gale. I’m pretty eclectic, but I have to say I was a bit obsessed with the Victorians when I was quite young, and they have certainly stayed with me all my life.
- If you were ever stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
Well, “Complete Works of Shakespeare”, obviously. “Teach Yourself Spanish” and “Hemingway’s Short Stories”. All things I have meant to get around to and have only partially managed.
- Where do you get your ideas for your stories?
I usually start with a place and a character. I’m always looking around me for details – places, something odd that someone does or says, smells. I note them down, sometimes in my notebook, sometimes I speak them into my phone. But quite often I just put them away in my mind. Over time, they form into something that is concrete enough to let me start. I’d say I never really know the full story until I am at the end of about the third draft.
- Out of the many book that you have read over the years, which one would you have liked to have said “I wrote that”?
Either “Mrs Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf, or the “Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver. The first because it is a brilliant exercise in turning consciousness into narrative, the second because it is such a rich, sensual piece of writing – I love all of her books, in fact, but that one just chimed with me.
- Here on the Handwritten Girl website, I would like to be able to offer potential writers like myself advice. Are there any areas you would suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
Keep writing, every day. Write until you have finished what you are writing. Don’t give up. If you don’t like what you’ve written, just jot a note in your margin and battle on through moving forwards. You can always go back and change it later. As Colm Toibin said at Shoreditch this month ‘Just get the fucking book written’. Oh, and then edit until your eyes bleed.
- When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
Coffee and, ideally, a cat.
And finally Julia, do you have any new projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website?
I’m working on my third novel now – I’m nearly at the end of the third draft (which is when I let other people see it). It’s set mostly on the Kent coast, and it features one vastly obese woman, another on the verge of senility and a young woman, niece of the former and grandaughter of the latter, who, before she can move on with her life, needs to find out why she feels so blurred around the edges. It’s called “Bad Jean”, and it’s about the extremes people will go to in order to look after those they hold dearest.