This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
How far would you go to help your friends? If they were childless and couldn’t conceive, but you could give them a baby, would you? This is the central theme of one of the hottest books of the summer, Dear Thing by Julie Cohen, which was chosen as the Richard and Judy Book Club pick last month. Here, Julie talks to us about the real-life inspiration behind the book, as well as what it was like meeting Richard and Judy.
Like most novelists, I take inspiration out of things that happen to me, that happen to my friends, and from stories I read and hear around me. Dear Thing was inspired by my experiences of infertility, and of becoming a mother. When my husband and I were first trying for a baby, I conceived and miscarried three times. This isn’t an uncommon experience, sadly, but it affected me a lot – as I believe it affects many women. I wondered if I was ever going to have the child I longed for so much. Fortunately, I fell pregnant a fourth time and I had my son almost a year to the day after my last miscarriage. But I still remember those feelings of hope and loss, and I channeled them into Claire, one of my heroines. Romily, the other heroine, is a single mother who offers to be a surrogate for Claire and her husband Ben, and I put a lot of my experiences of being pregnant and being the mum of a young, very imaginative child, into the book as well.
What was your journey to becoming a published author?
I wanted to be a writer from a very young age, and I had teachers who really encouraged me. My best friend and I used to write books together in high school, and pass them back and forth during study halls. But when I grew up, I couldn’t work out how you became an author – for some reason the simple solution of ‘writing a book’ eluded me. So I got an MPhil in Victorian children’s literature and started teaching instead. But the writing bug struck me again and I started writing novels in the evenings and at weekends. I wrote three books that were all rejected (a lot, because they sucked) and with the fourth I got my first publishing deal, and with the fifth I snagged an agent.
Aside from first being published, it’s been absolutely the biggest thrill in my career. I found out back in February, but I had to keep it a total secret until May. Sometimes I felt like I was going to explode! I couldn’t quite believe it until I met Richard and Judy in person – Judy liked my shoes! It’s been an amazing experience and I keep on walking into WHSmith and pinching myself. I have been known to build in extra time for my journeys around London so that I can visit every WHSmith in the vicinity, just to say hello to my book on the shelf next to all the other selections.
What do you like to read when you’re not writing?
I read everything I can get my hands on, though I tend to go in phases. In the spring I was really into reading medical memoirs and devoured Do No Harm by Henry Marsh, several Oliver Sacks books, and all the Call the Midwife series. Then I had a crime spree and loved The Accident by CL Taylor and Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary. At the moment I’m having a women’s fiction blitz; I’ve just enjoyed The Best Thing That Never Happened to Me by Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice, am in the middle of The Story of You by Katy Regan, and can’t wait to start Two Weddings and a Baby by Scarlett Bailey. But I also love literary novels, comics, science fiction, horror, and historical fiction. And I’ve always got a Sherlock Holmes book by my bed – I’ve been a massive fan since I was eleven.
Any tips for aspiring novelists?
Just write. A lot of writers think they need to get the perfect words down on paper the first time round. But really, the key to writing a good story is usually revising and rewriting, not magically creating a book right away. You have to give yourself permission to write badly, to discover the story, and discover what the story isn’t. It will probably mean you’ll throw a lot away, but that’s okay. Sometimes you have to write the wrong words to get to the right ones.
What are you working on currently?
I have a new hardback, Where Love Lies, coming out on 31st July so I’m pretty excited about that. It was a thrilling and challenging book to write in a lot of ways, with an unusual premise, and I’m hoping readers will like it. I’m also doing quite a bit of creative writing teaching – I’m leading a Writing Love Stories workshop at the V&A Museum on 5 July, and I’m a guest tutor on the Random House Writers’ Academy course. And in between, I’m working on my next book, which is about three women and the secrets that they keep.