Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit the clubhouse is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today I’m welcoming Julie to the tearoom on this chilly day. Welcome. My first question is what would you like to drink?
Thank for the invite, Paula. On a cold day, my favourite beverages are hot tea, or hot apple cider.
Now our drinks have arrived I’ll start by asking you when reading your work through do you ever find that your daily mood swings are reflected in your writing?
No—I tend to let my story dictate the mood, rather than my own brain. Though when I am very sad I find it difficult to write in general, so the prose will be more stilted. I try to edit this out as much as possible in the revisions.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
One of the protagonists of my latest novel, SPIRITED, was inspired by a real-life figure: the photographer William Mumler. Mumler was the person who popularised ghost photography in the 1860s; he’s most famous for taking a photograph of Mary Todd Lincoln near the ghost of her husband, Abraham Lincoln. He was tried for fraud and acquitted in New York. My heroine, Viola, is also a photographer but unlike Mumler, she’s an amateur and female. While Mumler’s ghosts were obviously faked (though this was never proven in his lifetime), the ghosts that appear in my character Viola’s photographs are both unexpected and real.
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
I did a great deal of research for SPIRITED, which is set in 1857 and 1858—I read books, trawled through records online and in the record office, read period newspapers, visited locations. One of the most enjoyable bits of research was learning how to do wet plate collodion photography. I took, developed and varnished tintype photographs in exactly the same way as a Victorian photographer, except for one: the Victorians would have used cyanide as a fixer. That’s not allowed now.
Did you uncover things about yourself while writing your books, whether that be a long forgotten memory, a positive experience etc.
I don’t tend to notice unexpected things about myself as I write, but quite often when I reread my novels afterwards, I can see that I was being more autobiographical than I thought at the time. It’s not always in a way that anyone else but me would notice, though. I have consciously drawn on personal experiences for some parts of some of my novels, though.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Because my son is still at school, usually I get up with him and see him off to school in the morning. Then I take the dog for a run or a walk, answer emails, make myself tea, and go up to my writing office, which is in the attic of my house. I usually work until 3.30, when my son gets home.
Of course with the pandemic and lockdown, my schedule is pretty much out the window. I juggled writing with homeschooling during lockdown, and now even though schools are currently back in session, my son has a shortened day because of a lack of teachers.
Do you set yourself a daily word count?
When I’m actively writing, I try to write 1000 words a day, though when I’m near the end of a project, I can write more like 2000 words a day. I find that I hit a wall after about 2000 words and though I can keep writing sometimes, they don’t tend to be all that good.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I’ve written under four or five pseudonyms, in different genres than the genre that I write under my own name.
How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
I’m rubbish at choosing names and sometimes it takes quite a while before the correct name comes to me. The names need to be suitable for the characters and if I’ve got the name wrong, I have trouble pinning the character down. Although I’m an extensive planner, I don’t always know everything about a character before I start writing—a lot of the first draft is a discovery draft. But I do know important facts about them and I generally know what type of person they are, what their motivation is, what their normal life is like, and what their main problem is.
What was your hardest scene to write?
There are two types of hard scenes to write. One type is the scene which is just technically difficult—it comes out wrong, it’s boring, you can’t work out how to tackle it. Quite often I will just skip these scenes and write the next scene—I find that by the time I come back to them, I know what to do.
The other type is the scene that has a difficult or painful subject. These, conversely, tend to be easier to write, because the problem is obvious. I do often cry when I write a very emotional or painful scene, and often I have to revise them many, many times to get them right.
In SPIRITED, there is a scene with Jonah and Pavan during the Indian Rebellion in Delhi which was extraordinarily painful to write, even though it was one of the first scenes I thought of when I was planning the book.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I usually write one novel a year, though I spend quite a bit of that year doing copy edits, proofs, and promotion for the previous novel. I plan quite a bit before I begin, too. I’d say that on average, it takes me about four months to write a first draft, and another two months on top of that to revise it ready to send to my agent and editor.
SPIRITED, out now in hardback, ebook and audio
‘A beautifully thoughtful, hopeful, and compelling read’
Longlisted for the Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker Prize’ 2020Book of the Month, Woman & Home magazineBook of the Month, LoveReadinghttps://www.waterstones.com/book/spirited/julie-cohen/9781409179870
Thank you for joining me, Julie. If you would like to find out more about Julie’s books click on the links below.
Twitter: https://twitter.com/julie_cohenFacebook: https://www.facebook.com/Julie.Cohen.BooksInstagram: https://www.instagram.com/juliecohenauthor Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Julie-Cohen/e/B004MO6PWM/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.