Hi Julie. Thank you so much for joining me today. Your new novel is called A Village Affair. Can you tell me about it and what inspired it?
Hi, and thank you so much for having me on your blog today. It’s much appreciated.
As writers, we’re always advised to write about what we know and “AVillage Affair”began its life under the guise of ‘Not in My backyard’ influenced, very much, by a real-life fight in my village where acres of fields and greenbelt land were in danger of having hundreds, if not thousands, of houses built upon them. As the main focus of the plot moved and centred upon the village school, the novel took on the handle “Little Acorns” and many of the school incidents are based on real happenings in the primary schools I have taught in over the years. Eventually Aria came up with the title “A Village Affair”which I love and which, I think, encompasses the different strands of the book.
What’s your writing process like (idea, research etc.) How do you approach editing?
At the start of a new idea/novel I sit at my desk with a brand-new exercise book. I like my novels to be very much character-based and so I come up with characters’ names, write what they look like and actually give them a family tree. This is important as I’m mainly writing about the characters in one town and one village and so I have to make sure they’re not too related to each other, especially if they’re going to end up together!! With “Holly Close Farm”,as nearly half of it is set during WW2, I did a huge amount of research about the WAAFs and Bomber Command. I really enjoyed this bit and it was quite hard work leaving the reading to actually write. I love editing. I must be the only writer who enjoys this bit. I love going back over what I’ve written, tweaking and adding and crossing out. In my early days as a writer I would write one chapter and then edit it to death the next day because I was so proud that I’d actually written another chapter. Now, with deadlines, I tend to just write and edit at the end. Editing means I’ve finished, which is always wonderful.
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you have a place to write? Cup of coffee? Write in silence?
I’m a lark: I’m much better writing at 6am than later in the day. I had the most beautiful writing room at one end of the house but my husband is now working from home and has commandeered it for his office. I’m in a cupboard – not literally, but it feels like it after the lovely office with views down the valley. I actually quite like my cupboard: it’s jampacked with books, piles of papers, computer and, usually, the dog. I write, plan for school if I’m teaching a couple of days and do some private tuition in there. It does tend to get a bit cosy. One day, I’ll have my office back!
I need silence, tons of coffee (morning) and Earl Grey tea (afternoon).
So, basically, if it’s a writing day, I’ll get up early, have a mug of hot water and lemon (my mum always did and I’ve done this for the past 30 years) answer emails, decide whether it’s a swim or a run, shower, have breakfast and read the paper about eleven and then really get stuck in. If I can write 2-3000 words a day I’m more than happy.
What’s the most challenging thing with writing a novel?
The start of any new novel. By the end of a novel I love my characters so much I can’t bear to leave them and start again. I feel very disloyal to my old friends and it takes a while to love the new ones.
How do you pick names for your characters?
Probably with names I wanted to call my own children but for which my husband didn’t share the same enthusiasm. So India, Clementine, Kit, Theadora and Fin were born! My daughter, Georgia, is really cross I didn’t stick to my guns and call her Theadora – shortened to Teddy – that Harriet names one of her twins.
In my “Work in Progress“(Book 7 and desperate for inspiration for an actual title) it’s been easy to come up with names because I have Patrick, the father – a bit of a lothario – who is a Cambridge educated Classics professor and gives all his four daughters names from Greek literature. I’ve ended up with Isolde, Pandora, Juno and Lexia.
What elements make up a good novel?
When I read, I want a thumping good story. I want to know what happens next. I want to want to go to bed read to know what’s going to happen. I do like humour in a novel. It doesn’t have to be overtly laugh out loud. I think Liane Moriarty and Kate Atkinson are both superb writers, not only at weaving good stories but at having the ability to include some quite subtle humour. I aspire to both these wonderful novelists!!
How long did it take you to write A Village Affair and how different was the final draft compared to the first one?
A Village Affair took me eight months, I think. It wasn’t too different at the end from how it started.
Holly Close Farm (Aria February 2019) has perhaps been my biggest challenge in that it’s hybrid, moving from the present with Charlie’s story back to Madge’s story in WW2. I’d never written history before and when I sent the first few chapters to my agent (Anne Williams at KHLA) she very rightly said I was making the same mistake most historical writers make – adding so much researched background the whole thing becomes wooden. She was right. I scrapped it and started again and I’m so pleased with the end result. My editor at Aria luckily loves it too and there doesn’t need to be any revisions.
Do you have any advice for anyone experiencing writers block?
Go for a swim or a run!! My best inspiration comes when I’m swimming for some reason. There’s a wonderful twist in Looking For Lucy and it came to me just as I reached the end of a length. I actually stopped swimming and said out loud. ‘Of course! That’s it!’
Any other advice to someone thinking of writing a novel?
Read, read and read. Write, write and write.
I always used to say to kids at school: If you want to be a good reader -read. If you want to be a good writer – read.
I heard Julie Cohen speak at a RNA conference a couple of years ago. Her best advice, particularly if you can’t think what to write, is WRITE CRAP. Basically, write anything, as long as you’re writing.
I loved this and, to remind myself, wrote WRITE CRAP in huge capitals on the wall in front of my computer.
I did get some funny looks from the kids I was tutoring English.
About A Village Affair:
Cassie Beresford has recently landed her dream job as deputy head teacher at her local, idyllic village primary school, Little Acorns. So, the last thing she needs is her husband of twenty years being ‘outed’ at a village charity auction – he has been having an affair with one of her closest friends.
As if it weren’t enough to cope with, Cassie suddenly finds herself catapulted into the head teacher position, and at the front of a fight to ward off developers determined to concrete over the beautiful landscape.
But through it all, the irresistible joy of her pupils, the reality of keeping her teenage children on the straight and narrow, her irrepressible family and friends, and the possibility of new love, mean what could have been the worst year ever, actually might be the best yet…
A Village Affair was published by Aria. Click on the links to view on the following:
Julie Houston is the author of The One Saving Grace, Goodness, Grace and Me and Looking for Lucy, a Kindle top 100 general bestseller and a Kindle Number1 bestseller. She is married, with the two teenage children and a made cockerpoo and, like her heroine, lives in a West Yorkshire village. She is also a teacher and a magistrate.
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