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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Making Your Writing Dreams Come True: Author Interview with Julie Thomas

Julie started writing as a young child and continued dabbling in writing through her years of  working in radio, TV and film. To her credit she now has written four novels and seven feature film scripts. She believes in writing from the heart about subjects she feels passionate about.Her motto is "To dream of the person you could be, is to waste the person you are."

So let’s move on and find out who Julie Thomas is and why she writes…

I love that as a child you wrote about Russian princesses who rode troikas through the snow and then as an adult you wrote a book about Russia. Living in NZ what made you do interested in writing about something so foreign?
My early writing was influenced by what I saw and read. The Russian influence came from Doctor Zhivago, which came out in 1965, and was very popular when I started writing about 1968.

Did the novel have any of the bits from your early writing? What was the first thing that you wrote that got published?
No, the novel was a long way from my early writing, which was all pre-revolutionary – in between I had written many short stories, poetry, seven film scripts and two earlier novels. I believe my first published article was on Prince Charles as a polo player (my brother was a professional polo player for 22 years) for a Diners Club magazine in 1980, I was 21 at the time. 

When did you decide to start writing a novel?
I started this novel in 1998. I was writing a film script about looted art and found some research on looted musical instruments. The more I researched the more I realized that this was a separate subject and worthy of a novel.

Did you try the normal route and try to find a traditional publisher to handle your first book? How many sources did you pitch? When did you decide to self-publish?
I tried several publishers and agents in New Zealand and the UK, can’t remember the exact number. Many of them said it was a beautiful book but I was unknown and they simply couldn’t take a risk on an unknown author. I moved to Cambridge from Auckland (two hours south, into the country) in May 2011 and decided that, as I had the book on my computer, I might as well self-publish it and see if it found a market.

How did you happen to change to a traditional publisher?
I had written two previous novels so I knew what was involved. I did try some agents and publishers in New Zealand when the novel was finished in 2006. It wasn’t until I self-published in 2011 that a traditional publisher became interested. 

How was it that they became interested?
In May 2012 I received an email from Carolyn Marino, a senior editor and vice president of HarperCollins USA. She had read the book on her Kindle, after a recommendation from a retired literary agent, and she wanted to talk to me about my writing. About two months later we signed a two book deal.  

You also wrote a book that deal with WWII called Our Father’s War which was drawn from letters and notes written by your father. Did you talk to him about writing the book?
No, my Dad died in 1992 and I inherited the box of letters and notes after his death. It was certainly an emotional experience reading the letters and I thought long and hard about publishing them. I edited them into a book for the younger members of the family who never met him and they all loved it, then it was suggested to me that I should make it available to a wider audience.

Was there anything in particular that amazed you about your dad that you didn’t know before putting together this book? 
I learned many things about his early experiences and understood more about him as a man after reading the letters. He had shared much about his UK war experience and his days as a spitfire pilot in 485 New Zealand Spitfire Squadron in southern England with his family. But in late 1942 he transferred to the Middle East, to number 23 squadron and he had hardly spoken about that time at all. The letters and the newspaper clippings, an interview he did on his return to New Zealand in late 1944, revealed what he’d done in the Middle East and how difficult the air war was. He was extremely brave and they make interesting reading.

How long does it take you to write a book? It differs from book to book and also depends on what else you are doing in your life. With The Keeper of Secrets I was working full-time and it needed meticulous research, so it took seven years. During that time I became too close to it on a couple of occasions and put it in a drawer to wait until I felt like continuing. Usually I would say around a year to 18 months writing full-time.

How many times do you rewrite a chapter or do a full edit?
I write the first draft right through, get the full idea down on paper without stopping. Then I go through and pinpoint where I need to research more and where the plot needs to go in other directions. I may well do some spot rewrites at that point.

The next draft is much slower and includes incorporating necessary research. Then I put it away and do something entirely different for at least two months. Then I take it out and do a full third rewrite. By that stage it is ready for other eyes and to be read out loud by readers taking the roles. This leads to more rewriting. My motto: The first draft is rock, the last draft is diamond and in between is a lot of cutting and polishing!

How much does social media play in your promotion of your books?
As a self-published author social media was vital for promotion and as the author with a major publishing house it is still important, you just get more help with it. I joined forums interested in my subject matter and became involved in discussions. I tweeted about all subjects and started communicating with tweeters who knew about my subject matter. I have a personal Facebook page and set a fan one up for me/the book at my publisher’s suggestion, made them admin and they added some cool features and paid for Facebook advertising.

What type of publicity do you do to promote your book?
In New Zealand I’ve had interviews organized by my HarperCollins publicist for radio, TV and print and I’ve done book signings. We had a great launch at a local bookstore and sold over 100 copies. I do Q and A with some American sites and media organized by my New York publicist and have done one American radio interview.

What do you know now about writing, that you wished you had known earlier in your writing career?
Interesting question. Patience, persistence, perseverance. I know how important good research is now and how easy it is to get side-tracked by fascinating research. Good books take time and hard work and yet, there will always be an answer, so trust your instincts. When people tell you that they have really loved your book, it is the best feeling in the world!

What is the best advice you’re been given about writing?
A long time ago a very wise man told me that “writers write.” It sounds very simple but what it actually means is ‘keep writing’. Write a blog or a diary or pieces of short fiction or poetry or whatever floats your boat, but keep writing.

There is a school of thought that you should write 100,000 words before you’re ready to sell any of it and I agree with that, in part. Nothing sharpens your work like writing. Eventually you’ll find that what you’re creating is the best writing you’ve ever done.

Writers also need to live, what goes in, comes out. Grab opportunities to experience things, travel if you can (I’ve been to over 50 countries), meet people, try things, take risks and fill up your memory banks. Someday your subconscious will give it all back to you as subject matter and characters. 

Great thoughts! Thanks for the interview. If you would like to learn more about Julie and her books, here's two ways to do that... Facebook        Blog


  1. A great interview, ladies. Love the story about your father's letters. You never know where the ideas for a book will come from. Enjoyed learning about about your writing career, Julie. Very interesting.

  2. Good to hear from you again, Beverly. It's been awhile.