1. When did you first start writing?
I wrote my first ‘novel’ while I was still at school. It was a couple of hundred pages of drivel, an appalling rip-off of lots of ‘school stories’ which I had read at that point. My English teacher waded through it and was encouraging ( while suggesting that I might think about writing something different ). It got thrown into the rubbish bin long ago, to avoid embarrassment later. But I went on to study English Literature. In later life, as a civil servant I wrote as part of my job, Press Releases, Ministerial briefings and government reports ( only some of which could be regarded as fiction ).
I continued to write stories for friends, in letters and for my god-children. Then, to exercise my imagination, I started writing longer tales. I enjoyed the creation of characters and places and the possibility of engaging with ideas in an accessible and readily understood way. I enjoy the word-smithing element too, of getting a phrase or description just right. Now I can’t stop.
2. What are your books about? Are you self / traditionally published or hybrid?
My first book was a collection of short stories entitled ‘The Village; A Year in Twelve Tales’ published by The Story Bazaar (my own imprint) in April 2015 as a paperback and ‘e’ book. It chronicles the life of a modern English village over the course of one calendar year. The twelve, inter-linked stories portray a wide cast of disparate characters, as four generations of the Marshall family negotiate the hazards of living, while, around them babies are born, plots are hatched, matches are made and marriages founder and death, both anticipated and unlooked for, pays a call. As Thornton Wilder said, ‘The life of a village against the life of the stars’.
Since then I’ve been working on a novel for young adults entitled ‘Reconquista’, set in 13th century Spain that is out now. This is a is an adventure story set in 13th century Al Andalus ( Spain ). I began to write it, ten or more years ago, as a serial story for my nephew and god-son. We have a home in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain and it is a place full of history. My nephew was about to visit there for the first time. I wanted to engage him in the history and romance of the place, so I write an adventure story, delivering ‘episodes’ on a gradual basis. He’s twenty one now and the story which I wrote for him has changed out of all recognition.
The book opens on 9th October 1264 as King Alfonso X of Castile & Leon is about to take the city of Jerez after a five month siege. Within the city, fourteen year old Nathan, his older cousin, Rebecca and their friend, Atta, don’t know what will become of them and their families. Everything they have always known is challenged and friends and family will be scattered far and wide. Each of them also has to grow up and learn some lessons about themselves before they can come together once again. It’s a classic ‘journey’ story.
3. What's your writing process like? Do you outline? Do you write by hand / type / dictate?
So far, I’ve been unfocussed, but I’m learning that this is a convoluted and disorganized way to work. I wrote a couple of articles on my website about the lessons which I have learned about the process of writing. I could have saved myself a lot of time, effort and money if I had been more organized about writing when I began.
4. How much research do you do? What kind?
I do a lot of research, especially given that I am currently writing a series of historical novels. Not just about the background – the ongoing campaign by the Christian north to re-take the southlands from the Muslim south. This is, in itself, full of stories of real heroes, El Cid, for example, but the truth is often more interesting than the legend. So, even though this is presented as a religious war, in fact, lots of towns and cities changed sides, depending on circumstances rather than religion. El Cid himself fought for Muslim cities as well as for the Christians and, sometimes, on his own account.
I’ve had to think about what 13th century daily life was like. In terms of food for example. I wrote a blog about it. In terms of general research I also write a blog about researching.
Writing historical fiction can be fraught with potential pitfalls. Especially when even professional historians cannot agree.
5. When in the day do you usually write? For how long?
Having retired from salaried employment I write full-time. For four weekdays out of five I begin work at around 9.30 and continue until about 6.30 ( with necessary breaks ). Depending upon what stage I am at with a work and how I am doing against ( usually self-imposed ) deadlines, I often also work/blog/do publishing work on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Of course, I do other things connected with publishing, go to meetings, visit fairs and exhibitions etc.. At the moment I’ve been heavily engaged in organizing the Clapham Literary Festival which will take place from 4th – 8th May this year.
6. Do you now, or did you ever have any day jobs? Did they add to or detract from your writing?
I was a teacher of English Literature, but then moved into the British Civil Service and had a twenty-seven year career doing some amazingly interesting jobs in several government departments in Whitehall and in various other agencies, like the Commission for Equality & Human Rights. I wrote a lot as part of my work, but no fiction (despite what some might suggest).
7. What project are you working on now?
Right now I’m doing publicity for ‘Reconquista’ and helping to organize a Literary Festival in Clapham, South London, where I live. This will run over five days and three venues in Clapham Old Town and High Street from 3rd – 8th May. We’re just finalizing the programme now, we’ve got some big name authors (who happen to live locally, so are willing to give their time for free). And I am launching ‘Reconquista’ at the festival. It’s all very exciting.
My next project will be a sequel to ‘Reconquista’. It’s already in out-line. A sequel is necessary because not all the loose ends are tied up at the end of the previous book. I didn’t plan it this way. Indeed, Book 3 in the series is already in a rough draft, but I found that I couldn’t conclude the story in about 400 pages, so I decided to split it into two books. Its working title if ‘Convivencia’, which means ‘living together’ and it’s about what happens after the heroes’ home city is conquered.
8. Describe your desk / writing corner / favorite writing spot.
At home in South London I write in our study at a Victorian desk (though using a modern laptop), surrounded by mahogany book cases. When it’s warm I write outside in our garden under the hawthorn tree.
But my favourite place to work is in the gardens of the Alcazar in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain. This twelfth century castle has lovely ‘arab’ gardens, with fountains ad rills of water amid olive and citrus trees and flowers. It is very evocative and makes it easy to imagine living at that time.
There are usually some tourists looking around, but they leave me alone. The people who run the castle are quite happy to let me in to work, though I’m sometimes a bit worried that they will forget that I’m there and I’ll end up locked in for the night (I often lose all track of time). Only last visit I was working away when one of the security guards found me – all the office staff had gone home!
9. What books do you like to read? What are you reading now?
I read a lot and usually have a fiction book and a non-fiction book going at any one time. I read new books, of all kinds (though not erotica or the latest fads, like vampire novels) and I re-read favourites and classics.
At the moment I am reading ‘Nightwalking’ by Matthew Beaumont and ‘I Can’t Begin to Tell You’ by Elizabeth Buchan, because I am being the ‘interlocutor’ in their discussion about landscape and the imagination at the Literary festival. Both live in Clapham and their books feature the area.
Before then I read Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy – ‘Quicksilver’, ‘The Confusion’ and ‘The System of the World’. They are amusing and erudite books about late sixteenth and early seventeenth century England. I’ve also been dipping into the Aubrey/Maturin sea-faring historical novels by Patrick O’Brien, because part of ‘Reconquista’ is set on a ship
10. Do you ever get writers' block? What are some ways you get around it?
I haven’t so far. Sometimes I am at a loss for a subject to blog about, but then I just go into central London to see something, an exhibition, an historic monument or an event and write about that. There is so much that is free and available to a Londoner.
11. How much marketing do you do? Which platforms are you most active on?
I promote my books and other Story Bazaar authors (though there are other Story Bazar authors to be published this year, they haven’t been yet). I have made lots of mistakes and am still making them. I wrote about this on my website too.
I am on Facebook and Twitter, but don’t use them as much as other people – before I set up The Story Bazaar I didn’t use either of them, so I’m not a natural ‘social media’ user. I did use LinkedIn and Pinterest and I still use those. I get some interest from all these platforms.
12. What's the most fun aspect of marketing? The most challenging?
Actually understanding how best to promote a book is the most demanding and intriguing. No-one really knows what to do to guarantee success, as far as I can see, there are no simple rules or answers. What works for one doesn’t work for another.
Mastering new technology is challenging too. But then that’s part of the whole deal for me – learning new skills. So, while it can be frustrating sometimes, it’s also what I want to do.
Julie Anderson is a writer and publisher. She was born in the English midlands, spending much of her childhood in a semi-rural village. Yet she has lived in South London with her husband and cats for most of her adult life. There they enjoy the cultural life of the city and eating out with their friends. Occasionally they visit their Andalucian retreat.
Her first publication was ‘The Village; A Year in Twelve Tales’ a collection of short stories. She has since edited and published a compendium of web-site articles, blog-posts (by herself and others) and short fiction which has appeared on her website at www.thestorybazaar.com. The book is called ‘The Story Bazaar 2015’ and it is the first of the annual Story Bazaar compendia.
Her new publication is an adventure story set in 13th century Spain entitled ‘Reconquista’ for ‘middle graders’ and above.
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It is 9th October 1264. Outside the city an army awaits the signal to attack.
It is 9th October 1264. Outside the city an army awaits the signal to attack.
Within the city walls, fourteen year old Nathan, his older cousin, Rebecca and their friend, Atta, face an uncertain future. On this fateful day, the city they have always known is about to be torn apart. Friends and family will be scattered far and wide. Each of them has a fateful decision to make. Each has a journey to undertake.
In war-torn Al Andalus King and Emir vie for supremacy. Bandits and pirates roam land and sea in their wake, as our heroes set out on their desperate journeys to find freedom and safety. If they are to succeed, they must first face down their fears and decide what sort of people they want to be. All of them have to grow up. Not all of them will make it home.