5 questions for Julia Crouch

Before becoming a writer, you were a graphic designer/illustrator. Do you think being such a visually literate person has informed your writing in any way?

Yes – I tend to write with my eyes. I ‘see’ the scenes as I’m writing them. If I get stuck, I shut my eyes and play the ‘movie’.

A big part of my work as a designer/illustrator was drawing. If you’ve ever sat and drawn anything, you’ll have observed something closely – a great exercise for all writers. Simiilarly, looking for the right image, typeface and layout to get the client’s message across is all about defining character, detail, tone and narrative. More or less what a novelist does. The structuring, logical part of a designer’s thinking is also very handy for the second draft.

You’ve recently had your first book released. Has the experience of being published differed in any ways to your expectations?

Publication day was a bit weird – I’m on a deadline for novel #2, so it was more or less business as usual during the day – except for a tad more tweeting and blogging than normal. The launch the following day was better than I could have expected – Brighton Waterstones, wine provided by publishers, new frock, stacks of my books, loads of friends and colleagues, signings and sales. And I’ve got lots of author events lined up for the next few months, so the public side of it is very much as I had hoped (I like getting out and about).

The process leading up to publication was wonderful. It is such a great feeling to have people taking your work seriously and to work with an agent and an editor to make it as good as it possibly could be. As is the case for most writers, this followed years of working on my own, in my spare time, with publication only a wild dream. Now I get to write full time. Life is good.

Can you remember the first book that you read as a child that had a big impact on you?

I guess it’s got to be The Cat in the Hat, the first book I read on my own, at a precocious three years old. I remember being so excited by the imagination at play there – the way the words could lead to anything, the feel of the pages, the big broad flat planes of colour…

I always had my nose stuck in a book – it was a bit of a family joke in our decidedly unbookish family that I could always be found at parties curled up behind the sofa, lost in my own little world.

An illustration of the importance reading plays in my life is that when I arrived in the marvellous city of Venice for the first time, on my own, aged 19, I checked into the Youth Hostel there, but I didn’t go out and explore. Instead, I spent the next three days on my bunk, completely gripped by John Fowles’s The Magus. Venice could wait. I had to finish that book first.

What was the last book you read?
Funnily enough, I’m just finishing Someone Else’s Son by Sam Hayes, and I’m loving it. She is such a great storyteller, and captures the darker side of life brilliantly. The book suffered a hiatus when I left it, half-read, in the hairdresser, so before I went and picked it up I read The Hand that First Held mine, by Maggie Farrell. I loved that too – the characters really come to life, and there’s a great sense of London in it. It is ultimately a hopeful book about love, but there is a thread of threat wound through it that keeps the pages turning.

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?

The Summer Book by Tove Janssen – although it would have been difficult, because it was only translated into English about 8 years ago. This simple story was the book I read that made me realise that I could write a novel. It’s nothing like my own work, but there is something about the way the setting and character and story work that I found incredibly inspiring. Perhaps if I’d read it sooner, I’d have got started earlier!

Julia Crouch will be appearing on the Crime Writers Panel at WordFest. Find out more about her and her writing on her website. Her debut novel, Cuckoo, is out now.

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