I’m thrilled to be welcoming back award-winning author and fiction expert, Julie Cohen, to tutor another workshop in April. (Find more info about the event here.)
To learn about her writing career to-date and hopefully some tips too, I asked Julie a few quickfire questions…
Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes, ever since I was a little girl, though I sort of lost the ambition in my twenties—I think the creative writing class I took at university knocked all the creativity out of me for a while.
What was the first thing you ever wrote that you are really proud of? Ever.
When I was eleven, I wrote a 130-page handwritten fantasy novel which was basically a gender-flipped version of The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K LeGuin. I drew maps of the setting and everything and kept the whole thing in a special blue folder with a sticker of a unicorn on the front. I still have it somewhere though I’m afraid to read it in case it is terrible.
What was the story of getting your first book published? Did luck play a part? Or sheer temerity?
It was temerity more than luck. I wrote three books that were all rejected multiple times before my fourth book was accepted. I had a large file of rejection letters! But submitting novels means I made contacts in the industry and knew which editors and agents were interested in the kind of thing I was writing. I’d joined professional organisations such as The Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) so I’d learned about the business. And I entered that fourth book in the world’s largest contest for unpublished romance writers, and it was shortlisted, so it already had editors’ attention.
You have been very prolific! Which one of your novels should people start with? Tell us about the last one? What’s next?
My new book was out in July and is called SPIRITED. It’s a Victorian love story with ghosts and was LoveReading.co.uk book of the month.
Before that, THE TWO LIVES OF LOUIS & LOUISE is an alternate-reality story where the protagonist is born male in one reality, and female in the other. It’s one of LoveReading’s top books of the year, and Stylists’ too, and it was long listed for the Polari Prize.
What was it like being a Richard and Judy author, for Together? What did it involve?
Two of my books have been in the Richard and Judy Book Club—DEAR THING in 2014 and TOGETHER in 2017. It’s a complete dream to be selected—you meet Richard and Judy and they are charming, and your book is in the front of every WH Smith in the country. It’s pretty incredible.
What is the most frequent thing you hear from people who have attended your workshops? They sell out really fast!
I get a lot of messages from people who like the very practical, craft-based approach that I use. Often I can help people see their manuscripts with fresh eyes and I can help them pinpoint what they are really trying to say with their novel.
What do you love most about your retreats here in Sheepwash?
My favourite part is probably sitting around the fire in the evenings, talking through plot problems and solving writing dilemmas. But as you know I am an enormous fan of Daisy the dog!!
Any successful former students?
Some successful authors who have been on my Sheepwash retreats include AJ Pearce, Alison May, Rosemary Dun, Jane O’Reilly, Bella Osborne, and of course Debbie Flint!
What are your top five tips for brand-new writers?
Read a lot. Make writing a habit. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Always finish a manuscript. Be open to constructive criticism, but only from people you trust.
When are your next dates for workshops at Retreats For You?
Because of a late cancellation, we have ONE space available at my guided retreat which runs from 26 – 30 April 2021. It’s £600 for all accommodation, food, and tuition. Get in touch with me or Debbie if you are interested!
Thank you, Julie, and we are very much looking forward to welcoming you back in April!
SPIRITED, A beautifully thoughtful, hopeful, and compelling read that ran wild in my mind and tugged at my heartstrings. It’s 1858 and three women are pushing the boundaries of what it is to be a woman…Mindful, vivid, and strong Spirited explores death, grief, faith, class and gender, while at its heart relationships expand to make this such an engaging and rewarding novel. LoveReading.co.uk book of the month
THE TWO LIVES OF LOUIS & LOUISE, long listed for the Polari Prize
“Full of raw emotion—violence that will leave you reeling, small kindnesses and ironies that make for brilliant humour, and a heartfelt message at the centre of the novel” —Stylist