Today I’m delighted to welcome Julia Crouch to the CTG blog.
Famous for her darkly chilling novels of domestic noir, Julia’s latest book – The Long Fall – is published this week in paperback, eBook and as an audio download.
So, to the questions …
Your latest book – The Long Fall – is out this week. Can you tell us a bit about it?
I started off wondering how someone could continue a life after being guilty of the worst possible transgression.
The story is set in two time frames – 1980 and 2013. The 1980 sections are the diary of 18 year old Emma who is backpacking solo through Europe in her year off. At the end of her journey, something awful happens. The 2013 part is about Kate, a wealthy, high profile charity campaigner, Hedge Fund Manager’s wife and mother to drama student Tilly. When someone turns up from Kate’s past, her superficially perfect life begins to disintegrate around her.
The book takes place in Greece and London, what was it about these particular places that inspired to you to pick them?
I have always loved Greece – I go there whenever I get the opportunity. My first proper visit was as a lone, backpacking eighteen year old. I kept a diary of what I got up to while I was there, and I have mercilessly raided the detail in it for The Long Fall. On the very edge of Europe, Greece is a country of contrasts – of ancient and modern, of East and West, of land and sea. I knew I wanted to set part of the story on an island – as distant, disconnected and isolated as possible – and my son Owen told me about Ikaria, which his Greek girlfriend Eva took him to a couple of years ago. It seemed perfect and, since the novel starts with a fall from a cliff, the idea of the island named after Icarus, the boy who fell when he flew too close to the sun, seemed too perfect to resist.
I had to go and research the island – an arduous task for a Grecophile such as myself – and found to my delight that it was perfect – wind-buffetted with enormous, looming black and grey cliffs, deserted perfect beaches, a jungly interior and a world untouched as yet (touch wood) by mass tourism. Setting is as important to me as my characters and plot, so it was really, really exciting to find Ikaria. I spent a week there, driving a tiny Chevy Matiz over almost impassable mountain roads, exploring mountain villages and isolated bays.
I wanted the contrast of Kate’s world to the Greek scenes to be very stark. A couple of years ago I did a photoshoot for a magazine and they had hired a gorgeous house in a converted school in Battersea. It’s vast – all enormous high ceilings, white walls and wooden floors. The people who own it live in it – although they were away for the day of the shoot – and there’s a big photograph canvas of the family on the kitchen wall. They are beautiful. The impression is one of a perfect life.
I was just beginning to think about The Long Fall at the time, and it seemed to me that this would be the perfect building for Kate to inhabit – gated, turretted luxury. So I’m afraid I ‘stole’ it!
As a trailblazer of the hugely popular Domestic Noir, how would you describe the characteristics of the sub-genre?
Domestic Noir doesn’t necessarily mean a home setting, but it’s often in there somewhere. it’s about the things people do to each other in the name of love. It’s about the levels at which we can deceive ourselves and others, and how we manage to live with our secrets. It can include police and murders, but that’s certainly not essential. The mystery lies in the why – rather than the whodunnit. Because it is rooted in messy old life and relationships, it doesn’t always provide the neat ending of more traditional crime fiction.
Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?
Usually, I just dive in and start a story, researching as I go along. I keep writing until I reach the end, even if I know things have to change quite radically in the earlier stages of the novel to support my new discoveries. This I call draft zero, because no one ever sees it except me. Then I go back and rewrite the entire thing, building a firmer structure for the plot, excising loads of guff and putting in hopefully more focussed material. For me, this is the most exciting way to write, because every day you discover something new about your characters and story.
However, it can be difficult to fit this style of working into a publishing schedule. The Long Fall is the first book of a new contract I signed with my publishers Headline, and to secure that I had to put together a pretty clear outline of the story, long before I started. The plot I came up with was quite detailed and so clear that it changed very little in the writing – so I knew what each scene had to do, where the characters had to go. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to structure it, though, so there was still quite a bit of head scratching at the end of draft zero. It is probably a quicker way to finish a novel, but I have to say I have reverted to my old approach for the novel I am currently working on (working title, rather imaginatively, novel #5) and, while it is scarier, I find it more exciting writing, as E L Doctorow put it, “…like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
What advice would you give to new writers aspiring to publication?
Write the best novel you possibly can, then edit it and make it better. Don’t be in a hurry to submit. Do your homework finding an agent – do they represent authors you like? Do they deal with your genre? See what they say on Twitter. Follow submission guidelines slavishly – they all have different rules, so you will have to work around them, which is a good thing. Be patient. Be polite. Be prepared for rejection, but also be prepared to work on editing suggestions from agents. If you are rejected, there will be a good reason. Try to work out what it is.
If you want to self-publish, pay someone to edit your novel, and try to forget that you are paying so that you listen to their edits. Pay someone to typeset it and design the cover. Learn the business. You have to be aware that you are going into business not only as a writer but also as a publisher. It’s a lot of work.
And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?
Novel #5 will take up the next five months, and we’re beginning to plan Dark & Stormy Brighton 2015 (the crime festival I launched this year with Emlyn Rees and Ray Leek). I’m putting together proposals for three more novels – a process I really enjoy. And something might be happening in Hollywood, although that’s all I’m allowed to say right now. Other than that, I’m promoting The Long Fall all over the shop: I’ll be at Harrogate, Bloody Scotland and Edinburgh Book Festival, as well as many other libraries, bookshops and festivals around the country. Good job I love writing on trains!
Sounds like 2014 is shaping up to be a very busy year!
A huge thank you to Julia Crouch for dropping by and chatting about The Long Fall and her writing process. To find out more about Julia and her books pop on over to http://juliacrouch.co.uk/
And watch this space for our review of The Long Fall – coming soon.