Friday, September 12, 2008

Back to the SCBWI Retreat - My notes on Julia Golding

Here are my notes on Julia Golding. I know it seems such a very long time ago since the SCBWI Retreat but, as I'd written up my notes I thought I may as well share them with you. As you can see, I do tend to write prolific notes. I need to write things down for the information to get in my head. I wonder if this means I'm a visual person?

Julia has written 12 books since 2005.

The Diamond of Drury Lane is an historical series about an orphan girl, working in a theatre in Drury Lane. Her name is Catherine or ‘Cat’ for short. Cats have nine lives, so she has agreed to a nine book series. Julia has also written a fantasy quartet - The Ship Between the Worlds. Her quartet is based on the four elements – earth, water, wind and fire. Ringmaster was Julia’s answer to Anthony Horowitz. Julia worked in the foreign office when she was 21. Being a diplomat and working abroad was a big influence on this book.

But, where did it all begin. In 2002, she went on maternity leave and started to write a book for her first child. She sent Secrets of Sirens to Liz Cross at OUP and had a rejection that said in the current form your book is unpublishable but, within it there is a glimmer of an idea they liked. It was a long wait but Julia carried on writing whilst she was working at Oxfam. Sirens are birds with female faces.

She decided to get an agent so wrote The Diamond of Drury Lane, she also decided to use a club as a conscious effort not to base it in a school.

“We’re in the business of telling stories.”

If you ever get a personal letter from an editor have a look at it and think to yourself maybe they don’t like this but what will they like? They want people who respond to publisher’s comments.

“There are so many novelists out there so don’t have much power. It is important to have a reason for writing.”

Julia had advice from John Dickinson that she should get an agent but, her letter from OUP sort of excluded it. So that is why she wrote another book. She sent it to David Higham and it went so fast. It was sent to Harper Collins and Egmont. Harper Collins major in fantasy, whereas Egmont very enthusiastic. Egmont got Diamond out in January and OUP got Sirens out in March. So although Sirens was written first, Diamond is her first published book.

Before it was even published it had won the Waterstones Prize. The book shop people have to go as one of the characters and the nominated books get voted by Waterstones’ staff. It also won the Nestle Gold Prize voted by children and was shortlisted for the Costa Prize (part of Whitbread). She was also picked by The Independent as the top author in Top 25.

She went back to work to earn back the maternity leave and gave up work in 2003. She only sent to two agents Felicity Bryan and David Higham. Catherine Clark turned her down and said it was not her kind of thing. She purposely decided to focus with individual applications to agents. She was originally writing two books a year, but now she only writes one.

“One of the most annoying things is how little power you have as an author.”

Framework – Research
Think of the framework, which you are writing about. The framework is fun. Also uses a lot of the Internet and taken to travelling for research. Took a cruise to Norway to research her Viking book, which can claim back on her taxes.

“Make sure you like your notebook.”

Julia will plan her stories to a certain point before starts writing the blueprint, she works out the themes and the journey her characters are going on. She doesn’t like to know the end and that is part of the fun of day in working out - what happens next?

If you are a visual person mind maps help. Julia writes dialogue fragments as the books come as voices. She makes the chapter notes as dialogue which is her blueprint.

Keystone – Find a Voice
It’s very important to have a voice. Once you’ve heard the voice the book takes off. Even when writing in third person you need to hone in and narrow down your perspective. When it is clear in your head off you go. The actual moment of sitting down and starting to type is very difficult.

Julia’s Day
She takes the kids to school and then goes to a coffee shop for an hour and a half a day. She does not look at emails, she does not do research, she does not go online. She leaves the ‘I’d better just check,’ until later on in the day. Between 9:00 - 10:30 it is very quiet in the coffee shop.

The rest of the day is spent on the business side and revisions. Sometimes she goes back to it but it depends. She can write about 2000 words in that time. She reads her work to the family so drives her to write more so that she has something to read.

Suddenly you realise you are missing a few vital details, so you need to revisit and rework. Julia reckons sometimes it really is best to put it aside to get out and let go.

“You are in the job of amputation and have to let go.”

Sometimes you may have lost the big picture or have a crisis where you falter and stop. Look at the plot in terms of a scale. Julia calls this the heartbeat. If you have a story that flat lines at any point, you have a problem. It is worth seeing the plot from a bird’s eye view and return to the mind map and work out what ideas you are not exploiting. Work backwards. Merlin lives backwards so knows what happens in the future but does not what has happened in the past. You know that you want to end with the good overcoming the evil so work backwards.

“You are outside time once you have got your plot.”

How to approach a publisher or agent
1) Research what they have in their catalogue.
2) Do you fit? Is there something too similar? How can you know what the market is doing if you don’t know what the market is? You need to work this out.
3) Do check the submission policy as it saves time.
4) Do as they ask, don’t annoy them. You have thirty seconds to get someone’s attention. Make sure it looks professional. They turn to the covering letter first.
5) You have to able to describe your book in a sentence or two. Think is it relevant. What makes it relevant? Is it newsworthy?
6) Describe yourself in a nutshell. Have you had an interesting career or a quirky hobby? Agents and publishers want to know if they can promote you. Need to make yourself sound like they want to know you.

Julia was 36 when her first book came out and was able to describe herself as ex-diplomat, Oxfam novelist.

Where I’m At! - Working out how to sustain a career.

How do I sustain being a prolific writer?
Julia had six books published in a year. She has manufacturing days which is her writing and her marketing days. You have to be prepared to promote yourself. Julia goes into two schools a week. The book tours she is sent on by the publishers are FREE and she makes the money by selling the books. If go into schools the Society of Authors recommend £300-£500 per day, depending where you are on the scale. See the link on the bottom of the Society of Authors page. Try and go global and the best way to do this is to have an agent.

Foreign editions
When foreign editions come out publishers will change the covers and the text if you are not careful.

Invest in a website

  • Why? It is your shop window.

  • Replaces fan mail and reader content

  • It is a chance to alert readers about events

  • Good for an international audience

  • For kids a bit of fun and games

Take a look at

Think how your characters can take life on in cyberspace. She has her character Cat as an agony aunt.

Julia Golding spends an hour a day updating her site and has Amazon links for all her books. The idea is to go into pod casting but needs to buy the widget. Remember the more graphics you have the longer it takes to upload. Fans spin off and do their own sites.

As the author, you need to be the person who comes up with the ideas. I can see a low cost marketing idea of...

It’s all about money a traditionally thinking. It is rare to get an original campaign. A lot of Julia’s sales are word of mouth. You have to think way ahead and look for news worthy hooks.

School Events
Make it fun. Leave them with something they can use. Go in assuming ignorance. They have just got a live author for the day. Julia uses top trunks as a lead into talking about characters.

Julia is very efficient and focused. More authors flitter around a lot and find it difficult to get down to work. She’s got his chance now and it’s no good wasting it. The prize winning has given her a head start. She explains she writes lots of different books and invites questions at the end.

Publishers in 2008 are sitting around talking about 2010 and 2011. If you write something that is not suitable for today’s market let it go and write something new. The first book can establish you as a brand. Don’t let yourself get pigeon holed. Julia could have easily have come out as another British fantasy writer. She heard history was making a comeback so decided to write a historical novel. She had a large number of ideas and the problem was which one she was going to choose.

She specifically writes books to feature as a portfolio item. She wants a range of genres and has planned her writing career.

Who would I like to be?
She published 12 books in 24 months. The theory of a series means you need a number of hits in the series. You need to build up a particular series not unreasonable to write two in a series in a year. Three books a year is a comfortable pace. She has written two series books for next year and a stand alone for next year.

Each book she writes has a theme.

It’s all about managing your time. She feels much more efficient to project manage your life. Checks email twice a day. There are too few children’s book reviewers in the world and if you get on the wrong side of them it is difficult.

Julia does not write under a pseudonym. She wants to be a name in the children’s book world and is looking how to sustain it.

She particularly enjoyed Patrick O’Brien’s Pirate Seas books when she was younger:
The Mutiny on the Bounty
Treasons Harbour
Master & Commander

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