I am delighted to welcome author Julia Stone to my blog. Julia Stone ‘dabbled’ in writing for many years, studying poetry, short stories and script writing. In 2017 she decided to take writing more seriously and applied to Faber Academy where she wrote a draft novel. In 2018 she won the Blue Pencil First Novel award and was offered representation by Madeleine Milburn. After writing her third novel she won a two book deal with Orion Dash. Her debut, HER LITTLE SECRET was published in 2021, and her second psychological suspense novel, THE ACCIDENT, is published October 27th 2022. Available at: https://amzn.to/3Db7jPo
What are you currently working on?
Editing the book I wrote at Faber five years ago. It’s a bit of a personal passion project and it’s now on its sixth major rewrite. It’s set in the 1970s/80s and is a story of intense female friendship – far removed from psychological suspense. That said, I have many other writing projects on the go and dip in and out of them as the mood takes me. Currently I’ve started work on four other projects: another psychological suspense novel about an academic who studies memory; early chapters of a fictional memoir; an outline for a dystopian script; and a non-fiction work on the psychology of small day-to-day pleasures (which may morph into an uplit novel…!)
What has inspired the novel you have most recently published?
‘The Accident’ is published October 27th 2022. In 2018 I was regularly driving down the A12 to visit my 100 year old great aunt. I find my creative brain comes into play when on a long car journey and I enjoy developing ideas to see where they end up. The initial prompt for ‘The Accident’ was sparked when I saw a couple kissing on a pedestrian bridge over the dual carriageway. It struck me as a strange place for a romantic cuddle and I pondered why they might be there. The story developed from there – a girl on a bridge; who is she and why is she there? From those simple questions a web of threads spun out and ended up as my novel, ‘The Accident’. But of course, we don’t find out the answers to who and why until the end…
You are psychologist and psychotherapist, how does this help or hinder your writing?
It has helped me in two ways:
Firstly, to really understand my characters, what makes them tick, how they became who they are, their wants and needs. When an editor suggests a rewrite or change to the plot it enables me to understand what is wrong and to take the essence of what they envisage but to write it in a way that fits with my style and the character’s personality.
Secondly, to manage my own emotional wellbeing throughout the process. As a psychologist, I’m interested in the emotional journey we take as writers as there are huge ups and downs along the way. During the Covid lockdowns I was asked by Faber to be a guest speaker for their Academy students to talk about writers’ wellbeing and it was great to hear they are taking this seriously.
For example, many of us come to writing from other careers where we had far more agency – often we knew what we needed to do to achieve and had some control over how well we did. In the world of the writer there are so many elements outside our control that it can be quite a shock. Your novel may be fabulous, your cover letter perfect, yet you can’t get an agent’s attention. You get an agent and they ‘love’’ your book but they want you to rewrite the second half – oh, and can you change it from a romance to more of an adventure. You make the edits and the agent pitches it to publishers, but no one is interested as the market has moved towards uplit or there was a similar theme explored by a well-known author last year. And so it goes on…
An approach I use is to think of my goals at three levels: 1) my fantasy dream, 2) an ideal target and 3) the most likely scenario – an achievable positive base point. For example, at my first book signing I set my ‘likely scenario’ at selling one book, so I was thrilled when more people came to talk to me and bought copies.
Another important thing is to try not to take reviews and feedback personally – separate your identity from the novel – they are commenting on the book not on you. Look at reviews of your favourite best seller and you will find a range from 5 to 1 star.
I have heard you talk about the cross-over between therapy and writing/story telling. Can you elaborate on any connections you find?
When someone comes for therapy they share their experiences as a story. We tend to think and explain in a causal, sequential way: x caused y which led to z. We include dialogue to bring things to life. We talk about our wants and needs, our hopes and fears. There are highs and lows in emotion. All these are features of story writing.
We all have a personal narrative, a story we tell ourself about our life and who we are, to help us make sense of our experiences. And this informs how we react to events in the here-and-now. One therapeutic technique is to consider whether this version of the story is useful to us in its current form; is there another interpretation of events? Or different language? Maybe it was something we were told by someone else, or it was a reaction to specific experiences and hasn’t been revised as we have grown. Helping people to reframe the way they think of the story, to see the events through a different lense, or to assume another role (survivor rather than victim), can help cause a significant shift in mental wellbeing.
How would you describe your writing process?
Although I dip in and out of different writing projects, I am a strong planner and hate wasting time on something that isn’t going to work in the long run. So I plot an outline of the novel to help steer the story line, generally using a simplified version of Save the Cat. (Email me if you’d like a copy of the worksheet I use: Julia@juliastonewriter.com) I was told the first draft is ‘telling yourself the story’ which I’ve found immensely helpful, so I relax into it and don’t worry if I stray from my plan. I also create psychological profiles for my characters and create mood boards of their worlds. This helps as I have Aphantasia – an inability to see things in my mind’s eye – so if I need to describe something in the novel I have a stock of images I can refer to.
What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it?
It depends on the book. I will sometimes read related texts, particularly if I am exploring a psychological theme that is well researched, like memory. I also attend relevant talks and listen to podcasts. Most of my ideas for novels don’t require much more than a quick Google search and checking small facts, like how much it cost to make a call from a phone box in the 1970s!
Do you have any crafting tips?
When I write a first draft in third person I find it often reads in a stilted ‘Janet and John’ way. One way to avoid this is to write in first person and then change the perspective. This enables you to experience events through the character’s eyes and ears and understand what they are thinking and feeling. This helps make their actions/reactions true to their wants and needs.
There’s a wealth of writing craft information out there. One of the best sites is Emma Darwin’s https://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/ She gives practical advice on so many aspects from how to write a fight scene to pacing, it’s almost a one-stop shop.
The question you wished I’d asked you.
Ha – clever! Maybe something about social media for writers and readers. If an author is going to use it properly, it seems to be a daily job and I’m not sure I have that much I wish to say! I’ve mastered Twitter and interact semi-regularly with fellow writers and readers @JulesTake3. Despite attending workshops run by The Society of Authors and being tutored by friends, I struggle with the others. Instagram is designed for visuals, so I largely post images of my ceramics and occasionally a book related photo. Facebook has so far defeated me – I’ve recently signed up but seem to see a lot of videos of guinea pigs and exceptionally well-decorated camper vans! Any advice gratefully received!
Luckily I do understand old-tech and my website can be found at www.JuliaStoneWriter.com where you can find information on both my novels, read past blog posts and sign up for my monthly musings on writing and psychology.