Today I’m thrilled to be doing a Q&A with the lovely Julie Cohen, whose latest book Dear Thing is now a Richard and Judy Summer Pick (in fact I warned Julie that I would be referring to her throughout this interview as Richard and Judy Author Julie Cohen or RAJAJC for short). Before my first book was published I read Julie’s blog for advice on writing and always found it to be sage and wonderful. I commented on her blog and she commented on mine and gave me terrific advice. And then I did get published, and Julie and I ended up doing an event together and celebrated over gin and tonics which was great in a universe-aligning way. Below I’ve asked her some questions – including what she would do if she could turn back time (tissues at the ready for this one).
Dear Thing is a book about a couple trying for a baby in a very unorthodox way. It’s poignant and funny and heartbreaking and brilliant. It’s out in paperback now from Black Swan – I’ve linked to Waterstones above but you can get it in your local bookshop, on Amazon, or borrow it from your local library. And follow Julie at @julie_cohen for all the latest on Benedict Cumberbatch-watching and Not Even Our Cat.
There’s plenty of advice for unpublished writers but not so much for published ones. What’s the one piece of advice you would share with a newly published author?
I fully believe that authors should celebrate every single success. They’re few and far between in this profession. You should drink champagne when you finish your book; you should drink LOTS of champagne when it’s accepted for publication; you should have an enormous party when it’s published.
But let it end there, with the champagne. Celebrate, and move on. You should try to avoid reading reviews; you should try to avoid tweeting and talking nonstop about your new book (a little bit is okay, it’s part of the celebration!); you should try to avoid obsessing about how well your book is selling and whether it’s selling any better than any other book, or if any other author is doing better than you are, or whether it’s going to be chosen for this promotion or that award, and why the entire world hasn’t changed overnight because your book is out!!!!
You should drink champagne, celebrate, enjoy yourself like mad and revel in how clever you have been—and then get on with writing the next book.
Your latest novel, Dear Thing, marks a change in direction from ‘pure’ romance to a more multi-stranded story… how easy/exciting/difficult was this transition for you as a writer?
As I’ve grown older, I’ve wanted to tackle more difficult subjects than romance. It was very exciting for me to write a more complex story with more complicated emotions, with several viewpoints. I had a bit of fear before I began, but fortunately my publisher was very encouraging and had great confidence in me. I really enjoyed the challenge, though I won’t pretend I didn’t swear a lot whilst writing the difficult parts.
You’ve lived in Britain for several years but are originally from the US (Maine, home of Whoopie Pies!) Would you ever want to write a book set in the US again, or do you feel more familiar with a British setting now?
I’d quite like to set a book, or part of a book, in the USA—particularly in Maine, at a lake cottage like the one where I’ve spent every summer of my life. I haven’t come across the right story yet. My next book, WHERE LOVE LIES, does have a chapter or two set in New York City, but I don’t suppose that counts. Maybe I can at least get a Whoopie Pie into the novel I’m writing now; that will be a challenge!
What’s been the most exciting moment of your writing career to date?
When I was 16, I worked in my local library in Rumford, Maine. It was a beautiful building, built by Andrew Carnegie in the 1930s. I loved working there, surrounded by books—not least because I had a crush on the librarian. I used to put books back on the shelves and I used to dream that one day, I would be an author and that my book would be right there, on the shelf of my local library.
Many years later, I brought my first book to the Rumford Public Library, gave it to the librarian (it was a different one by now, not the one I used to have a crush on), and he put it there, on the shelf. I do this every single year, with every new book. It’s always the best feeling ever—like reaching back through time to my 16-year-old self and saying, ‘We did it!’
And lastly Julie, what would you do if you could turn back time?
I would make myself a rewind button so that I could go back whenever I wanted and revisit the moment when my newborn son was first put into my arms.
I have something in my eye now. Thanks Julie!
Dear Thing is out now in paperback or ebook and is a Richard and Judy Summer Pick – go get your copy!