Julia Kelly was born in Dublin in 1969, studied English, Sociology and Journalism and escaped to London for the mad, bad years of life. Her first novel, With My Lazy Eye, won her the Sunday Independent Best Irish Newcomer of the Year Award. She lives in Dublin, Ireland, with her family.
A very warm welcome to you Julia, and can I thank you, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today. For the benefit of our International readers can you tell us a bit about the part of the world that you are currently resident in and why do you like living there?
I live in Dalkey, a happy, busy coastal village in County Dublin. Our apartment has floor to ceiling windows overlooking Dublin Bay. The view is so special — it’s like being on a permanent holiday. The other residents call it ‘happy land’ and it’s a beautiful place to write. The loveliest thing about the view is that it is different every day and it’s such an active stretch of water — at the same time each morning two lobster boats set off to haul traps marked by buoys along the bay and throughout the day the water is busy with speed boats, row boats, yachts and ferries on their way to the UK.
Can I ask what sort of books did you like reading as a child?
Unlike a lot of writers, I wasn’t a great reader growing up, perhaps because our home was so full of books — I never appreciated them and I was a contrary sort of kid so refused to do anything that might please my parents. The first novel I finished was ‘The Thorn Birds’ by Colleen McCullough. I snuck it from my Mother’s bedside table, for the sex bits mainly. ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by JD Salinger also had a big influence on me. I went around for weeks after I’d finished it thinking everyone I saw was phoney.
Do you think the books that you read as a child have influenced your writing in any way?
I only became a good reader in my twenties. I got into the habit of studying the novels I read. I would always have a pencil and dictionary beside me and would underline whole passages that I thought were strong/funny/original/moving and would force myself to look up every word I couldn’t immediately define. Over the years I have certainly been influenced by other writers’ voices and their styles and I am continuously learning from them. Reading is such an important part of being a writer.
Do you have a set routine when you are working on a novel?
An impending deadline is the only thing that forces me to have a set routine — without that I find it very hard to be disciplined, however much I try. When I’m up against it I will write from 10am till lunch time each day and again for the afternoon. I always do a quick meditation before I begin work — it puts off the hard part for another few minutes and helps to de-clutter my mind.
Where do you do your writing best?
Anywhere that is completely quiet and where there is absolutely not a single other thing that I can busy myself doing as a way of deferring work.
What helped you decide on a writing career and to write novels?
I was never a good student. At school English was the only thing I excelled in and my teacher singled me out and encouraged me. In the real world, I think being fired from almost every job I had (I worked as an editor in publishing for many years and was truly awful at it) lead me to writing – it was the one thing I could become utterly absorbed in and the one job I couldn’t get fired from, much to the relief of my parents.
When you are writing a novel, how do you place yourself into the time period that you are actually writing about?
My first novel, ‘With My Lazy Eye’ was set in 1970s Dublin. As it was largely autobiographical, like a lot of debut novels, I found that simply remembering things I used to wear, eat, drink, say and do would bring me back to that time and would help me to recall so many tiny details of my past — sounds, sights, tastes, smells etc.
How do you go about imagining, developing and give real lives and personalities to the characters that we read about within in your book?
I write from my own life and love observing the small things people do and say. I am more interested in watching and listening to how a person tells a story rather than the story itself. Because of this and because of my desire to describe things as accurately and as honestly as possible, I do draw from what I observe in other people but it is always a mix of several different people and of how I imagine their private lives and minds. I see myself in all my first person characters as this is my voice and so far this is the most honest way that I can write.
Did you encounter any difficulties in getting you books accepted and published?
I was very lucky that I was offered a book deal a few days after I sent the first chapters of my debut novel to an Irish publishing house. The only difficulty was that the editor wanted to see the rest of the book and it didn’t exist. I also had very little idea of where the book was going and not much confidence about how to achieve it. This pressure turned out to be a blessing — having someone’s belief in you and having a deadline to meet was what I needed to get the book finished. I was then offered a two book deal with UK publishers, Quercus.
Do you have to undertake any research for your novels?
I research continuously as I work through a draft — Google makes this exceptionally easy — but I have never undertaken any research trips. I am planning to set a lot of my third book in Italy so I will need to travel there while I am working on it.
What is your favourite book and why?
I couldn’t give you just one, there have been so many books I have loved. ‘On Chesil Beach’ by Ian McEwan, ‘Year of Magical Thinking’ by Joan Didion, ‘The Corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen, ‘Notes on a Scandal’ by Zoe Heller, ‘The Line of Beauty’ by Alan Hollinghurst, ‘The Sea’ and ‘Ancient Light’ both by John Banville. . .
Are you currently reading a book at the moment, and if so what is it?
I have two books on the go at the moment: ‘We are All Completely Beside Ourselves’ by Karen Joy Fowler and’ Clothes Music Boys’ by Viv Albertine.
Do you have any other hobbies or interests that you enjoy in order to give you a break from your normal routine and your writing?
Walking, running, reading, children, dogs, being in the countryside, Italy, Italians, food.
Will you tell us a little bit about your latest novel ‘The Playground’?
The Playground is about mother trying to protect her child in a world where grown ups are attempting to be parents when they haven’t quite grown up themselves.
Can you give us a tiny hint about any other books that you may have in the making at the moment?
My next novel may be set in Italy and it may concern a character suffering from dementia.
To conclude our interview Julia, can you possibly tell us seven random facts about yourself?
- I once took a large bite out of the passenger seat of my aunt’s car (I had quite a taste for leather and rubber when I was twelve). It went down very well. Though not so much with my aunt.
- Bank holidays depress me. I hate being put under pressure to have lots of fun plans.
- The words ‘moist’ ‘more-ish’ ‘panties’ and ‘awesome’ among others make me squirm. It even hurts to write them down.
- I’ve always wanted to be a farmer’s wife though I am vegetarian, cry if I’m woken earlier than seven and love, but am nervous of, nearly all animals so it may not have been a happy marriage.
- I like Dunnes Stores but I hate their vomit-coloured carrier bags.
- I truly hate when people tell me I look tired/shattered/knackered/worn out. I know I do. Pointing it out is not sympathetic, empathetic, helpful or kind. It just makes me feel like going back to bed.
- I have the world’s scariest knees! But that’s nothing new.
Julia, I have been absolutely delighted and very honoured that you agreed to be interviewed for my literary site. I would also like to thank-you again for taking the time to speak to us today.
Release date: 4th June 2015
Published by: Quercus
ISBN No: 978 1784291358