Children's Literature Interest Group Interview with Julia Golding

Julia GoldingJulia Golding's first novel, The Diamond of Drury Lane, won the 2006 Waterstone's Children's Book Prize and the Nestle Children's Book Prize. This was the first in a series of books which tell the story of a feisty orphan girl brought up in a theatre in Georgian London. Her other series include the Companions Quartet and the Darcie Lock books.
Julia was elected to the English Association Fellowship in 2012.

Where does your inspiration come from?

I'm often asked this question and usually I say something like 'from things I see or read' but actually, on reflection, inspiration really comes from the desire to craft a story for others to enjoy. The thought of other people wanting to know what happens next is what keeps me writing. Ideas are easy to come by; keeping going with the plot is the tricky part.

What comes first – plot, character or situation?

Depends on the story - I've written books where each of these has come first. I don't advise a young writer to only use one technique or starting point; it's better to be open to possibilities.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do about it?

Not really. If I come across a problem I go for a walk with my dog and think about it. Usually I've solved it by the time I get home. I also think writer's block is more likely to strike if you believe you have to be in the right mood to write. I just make myself do it when I'm not feeling like getting down to work; after a few minutes the creative mood joins me. It's a bit like going to the gym - hard to contemplate but easier once you get out of the changing room.

Do you have favourite authors or books yourself? Who are they?

Lots. I have always admire 'The Lord of the Rings' (JRR Tolkien) for its ambition and scope. My favourite historic novelist is Jane Austen, particularly her observation of human characters and wit. For depth, I would recommend My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. Of more recent writers for a younger audience, I like Garth Nix's trilogy which starts with Sabriel and Tamora Pierce's YA fantasy.

What was your favourite book(s) when you were a child?

I had different ones at different ages but I remember loving A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (she also wrote The Secret Garden). I enjoyed the riches to rags to riches structure and the importance placed on the imagination to see you through hard times.

How much does your editor change what you write? What relationship do you have with your editor?

Again depends on the book. Usually the first of a series gets changed the most in consultation with the editor as we are feeling our way to what it should be. After that the next novels go more smoothly through the edit. I have four editors at the moment in different publishing houses so each relationship is different depending on our characters. It is very personal - a bit like having a therapist.

Do you feel a tension between writing what you know will sell and writing what you would like to write?

You would be foolish as a writer not to pay attention to the market (I'm assuming you don't have a private fortune and want to make a career). I have so many ideas it is usually whittling them down to the ones my publisher and I agree would sell. I suppose that's a tension but isn't it a natural part of most creative professions?

At what stage in your writing process do you use a computer?

When I start writing. I make notes and plan in a notebook but all the text is done on a laptop. Top tip: learn to touch type.

What control do you have over your book cover (and your illustrations)?

Next to none.

Do you write with a particular age group in mind? How does the target age group affect your writing?

Yes. This again is part of knowing your craft. Clearly much younger children need a different approach than young adults - it isn't rocket science to work out what needs to change (language, sexual relationships, violence, maturer content). I allow myself more latitude when writing for teens and try to keep innocence intact when writing for younger minds. I'm not a believer in 'anything goes' and I think books should be honest about the nature of their content so parents and children know what they are getting and decide if they are ready for it.

What do you think you would be if you weren’t an author?

I used to work for Oxfam as a policy adviser so I would be working in development.

At what stage did you know you wanted to become an author?

At primary school - but it took a while to get back to this first ambition.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

  • Keep on writing through until end of first draft without worrying about getting it absolutely right - you can always go back once you've got the whole story down.
  • Keep a notebook to hand - you never know when an idea may come to you or you will spot something you want to remember.
  • Enjoy writing for its own sake as publication is a hit and miss affair.

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