21 Dec 2013

Meet the lovely Julie Cohen

Do dreams inspire your writing? What did you last dream about?
I’m definitely inspired by dreams. Often, when I have a plot problem or I’m not sure what to write about next, I think about my problem before I go to sleep and if I’m lucky, I dream an answer. Once, when I was stuck about how to get closer inside my heroine’s mind, I dreamed about her stepping up to a microphone and telling me her problem. Usually it’s less dramatic than that, but I’m a great believer in the power of dreams to solve creative problems.
My last dream was about Ben Whishaw. I’ll leave you to figure out what that one means. ;-)

When did you first start writing? And when were you first published?
I wrote my first novel aged 11; I still have it somewhere. It was a fantasy novel, and I wrote out all 100 pages longhand and illustrated it myself. I’ve kept the first payment I ever received for my writing: a photocopy of a cheque for US$6.00 paid to me for a poem called ‘Reflections on Mirrors’ when I was fourteen years old. Writing fell by the wayside for a while, though I never stopped dreaming. I got my first novel publishing contract in 2004, though because of changes at the publisher, I didn’t see my debut book in print for another two years. The delay meant that I wrote and sold several more novels in the meantime, so in 2006 I had six novels published, and I had a baby.

Would you consider your novels to come under the Chick Lit genre?
Not at the moment. Some of my earlier books may have been chick lit, though I think of them more as romantic comedies or contemporary romance. My latest books are about grown-up women facing emotional dilemmas: surrogacy, grief, love, friendships, motherhood.
‘Chick Lit’ has always been a problematic label for me. The media treats it as a contemptuous epithet for disposable fiction, and yet I know that many novels that are called ‘chick lit’ are thoughtful, well-written, and champion a feminine experience of life and reading. I don’t think that all books written for women, by women, are ‘chick lit’. And I also don’t think that there’s anything wrong with entertaining, escapist novels. I just wish that all novels by women, for women, weren’t immediately dismissed as something that is merely for ‘chicks’. A good novel is a good novel, whoever wrote it.

What is it about this genre (that you write) that appeals to you the most? Do you read other genres? If so, which?
I read everything. I read women’s fiction of all description, romance, science fiction, fantasy, young adult, historical fiction, children’s fiction, horror, crime fiction, erotic fiction, classic novels, poetry, nonfiction, literary fiction, graphic novels. I’m addicted to narrative. As long as there’s a good story, well-drawn characters, and a style that I can enjoy, I’m hooked. This is why I have two degrees in English literature and taught English for ten years: I just love the stories.
I write women’s fiction because I’m endlessly fascinated by the lives of women. The problems we face, the challenges. I love getting together with my friends and talking about the books we’ve read, and how we relate to them or not, discussing the characters as if they’re people we’ve really met. I hope that I can give that pleasure to my readers, too.

What's the title of your latest book? Can you tell us about it?

My latest book is called DEAR THING. It’s a bittersweet novel about a couple who can’t have a baby, and the husband’s best friend, who offers to be a surrogate mother for them.

What inspired you to write it?
I suffered several miscarriages before my son was born, and quite a few of my friends have gone through fertility treatment. It seems to be such a common problem, and there can be so much heartbreak in the simple act of trying for a child. One of my friends had given up on IVF treatment and I remember thinking, ‘I wish I could carry a baby for her.’ Unfortunately this wasn’t possible (even if she had wanted me to), but I started to get interested in the idea of surrogacy. It’s an amazing thing for a woman to do for another woman, but there seems to be so much scope for conflict and sadness. Before I knew it, I had the characters: Claire, the childless wife, and Romily, the single mother who offers to carry a baby for her. And Claire’s husband Ben, with whom Romily is secretly in love.

Have you ever spotted anyone reading your books anywhere?
No! I wish I had. Some of my friends have taken photos of my books in the wild, though, and sent them to me.

Who designs your covers?
My publishers design my covers. I loved the hardcover jacket for Dear Thing so much that when I met the designer, I hugged her! My cover before that, for The Summer of Living Dangerously, was designed by XX—I was thrilled that she’d also designed Paul McCartney’s album cover, because that is like one degree of separation between me and a Beatle. The cover that most closely resembled the one I’d imagined for my book was designed by illustrator and fellow American-inEngland Sharon Tancredi, for Girl from Mars.
If your latest book was made into a film, who would you cast?
What's your favourite Chick Lit book that made it to the big screen?
My favourite chick lit book never made it to the big screen: Rachel’s Holiday, by Marian Keyes. It’s a complex story of addiction and heartbreak, wrapped up in a funny, readable style, with a fantastic unreliable narrator and a hero to die for.

What were the last two books you read?
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (wonderful in every way) and Fanny and Stella by Neil XXX—the latter is a nonfiction book about two Victorian homosexual transvestites.

Name one female author who you think deserves to be better known.
Rowan Coleman writes fantastically emotional, effortlessly readable, heartbreaking books with utterly enchanting characters. Her latest, The Memory Book, a novel about a mother with premature Alzheimers creating a legacy of memories for her children, deserves to be an enormous success.

Where do you write?
You're originally from Maine, US but moved to England some years ago. What is about the UK that you love so much?

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A writer. Lucky me!

In the movie of your life, who would play you?
Photo credit: Vincent Luigi Molino via photopin cc
Kind people tell me I resemble Meryl Streep. More honest people say that I am strikingly similar to Dory, from Finding Nemo. So I suppose in the movie of my life I’d be played by a blue fish who’s a really good actor.

Speed Round...
Top drink to make you tipsy?
Shopaholic or shopadon't? Sort of in between.
Sky high heels or closer to the ground? I love high heels but most days I wear flats.
E.L. James or Jilly Cooper? Jilly Cooper.
Cry baby or tough cookie? Cry baby. I cry at everything, especially books and films.
Exotic beach or enchanted forest? Enchanted forest. I used to want to be an elf.

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