We’re thrilled to be chatting to prolific children’s author Julia Golding today, just as her latest book, The Tigers in the Tower is published. It’s an exciting historical adventure story following Sahira on a journey through tragedy and danger to deliver two majestic Indian tigers to the menagerie in the tower of London.
Hi Julia, welcome to our blog. First of all, apart from saying congratulations on the launch of your new book, we’d love to know where you get your ideas from?
Well, there’s this secret door in every author’s house. When you find the key, you open it and find shelves upon shelves of jars stuffed full of different characters, locations, themes, and jokes. You take a little bit of this, and a pinch of that, and – OK, stop now. That’s what I always want to say when someone asks me that question. My little fantasy has a grain of truth though. That door is your imagination and all the things you experience, see or read go into the storage jars. When I turn to my imagination, sometimes something leaps off to the shelf with urgency, saying this is the story I need to tell. Sometimes I have to have a rummage, but the ingredients are always there if I look.
Question to the reader: What would your door look like?
How do you know when you’ve got a good idea?
Not all ideas have enough in them to sustain a novel. When I was a young writer, I made lots of story-starts because I had an initial set-up, or a scene that struck me, and then I found I couldn’t continue. One way to test the weight an idea can bear is to do a bit of planning and see if the next steps of the story emerge from the mist. Also, it helps to have a sense of your ending as it gives you a direction of travel.
Where do you write?
Before COVID-19 I often worked in cafes but now I work in my study at home. This is a lovely book-lined room in Oxford with a nice view of bushes and trees (only a little bit of a house) when I’m gazing out of the window.
Are you a plotter or a pantster?
What would be the word for someone who falls halfway between? I don’t like to nail everything down before I start writing as it stops it feeling fresh, but I do plan, particularly if I’m writing something like a mystery story where I have to release clues in the right order at the right time. OK, here’s my term for myself: I’m a ‘walk for a bit then look at the map’ person. I’m also character led in many cases, which is why plotting out in detail isn’t the right way for me. The characters need room to stretch. The Tigers in the Tower was character led by Sahira Clive, my brave heroine living in 1830 with links to both India and England, so I felt my way to the ending by letting Sahira guide me. Some of the rejected outcomes end up as possible routes she is offered but doesn’t take.
How long does it take to complete a book?
How long’s a piece of string? I write books that vary from a few hundred words for small children to 100,000 words for adult novels. But that’s not helpful is it? I’ll give you an average for a children’s book like The Tigers in the Tower – four months spread over a year and half.
What hurdles do you encounter along the way?
There are writing hurdles and real life hurdles. Writing hurdles might be that feeling that usually sets in when I’m feeling dispirited that the book is no good, no one would want to read it etc. etc. That’s normal and usually nothing to do with what I’m writing but has its roots in a healthy sense that I’m not perfect! A read through of what I’ve written to date, or advice from a family member, my agent, or editor, helps me out here. Real life hurdles are the fact that I might have chosen a story that is hard to place because the publishers aren’t looking for that kind of book any longer. That happens if you arrive late to a trend, like trying a YA dystopian story or vampire romance would be now for example. If you want to be an author you have to do this strange dance of keeping an eye on what is getting published while also trying to be original – it’s tough to get the balance right!
It certainly sounds like a juggling act! So, tell us, how do you know when your book’s journey is completed?
It is a feeling. Writing a story is similar to hitting a tennis ball into the air. You watch it go up and you might not be sure how far it will climb, then it starts to travel down and the fall is inevitable. It hits the ground just when it should. You are looking for that pattern when you write. Read it back through and see if you’ve achieved it.
What books inspired you as a child?
The Lord of the Rings, the Narnia stories, The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper), The Little White Horse (Elizabeth Gouge), The Secret Garden and A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett), The Flambards series (K M Peyton), Moonfleet (J. Meade Falkner) lots of Enid Blyton (they were everywhere when I was young). I could go on!
What’s your current or next project?
I’m in heaven because the lovely people at Lion Hudson have commissioned a book (out next spring) I’ve been thinking about for ages. It is a mystery story with the young Jane Austen as the detective. I’m a Jane Austen scholar and enthusiast so know a lot about her and it struck me that she would make a wonderful heroine in her own tale as she was clearly very inquisitive. As with my other historical stories, I look for the gaps in the real record in which to slip my fiction. There are years in Jane’s youth when she was a young teenager when we don’t know very much about what she got up to but, obviously, she was gathering material for her novels. The series starts with The Abbey Mystery. There are lots of what they call in movie terms hidden ‘Easter Eggs’ that nod to the future novels as well as the mystery to solve of the monk haunting Southmoor Abbey. I’m having huge fun with this and hope it will become a series. It is a bit of a love letter to Jane Austen too, as she’s my favourite writer.
Finally, please tell us 3 random/interesting facts about yourself.
- I once had tea with a Russian spy.
- I’m good at making needlepoint designs of mythical creatures.
- We had a huge goldfish for quite a few years called Goldemort named after You Know Who. He started tiny in an indoor tank then ballooned to a death-eating monster in an outside pond who saw off all other little goldfish friends.
Goldemort sounds like he was aptly named!
Julia’s latest children’s book, The Tigers in the Tower is out today, and The Abbey Mystery will be released in spring 2021.