Written by Tracey Blake
Full disclosure, I went to university with Julie and we both studied journalism. She was the only one in our year to get a First Class Degree and I will always recall being totally shocked/horrified when she told me that she had turned down an intern job at Vogue to go to acting school.
But it looks like she made the right decision given that acting was the path that led her to writing fiction and her new YA novel Electrical Venus is currently sitting in the bestseller lists (whoop – congrats Julie!). Here we ask her to share her tips and tricks for making it as a writer….
(PS anyone keen on a career in publishing should also check out this great job opportunity – working 25 hours a week as a Student Nanny for a top literary agent who will ‘make personal introductions to publishers, literary agencies, film companies to assist with future job placement, plus arrange freelance work reading and reporting on manuscripts should the opportunity be of interest. WOW!)
Now back to Julie…
1.Tell us a bit about your job, what the average day looks like and what’s involved…
There is no average day, which is probably why writing suits me well – I get bored very easily! One day I might be squirreled away in an archive researching a novel, another I will be in a radio studio with actors recording a drama, the next scouting locations for a film. I suppose the mainstay of my time is spent alone in my writing shed, reading plotting and writing – which is another reason writing suits me well. I’m very happy in my own company.
2. How did you get your first job in this industry and what tips would you give to students for routes in?
My first paid break in fictional writing was my radio drama Stopgap for BBC Radio 4. I wrote the script after being home alone with my first baby, listening to afternoon plays and thinking, I could do this. In a fit of confidence – and naivety – I sent the script direct to the head of BBC Radio Drama, who told me I needed to get a producer to back the script through the commissioning process. I wrote back saying I didn’t know any radio producers, so he connected me up with one. The play got commissioned and received great press and I was away.
3. What one piece of advice would you give to someone/a student wishing to forge a career in writing?
Read, listen and watch the kind of thing you want to write, so that you can understand what works in a story and what doesn’t. Also write lots. All the time. It sounds obvious but it takes so many terrible drafts to get to the good one.
4. Who was the one person who had the most influence on your career to date?
Louise Lamont at LBA. Finding a great agent who understands your work and shares a passion in the subjects you write about is so important. She is ever-ready with sage advice, is a consummate cheerleader and always has my back.
5. Considering all the people you’ve met in your field, what personal attributes are essential for success?
A wild imagination, a love of your own company and resilience in the face of rejection. I still get lots of ‘no’s even now I’m established – you have to be able to bounce back and learn from them.
6. What do you wish you’d known (but didn’t) when you first contemplated this career as a student?
I wish I’d had the confidence to put my creative writing out there when I was younger. I thought people like me didn’t become published writers because I never saw that around me growing up. I’m not from a hugely privileged background, I didn’t go to Oxbridge – I’d convinced myself that I didn’t have the authority to tell a story. This of course is rubbish. We need diversity in our storytellers, now more than ever.
7. What is the best bit of career advice you ever received?
I was mentored by novelist Maria McCann early in my writing career and she taught me to have a real rigour about my writing. By that I mean, revising and revising and revising every paragraph until it really sings.
8. What is your career highlight to date?
I had a drama going out on Radio 4 earlier this year – Polygamy For Girls – which was part of a series of feminist writing alongside a dramatisation of a Margaret Atwood novel. Having my work on the same billing as Atwood, one of my writing heroes, is pretty exciting.
9. What are the best and worst things about your job?
Lack of structure. I think it’s the job’s blessing and its curse. It means you can shape your day to fit around your rhythms and commitments – in my case, a family – because you are your own boss. But when you’re feeling a bit stuck that lack of structure can be deadly. I have been known to defrost the freezer rather than getting on with an important task.
10. What do you think the industry will look like in the next ten years and what skills do you think graduates will need to stay ahead of the game?
Forecasters were quick to herald the death of traditional fiction when new technologies arrived, yet sales of traditional books stay strong. So though there are new opportunities arriving all the time – for example, I’ve been asked to think of stories that would work in VR as opposed to traditional film – I think existing methods of enjoying stories will endure. Graduates interested in a sustained writing career need to embrace all media, existing and emerging. It’s hard to maintain a living writing, say, just for theatre. Such a tiny percentage of writers are able to do that. I write across books, radio, stage and screen, partly because I enjoy the variety of opportunities that offers, but also so I’m able to make a consistent living as a writer.
Julie also runs The Berko Speakeasy
Julie’s Mini CV
Bournemouth University, Journalism Degree 1994-97
Drama Studio London, Acting Post-Grad, 1998-1999
Freelance Journalist/Jobbing Actress, 1999-2010
First radio drama commissioned, Stopgap, BBC Radio 4, 2010
Second radio drama commissioned, A Shoebox Of Snow, Red Productions, 2011
Arvon/Jerwood Mentoring Scheme, 2011-12
First novel published, Red Ink, 2013
Third radio drama commissioned, The Electrical Venus, BBC Radio 4, 2014
Second novel published, The Big Lie, 2015
Third novel published, Mother Tongue, 2016
First full stage commission, The Fletton Railway Children, 2016
BFI Network x BAFTA Crew member, 2017-
Fourth radio drama commissioned, Polygamy For Girls, BBC Radio 4, 2017
First short film produced, Elsie: Prince of Denmark, 2017
Fourth novel published, The Electrical Venus, 2018