Hi Julia Brannan, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background? Hi Courtney, thanks for asking me to answer these questions! I’m based in the UK, and am lucky enough to live in the beautiful countryside of Wales. I’m an only child, and was brought up in Manchester, England. I’ve had a variety of jobs, including office work, teaching, gilding, call centre work, and I now edit for a few very successful authors. I love travelling, and have been on extended trips to many countries. Well (if Google Translate can be trusted) Helo!
Discuss your newest book. My newest book will be published at the beginning of July, and is the third in a series of historical novels about the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. The series is set in England, Scotland and Europe, and deals with the lives of Beth Cunningham, her family and friends during the build-up to the rebellion, the actual rebellion itself, and the aftermath. There is a romance at its heart, but I’ve taken great pains to ensure the historical setting and events are accurate. Sounds great, and like you should have been my history advisor for a book I’m working on.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? My interest in writing originated with my mother, who taught me to read before I went to school, and who showed me just how magical and influential the written word is. I wrote little stories from the age of 5, and she encouraged me all the way. #MothersDay
What are your current projects? At the moment I’m editing book three – The Gathering Storm, and preparing it for publication, and spending all my free time doing background research for the next book.
What books have most influenced your life most? That’s a difficult one, because there are so many. I would say as a child that Heidi gave me my love of travelling, because I wanted to go to Switzerland. I also loved the Moomintroll series, and really identified with Snufkin, who goes off travelling alone for months at a time. The dark and brooding Wuthering Heights helped me through a very turbulent puberty, because it matched my dark and brooding moods!
What inspired you to write your first book? In honesty, the wish to make lots of money inspired me to write my first book, a long time ago when I was 18. I foolishly believed that it would be really easy to write Mills&Boon romances and make a fortune, even though I wasn’t really interested in the genre, and I spent a long hot summer slogging away at writing one, only to (quite rightly) have it promptly rejected.
Later I realized that it’s far more important to be passionate about your subject, and write for the sheer love of writing, which is what I do now. Dreams have to start somewhere.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special? There are two main characters. Beth is a fiercely independent woman who has to fight for her freedom against a family and society who believe women should live very restricted lives ruled by men.
Sir Anthony is an effeminate, foppish man of fashion, a flippant social butterfly, but there is clearly more to him than meets the eye.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? I would like to inspire my readers to love history as I do, and to realize that although laws and customs may change, the dreams and desires of human beings remain constant. History is amazing in my opinion.
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book? I really have no idea at all. I’m sure my readers will have some thoughts on that, though!
When did you decide to become a writer? I always wanted to be a professional writer, but life got in the way for many years, as it has a habit of doing!
Why do you write? Because I have to. I can’t imagine not writing something. For many years I wrote for my own pleasure alone, keeping a diary, writing poetry, then experimenting with ideas for novels. But I’ve always written, since I learned how to form letters.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something? I went on a walk across Spain – the Camino de Santiago – and just for a joke, I sent emails to my boyfriend about my adventures, but wrote the whole thing in a Tolkienesque style. I became an elf going into the west, and meeting hobbits, orcs etc along the way. It was enormous fun, and every time something happened, I’d work out how to turn it into a Lord of the Rings type of event. He showed the first email to his friends, who loved it, and after that they were all waiting for the next episode. I really enjoyed having an avid audience, and it gave me confidence to start writing with a view to publishing once I got home. That’s sweet! and AWESOME!
Do you write full-time or part-time? Part-time at the moment. I have another job that pays the bills, but it’s my dream to write full-time.
What is the hardest thing about writing? Actually sitting down and starting.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book? Finding the time to do it. I have a very full life.
What is the easiest thing about writing? It’s fun! Once I start, it becomes an obsession, and I live in the period I’m writing about.
What book are you reading now? At the moment I’m only reading research books. My current one is about poverty in the eighteenth century.
What is one random thing about you? I have trekked to Everest Base Camp, and once there, got to sing ‘Tom Dooley’ with guitar accompaniment, with the Swedish Climbing Expedition. Cool.
What is your preferred medium of writing? Pen and paper or strictly tablet and computer? I use a computer for the actual writing, but I keep handwritten index cards with details of all the characters, and a hand-drawn timeline of historical events etc. I also carry a notebook with me everywhere to jot down ideas that might come to me at random times.
What does your writing process look like? I start by researching the historical period in general, reading anything and everything I can get hold of – biographies of historical characters, books about the period, military books about the battles, newspapers from the period, etc. Then I plot out the storyline and start to research in more depth the specific events etc. Once I start writing, I may change my ideas about certain things, or decide to include a specific skill etc, so then I research again. I write chronologically, unless I suddenly have a full scene from further along the book come into my head; then I’ll write that as a separate document and rework it later.
Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)? Not when I’m actually writing, but I did astonish the neighbours somewhat by teaching myself to throw knives at the door of the garden shed, because one of my characters has that skill, and teaches it to another character, and I wanted to know how it was done, and what mistakes you’d make when learning. So, readers, beware of flying knives while writing a review! Lol Jk.
How important are names to you in your books? Some of the names of fictional characters just pop into my head. Some of them are names of actual ancestors of mine. But the surnames of MacGregor and MacDonald were chosen because the clan histories fitted what I wanted from my characters and plot.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? I think the hardest thing with historical fiction is to keep the characters as true as possible to the time they’re living in, whilst still ensuring that a 21st century reader can identify and sympathise with them. This can be extremely difficult at times.
Did you make any marketing mistakes or is there anything you would avoid in future? I’m still relatively new to marketing, so am trying different promotional ideas and am open to suggestions!
What is your favorite motivational phrase? I’m not really a fan of motivational phrases. Sometimes I hear one that strikes a chord, but having worked in several office-based jobs over the years, I have realized that the worst employers are usually the ones whose walls are littered with motivational posters, such as ‘Every great journey starts with the first step’, when all the employees longed to do was take that last step out of their appalling job asap. I am, however, a fan of the sarcastic demotivational poster…
What is your favorite book and why? My all-time favourite book is Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s mastery of language and description blew me away, and decided me on studying English Literature at university. The world he creates is totally believable, and you just live there for the duration of the book.
Do you have any advice for other writers? Don’t be discouraged if you get a one-star review, and never, ever respond to it. On the other hand, if ALL your reviews are one-star, then it’s worth having a look at why. Often it’s not because you’re a bad writer, but because your book needs editing or proofreading. That can make all the difference in the world!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing? I love fitness training, reading, gardening, walking, travelling, and photography, although I’m not very good at it!
From where do you gain your inspiration? The inspiration for the Jacobite Chronicles came from family history research, when I discovered that one branch of my family were almost certainly Jacobites. I started reading a little background history to see how they would have lived, and became completely absorbed in the period. I had no idea the mid-eighteenth century was such a fascinating period of history until then.
What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around? I think the advantages of self-publishing are that you have total control over your book – the content, the cover, the blurb, the marketing, and when you publish. Also you get a larger percentage of the royalties. The disadvantages are that some people still think of independent publishing as somehow inferior, something you only do if your book isn’t good enough to be traditionally published. This view is slowly changing, though. Also, having all that control means a lot more work for the author, which is hard when you’re also trying to actually write the books!
How do you market your books? At the moment through social media, promotions, etc.
Why did you choose this route? As I said, it’s still early days for me, so I’m using media I’m already familiar with. I now intend to branch out into new avenues, though.
Would you or do you use a PR agency? I don’t at the moment, and don’t know enough about what’s involved to answer this, really.
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books? I wouldn’t like to give advice yet – I’m still learning myself.
What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book? Probably not enough! But I want to actually WRITE! And as I also have another job, I market as and when I see an opportunity, and am experimenting to see what might work!
What do you do to get book reviews? I periodically post on media just asking people, if they read my book and like it, to post a review. If someone contacts me directly to say they’ve enjoyed my book, I ask if they’d be kind enough to review it. That’s all.
How successful has your quest for reviews been so far? Not as successful as I’d like it to be!
Do you have a strategy for finding reviewers? No.
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews? As long as they’re constructive, or an honest opinion, I really don’t mind. Of course I love getting five-star reviews! I put an enormous amount of work into writing my books and it’s wonderful to get praise. But if someone gives me a bad review, then I try to look at it objectively, and take any comments on board.
Any amusing story about marketing books that happened to you? Not as yet, but I’m sure there will be.
What’s your views on social media for marketing? I like it. I like the fact that your readers can contact you directly to ask questions and give feedback. It makes it more personal than just doing promotions en masse.
Which social network worked best for you? Facebook, possibly because I’m very familiar with it, but you have a huge prospective readership on there.
Any tips on what to do and what not to do? Set up an author page. Don’t pester people too much to read your book, or drown their newsfeed with your promotions. If you do, they’ll unfollow you.
Did you do a press release, Goodreads book launch or anything else to promote your work and did it work? I do a Facebook launch party and hire an excellent person to help me with it. That has been a very successful strategy.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why? There are so many…but I would love to meet William Wallace, because he must have had enormous charisma to unite Scotland as he did, and incredible courage and dedication to his country never to waver for a moment in his loyalty.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why? Lord of the Rings. I would love to be able to invent a whole language, and write so beautifully.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Stop wanting to do it, and start writing. Write a journal, poetry, short stories, anything. It’s all practice, and it’s only by writing that you will improve, and find your style. Don’t write with the sole intent to make money; write about something you’re passionate about, and you’re more likely to do it well. #WriteOn
How can readers discover more about you and you work? (links – FB, Pinterest, Twitter, Goodreads. Web site coming…