Today, Thursday 4th August 2022, is publication day for Julie Walker. Hodder and Stoughton are publishing her debut novel, Bonny & Read. I type with a grin on my face because Julie Walker is my friend. We’ve been mates for over 30 years and I’ve been with her on a decade-long journey to publication.
I love to share Julie’s story with aspiring writers as it highlights the length of time and the amount of graft involved in securing a publishing deal with a major publisher. It ain’t easy but it’s worth the effort.
I read an early draft of Bonny & Read over 10 years ago. It was a world away from the finalish version Julie gave me to read in 2020. What a difference! The later version was sleek, funny and tragic. It moved me and stayed in my heart and mind.
The novel is subtitled “Rebels. Pirates. Women” and is “an exuberant reimagining of the extraordinary story of Bonny & Read – trailblazing, boundary-defying, swashbuckling heroines whose story deserves to be known.” Before you go and buy a copy from an independent book store please read my short Q & A with Julie.
Elaine: I know this has been a long journey for you. Can you tell me the timescale from first thoughts of writing to the book being accepted by Hodder?
Julie: I first heard about Anne Bonny and Mary Read in the Adam Ant song Five Guns West on the Prince Charming album. I tried several times over the years to write the story but couldn’t find the right angle. I then worked on a previous version of the book on a Curtis Brown Creative course 12 years ago, but despite getting longlisted for the Mslexia novel award that year I didn’t get any further finding representation. I eventually threw the whole thing out and started again. The version that will be published (or rather an earlier draft of it) was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award in 2020, and I got an agent (Ariella Feiner at United Agents) in February 2021. The offer from Hodder came soon after that.
Elaine: Why should a reader pick up a copy of your debut novel?
Julie: These women were remarkable, and I believe everyone should know their story. They were fearless and boundary defying, and the book is the epitome of an adventure story.
Elaine: I know you work full-time so where and when do you write?
Julie: I am lucky enough to have a small desk set up in my spare bedroom that I use as an office. Saturdays and Sundays I try to write for three to four hours each day – that’s where the bulk of the word count happens. I also always carry a notebook with me – I’ve learned that when and where inspiration strikes, get it down immediately. I’m always jotting down notes on buses, on trains etc.
Elaine: Who inspires you? Writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers?
Julie: I’ve always loved music, and wrote most of Bonny & Read to the soundtrack of 6Music. I enjoy not knowing what’s coming next, and there’s always something interesting to listen to. However, in order to find inspiration, I also try and open myself up to new experiences, and I find other writers, and visual artists too, very inspiring. You never know what’s going to spark an idea or a feeling.
Elaine: What one piece of advice would you give to writers without publishers and/or agents working on novels at present?
Julie: If you feel this is a story that needs to be told and that you’re the only person to do it, don’t give up. It took me 12 years to finally get published, but it has absolutely been worth it. You never know when it’s going to happen, but put in the hours, learn from other writers you admire, get better, learn from feedback (and take time to lick your wounds when it hurts), and hopefully it will happen for you. Mslexia magazine does great events for things like pitching to agents, and in addition to having a finished book, this really helped me polish my pitch.
Thank you Julie for your time and friendship. I will treasure my inscribed copy of Bonny &Read.