Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: June Taylor
Tell us about yourself.
I live in Leeds and am very proud of my Yorkshire heritage. I’m a new kid on the block, even though I’ve been writing for many years. My debut novel Losing Juliet is published by HarperCollins Killer Reads, available via Amazon. It’s a twisty, psychological suspense about a friendship gone bad.
I’ve worked mainly as a TV Promos Writer/Producer but done many things from sales assistant to teaching English as a foreign language. I’ve been writing ever since I can remember.
My background is in scriptwriting: short plays, radio, and I’ve had a full-length stage play produced. Then in 2011, I wrote a YA novel which was runner-up in the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition. Three agents and several near misses later I’ve finally found my niche writing adult psychological thrillers. Sometimes it can take a while to know where you fit. And then you have to bag that elusive deal. A long apprenticeship can make you a much better writer though. You don’t want to peak too soon.
I’m on the Board of Script Yorkshire and help out with Leeds Big Bookend. You can contact me via Twitter @joonLT or my website: www.junetaylor.co.uk
How do you pick character names? Do any have special meaning to you?
Generally I just know the character’s name instantly: if I have the character I have the name. It’s not something I struggle with but I know some writers do, especially by book ten. That said, in Losing Juliet I did change a couple of characters’ names when I was doing some later drafts. The more layers and details you add in the more your characters evolve. There came a point when these characters no longer suited their original names so I gave them new ones. They didn’t seem to mind.
Names don’t have any special meaning to me. Probably best not to name characters after people you know.
Where do you most like to do your writing?
In my office. It’s tiny, so I feel cocooned and hidden away. It’s very messy. I’m embarrassed when people enter my writing sanctuary. After years of trying to be orderly and keep a clean desk and tidy notice boards, I realise that the chaos around me actually helps me write. Having post-it notes and lists all over the place creates an element of discovery and surprise. If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s to work with what you have and who you are. So don’t fight it, use it.
That said, all writers have dreamed the dream, and I certainly have too ... the idea that you can write anywhere, in the most idyllic places. We own a campervan, so I’ve worked by the side of a loch in Scotland, and on the beach in France. That’s living the dream, for me! You always write in your imagination, too, of course, which you can take anywhere.
Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you tackle it?
Well I often hit a wall and can’t seem to go any further. I’ll search for helpful clues in my notes, stare out of the window, make a cup of tea. If there’s nothing doing I’ll go to a coffee shop and observe the world going by, or take a walk in my local park to clear my head, listening and looking for inspiration - snippets of conversation, the way someone walks, the way they dress, certain mannerisms. Writers are thieves, remember; they steal the tiniest details. Then I’ll go back and add them to the mix.
How easy/hard was it to get your first break?
It was tough, very tough. As I say, I’ve had a long apprenticeship. I certainly haven’t wasted it though, and I think that’s the key to getting there in the end. My first break didn’t really come until I joined Script Yorkshire and got involved in running the Organisation. It really did turn things around for me, gave me much-needed confidence, and I began to feel like I fitted in somewhere. A Radio 4 drama producer mentored me and then a short script I had performed was taken up by a local theatre company who commissioned me to write the full-length play.
Next I wrote the YA novel I’d always wanted to write and when it was runner-up in the Times/Chicken House Competition people started to take me seriously. I was beginning to take myself seriously too. I had my picture in the Times newspaper as someone to watch out for, and I found I no longer mumbled into my sleeve that I was a writer! Having something to show for all my solitary hours of toil made a difference. Although I still didn’t get the deal, I did get an agent ... then another two after that. Finally I knew what I wanted to concentrate on - adult psychological thrillers – and that’s when it all fell into place. HarperCollins Killer Reads picked up Losing Juliet.
It does take luck in the end, but you have to seek out where that luck is going to come from. It won’t just come to you.
What is the best writing tip you have ever been given? How has it influenced you?
I have so many writing tips. They are pinned above my desk and I refer to them all the time. But it’s actually two phrases which have the most influence on me. The first is from David Nobbs, creator of Reggie Perrin and many other fine pieces of writing. He was a patron of Script Yorkshire, and I once asked him for a writing tip. He replied, “Well June, it never gets
any easier.” I took this to mean that you’d better be serious about writing or you may as well not bother. It’s a rollercoaster from start to finish and you can never be done learning.
And Shelley Instone, brilliant editor and former agent, without whom I would never have got to this point, said to me: “You can do this. You can write.” She had faith in me and spurred me on, for which I’m truly grateful.
What book do you wish you had written?
I’d have to say Rebecca without any hesitation. I love psychological thrillers; that’s what I like to read and that’s what I love to write. Rebecca, to me, is the perfect example of what a psychological thriller should be. It’s so beautifully written and so very creepy. I love a book that gets under your skin, makes you feel uncomfortable, yet you can’t always put your finger on why. The pace is slow, but the prose is mesmerising and grips you in a way you just cannot let go. It’s such a clever way to write a thriller and extremely difficult to pull off.
How much do your own life experiences appear in your writing?
Well there’s always debate around ‘write what you know’ or ‘don’t write what you know’, but how can you possibly write at all if you don’t dip into what you know? Your emotions and experiences influence not only what you write, but also how you write. Even if you’re working on non-fiction the words are still coming from within you. You have to empathise and imagine and you can only do that in response to what you’ve experienced yourself. The imagination cannot work unless it has some reference points to spark it.
Losing Juliet is actually based on a road trip I made in the late eighties to France. This experience had so many What If? moments I couldn’t possibly ignore them.
Do you ever surprise yourself with what you’ve written?
Yes, but it’s really the characters who surprise me as they suddenly come to life on the page. When you’re lucky enough to hit this sweet spot you are nothing more than the typist. The characters do things and say things and you almost have no control. Of course you have to go back and edit drastically, but you just have to go with it at the time. You can’t shy away from things when you’re writing. There has to be drama and if you cut your characters some slack, things can get interesting because you allow them to be themselves. They control you, not the other way around.
What’s the best and worst thing about being an author?
The worst thing is also the best thing. You have to spend hours locked away on your own, just you and your imagination, and write. That’s it. This is an amazing thing and also a very isolating thing. Life is all about balance, so as long as you don’t neglect all the other important things then you’ll be fine.
The feeling you get when someone tells you they’ve enjoyed what you’ve written ..., well there is no better feeling than that if you’re a writer.
What’s the secret of your success?
Hard work. Hard work. Hard work.
Did I mention hard work?
And support from family and friends.