Welcome, Julie, and thanks for sharing the story of your debut YA novel with us.
Your inspiration for writing ‘Elephant @ the Party’ was quite unusual…can you explain?
Not really! I had just had a soul retrieval (an ancient healing practice where lost soul parts are returned). I was relaxing, enjoying integrating my returned creativity and bam the idea for a book clobbered me over the head. Girl, fifteen, doesn’t like herself, turns into an elephant, in a faerie world and has to learn to love herself in order to turn human again. Oh it’s to be called Elephant @ the Party. That was it!
I’d always had a vague idea that I might like to write a book one day, and this idea wouldn’t leave me alone. It poked and prodded me until I put pen to paper, a mere six months later. I had no plot and no characters other than Lucy. Even the romance between Lucy and Connor wasn’t added until the third draft.
I had never written before, except for user documentation (yawn) when I was in IT. I hadn’t taken any creative writing courses, concerned that it would destroy rather than build my creativity. Although I loved English at school, I don’t think I was ever graded above a C. The idea of writing a novel was terrifying. Actually writing it was totally exhilarating, in a free-falling from 20,000 ft kind of way.
You seem to have a great understanding of teenagers. Is it a time in your life you remember well?
I remember feeling horribly invisible most of the time and horribly visible some of the time. Lots of embarrassment, debilitating self-doubt and negative self-image (which I didn’t escape until my thirties). Add to that raging hormones and you have valuable experiences of the downside of being a teenage.
There’s lots of advice in your book, such as:
“Action is the key to all success. You cannot succeed if you don’t even try. Ask yourself is it your light or your dark that you are afraid of?”
Was that something you intended from the beginning?
Absolutely! I had undergone five years of intensive personal and spiritual development. I have lots of qualifications in these areas: nutritional therapist (almost), hypnotherapist, NLP Master Practitioner, Shamanic Practitioner, Angel Healer etc., etc. I knew I wanted to help people. I thought I would do this as a coach or as a therapist. It wasn’t until I’d completed ‘E@TP’ that I realized all the training courses were stocking the well for healing with words.
Fiction has always spoken to me much more than non-fiction. I get more out of a good story than reading a personal development book. As unconscious mind deals in metaphor, I figured a story would help the advice be received at a much deeper level.
You are gently encouraging of creativity in the narrative. Is that something you were conscious of throughout?
Lucy was always a reluctant artist. It was only in the final edit that I thought it would have much more impact if Lucy had never picked up a paintbrush. I tried to portray (subtly) the process a lot of us go through when we open up to our creativity; procrastination, self-doubt, fear of not being perfect. I suppose I hope to inspire people to try something creative. I view creativity as the light that feeds soul, nourishing and strengthening us so that we can be happier and more fulfilled.
Anything you couldn’t fit into your story or had to wrestle to leave out?
I had to wrestle to leave a few scenes that I was attached to but had absolutely impact to the plotline – I’m thinking of the white water rafting scene with Connor, Lucy and Dylan, which was enjoyable to write but in the end was of insignificant to the plot.
The hardest deletion was with Fiona, the mermaid queen. In one of the early reviews you made a comment that she was fun and it would be nice to see a little more of her. Well we saw a whole lot more of her! I had so much fun with her that she forgot her place. I got to explore a woman who was completely at home in her sexuality and sensuality. She took it too far and had to be dialed back to being a bit player. Although a few of my early readers were dismayed that she and her vampish ways have been left out so perhaps I’ll find a place for her in the sequel.
In the final draft I felt like I had edited myself out of the book. It was upsetting at first but it meant I lost my attachment to the story. A good thing as it meant it has been easier to let go.
You don’t shy away from burgeoning sexuality in your young characters. Was that natural for you?
Yes, although there was no hanky-panky in the first draft. It wasn’t until the second draft that I thought to myself ‘hang on a minute, I like romance, I like sexy-bits, Lucy’s fifteen. Fifteen year olds are driven by sex and hormones. Let that part of me flow.’
I became sexually aware at fifteen (Jackie Collins’ fault!). There is so much confusion and judgement around sexuality. You are damned if you do and your damned if you don’t at that age (well, at any age). As their romance deepens, the book heats up, sexual tension intensifies. It’s too powerful for them to stop or consider the consequences. Lucky for Connor and Lucy, everyone else is doing that for them.
Some of it was embarrassing to write. Like when Lucy walks in to the forge and finds a sweaty Connor stripped to the waist, back muscles rippling and she has the urge to lick sweat from his back. But I like to think (I hope!) I got the self-judgement and confusion of bourgeoning sexuality spot on.
We worked through several drafts together. How did you find the process of editing your work and staying motivated?
Excruciating! I severely dislike the editorial process but love the results. I generally found myself overwhelmed by the editorial reviews. I would read them. Cry for a day or two. Panic for a week or two before I could sit down to tackle that changes. When I stopped procrastinating and started working, the review didn’t seem so bad.
The first draft was binned. At that point I undertook a mentorship with you and that was invaluable. I would recommend it to anyone. I changed from third to first person and the story flowed better. I’ve lost track of how many reviews we did. I thought it was four but it may have been five.
I decided to self-publish in May 2015, after the third draft but the book wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready. I knew it needed more work but wasn’t in a position financially or emotionally to go for another round. I didn’t think I had a choice but to publish. I had done all this work and wasn’t in a position to do any more so I had a little premature book launch which I now think of as a trial run.
Your encouragement and belief in ‘Elephant @ the Party’ spurred me to the finish line. I didn’t think I had anything left to give to the book. I’m glad I kept going. I think we created magic with the last two edits.
It took me five days to pluck up the courage to read your final edits and I couldn’t believe it. I was completely bewildered. There were no notes for me to freak out over. No how am I supposed to do that? I really saw the power of editing in the penultimate edit. Every word had earned its place. That truly made a difference to the finished product.
I would like to acknowledge your talent as an editor. I didn’t always see what you did. Sometimes I was even angry at your suggestions. You guided me with gentle sensitivity. Directing without telling or infringing on my creative process. That’s a truly beautiful skill in an editor. Thank you.
Thank you so much, Julie, for sharing your creative journey with us.