I first met Julie Cohen at an RNA conference when she was giving a talk about writing sex in novels. I still remember the strawberries, the chocolate, and Nigel Slater :o) (That’s something we have in common, as well as music and books and films – Julie rates Nigel as a writer as well as a cook.) And I forgive her for setting me up with a pic at another conference, where it looked as if I’d just downed six bottles of wine. (LOL. Those of you who know me in real life know that I’m a lightweight and can barely manage two glasses!) Then she sold to M&B, to the same line I was writing for, and we were on the same author loop, and we just got on really, really well. I’ve seen her books grow in depth and character over the years as she’s moved into mainstream fiction, and she has the ability to make me laugh and put a lump in my throat at the same time. On the train to the last RNA awards, I nearly ended up with panda eyes before the official photographs and it was All Her Fault. (Some of them were tears of laughter. Some of them weren’t. The Summer of Living Dangerously is very, very good, btw.)
Anyway, over to Julie:
She says, slowly, and with a particular relish to her words:
"I can use that in a story."
And you know that Kate's next book, or maybe the book after that, will include something strange and interesting, something that she's researched intensively and that has given her story its own particular, special flavour.
I've only once done that to Kate. It was the Romantic Novelists' Association conference in Greenwich, during a special Gala Dinner to celebrate the RNA's fiftieth anniversary. It had been a boiling hot day, glorious and sunny, and we were upstairs in the Trafalgar Tavern trying to cool down with draughts of champagne, whilst the evening sun slanted in through the tall windows overlooking the Thames. At one very special moment, the sunlight hit some of the crystals in the chandelier at precisely the right angle so that shards of rainbow were projected onto an oil painting of Nelson and his associates.
This was pretty, but not particularly interesting in itself. What was interesting at the moment that I happened to look up, was that the rainbows shone directly on Nelson's crotch. And the crotches of his compatriots.
Of course this was too good to keep to myself so I ran from table to table, pointing it out. Kate, who shares my sense of humour, immediately took a photo. And I turned to her and said, "I can use that in a story."
THE SUMMER OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY is a contemporary novel about a woman who gets a summer job in a stately home where the inhabitants are recreating the summer of 1814. Every weekend, journalist Alice Woodstock gets to put on a Regency frock and play the part of an impoverished yet spirited spinster cousin of the wealthy Fitzwilliam family. Her job is to interact with tourists during the day, and then, in her real life, she's writing a series of articles for Hot! Hot! magazine about pretending to live in the past.
None of this is as easy as it sounds, mostly because in 1814, she's distracted by the gorgeous, wealthy, chivalrous owner of the house, James Fitzwilliam. And in her real life, she's distracted by her feckless, annoyingly sexy artist ex-husband Leo Allingham, who has returned unexpectedly from America.
It's Alice who notices that at around two o'clock on every sunny day in Eversley Hall, the light reflects off the chandelier and projects a rainbow directly onto the crotch of an oil painting of James Fitzwilliam. She writes about it in her magazine, and the rainbow becomes a tourist attraction all of its own.
It was a fun scene to write, but the oil painting and the rainbow also began to take on greater significance for me. It was something temporary projected onto something permanent, and a lot of SUMMER is about how even things that are past leave permanent traces. Alice and Leo have a tragic secret in their past, one that they never talk about, but which has changed them forever. The rainbow also functions like a sundial, and the book is about taking time to heal, time to think, time to discover who you really are.
Writing can transform something temporary into something permanent, and something merely interesting into something special and new. Kate does this all the time in her books, and I'm proud that sometimes, she and I have that in common.
I'll give away a paperback of THE SUMMER OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY to a commenter below. You can talk about rainbow crotches, or whatever you like, really.
And CONGRATULATIONS, KATE, for 50 books!
Julie's website is http://www.julie-cohen.com and she's on Twitter far too much as @julie_cohen. Her next book, DEAR THING, will be out in hardback in April 2013.