Wednesday, September 19, 2012

50th party blog guest - Julie Cohen

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:

Kate Hardy has many extraordinary and wonderful characteristics, but my favourite is this: when you mention something to her that is a little bit out of the ordinary, a little bit weird (particularly if it involves ice cream, chocolate or coffee), her eyes get all big. She stares out somewhere beyond you, somewhere exciting and fascinating. She is seeing incredible things in her mind. Her expression of wonder is such that you're tempted to turn your head to check if there's something amazing going on behind your back. But there's nothing there.

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 and she's on Twitter far too much as @julie_cohen. Her next book, DEAR THING, will be out in hardback in April 2013.


Liz Fielding said...

I just loved The Summer of Living Dangerously, Julie. No surprise - I've loved all your books. When is the next one being published? :)

aretha zhen said...

Hi Julie, the summer of living dangerously sounds really2 fun. I love rainbow too. I put my clothes in the wardrobe in an accordance with the rainbow colours:). I even use my rainbow highlighter everyday to highlight special words/lines i found in my book to lighten up my day ! :). After all i do believe everyone need a little rainbow in their life;)

Kelly Hunter said...

Pop me on the list of readers who adored The Summer of Living Dangerously as well. I think it's my favourite of yours, Julie.

Lovely post.

Robyn Grady said...

What a brilliant story, Julie, behind a really great book. And was that a feckless I saw in your post? =)
Makes me wish all the more I could make it to those UK get togethers!

Jane O'Reilly said...

I already made my OH go to the V&A specifically so I could show him an enormous stone statue of a naked man with a very small penis (relatively speaking :p). I'm not sure what he'll say if I make him go to a pub to look at a twinkling crotch :s

Julie Cohen said...

Liz, I'm so glad you enjoyed Summer. It always thrills me when you like one of my books!

My next hardback, DEAR THING, is out in April. It's a bit of a departure in that it's not a romance particularly, but rather focuses on the relationship between two heroines—an infertile woman, and the woman who's acting as her surrogate mother.

Julie Cohen said...

Aretha, that is incredibly organised of you to organise your clothes according to the rainbow! You must have a colourful wardrobe (mine has quite a lot of black and grey, so not as exciting).

I agree, everyone needs colour in their lives.

Julie Cohen said...

Kelly, that is really a compliment, thank you. Added to Kate's wonderful compliment, it's a bit much and I think I am feeling a little faint!

*finds vinaigrette in style of Regency gentlewoman*

Julie Cohen said...

Robyn, I always try to use the word 'feckless' whenever I can get away with it. :-)

I wish you were around here too!

Julie Cohen said...

Jane, this is why we invent we can make them do these things in our heads. :-)

Desere said...

Hi Julie,

I totally adore the title of your book it sounds so fun,fresh and very funky ! Spring has just sprung over here so the weather is at least no longer so cold and helps me to remember that summer is on it's way! Thank you for the give away!

Chanpreet said...

I saw Julie's post on facebook mentioning rainbow crotches and that definitely got my attention. The post was lovely. I still ooh and ahh when I see a rainbow and I'm an "adult", although I don't feel like one. :p

And way to incorporate rainbow covered crotches into the book Julie! I look forward to finding them in the book!

Carol Warham said...

Hi Julie.
This post was quite an inspiration. I'll never look at rainbows and crotches in quite the same way again!
Thanks for an interesting post and congratulations to both Kate and yourself.

Jennifer fay said...

That seems like quite the interesting read. And congratulations on fifty books. I have one published and am going to go with Kindle Publishing and Barnes and Noble for ebooks. If I had known they were free, I would have started there in the first place. Julie, I didn't realize you are now into mainstream books, I will try to look up your new book sometime. So we can buy your books from Amazon now?
I love that it's so much easier for all of us to publish our books now and we don't have to rely on the traditional publishers.
It always used to be that we would end up in the nasty slush pile never to even be read.
It's certainly great to know that that is changing and they may not have a big authority over us like they used to.
Good blog post.

bn100 said...

The book sounds good.

Liz Fielding said...

Can't wait, Julie!

marybelle said...

Yes, I could discuss the rainbow crotch, but what does one really say? Too funny really.

Kate Hardy said...

First name drawn from the hat for ‘The Summer of Living Dangerously’ – Marybelle. Please contact me kate(dot)hardy(at)btinternet(dot)com with your details, and I'll get everything sorted :o) Thanks for taking part!