Julie Houston started writing when a child in her class told her she had the biggest tits he’d ever seen. Her horror turned to uncontrollable hysterics when he added, “My last teacher’s were nowhere as big and always in red - never in green!” She knew she just had to get it down in writing and ‘Goodness, Grace and Me’ was the result. She was taken on by agent Anne Williams at KHLA in London and Bristol and, whilst she continues to teach part time, (and still finds ten-year-old kids hugely funny) she is working on the sequel which she hopes will continue to make people laugh. Julie lives in West Yorkshire, where her novels are set, with a long-suffering husband, two bolshy teenagers of her own and a mad Cockapoo called Lincoln. She is a teacher and magistrate and loves nothing more than dancing round the kitchen practising her Gangnam Style moves while polishing her granite.
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Your debut novel is called “Goodness, Grace and Me”. Please could you tell me about it?
I wanted to write a Romantic Comedy that was a bit different from the sometimes frothy-type chic lit, hence the book cover isn’t pink, or pastel or a cartoon picture of girl going shopping. All my girls are in their thirties, have been through the ‘boy meets girl’ phase and are now in the ‘getting on with life phase.’ For Harriet - the ‘Me’ in “Goodness, Grace and Me” - this phase includes juggling kids, a teaching job she doesn’t really want to do, and the knowledge that her gorgeous husband is being seduced by the equally gorgeous and enigmatic Amanda. I also wanted to explore the often taboo area of a woman having an affair with a much younger man, and I really enjoyed creating the character of Sebastian, Amanda’s son, and writing about the passion Grace felt for him after being put aside by her own husband for another woman. Mainly though, I wanted to write a book that would make people laugh out loud and keep turning the pages.
“Goodness, Grace and Me is about Harriet. Please could you tell me a bit about her?
Harriet, a Northern working class girl, meets Nick, a Southerner, at University. She knows, when their eyes meet across the union bar, he is “The One.” She continues to adore him, throughout her marriage, but is sorely tested when The Recession hits big time and everything, including their house, wealth and totally middle class life-style seems lost. Undeterred, she goes back to a teaching job she was never very good at in the first place, and tries to make the best of things. She’s loyal to those she loves, can be a bit dippy and has a tendency to laugh uncontrollably often with serious consequences to her knickers! When she’s upset or cross she’ll often have an attack of CGD – sorry you’ll have to read the book to work that one out!
They say the journey to being published is one of the hardest an author can take. Please can you describe the journey you went on?
I think most writers, including E L James, J K Rowling et al would agree with you. The actual writing is a breeze compared to the getting published. I joined the RNA and they were fantastic at encouraging and pointing the way forward. I had three agents interested in my novel, but it was Anne Williams of KHLA who really believed in me and who took me on. Anne is a Northern girl herself, and she said something just struck a chord. Anne was previously commissioning editor with “Headline” and, as such, worked with me, editing, suggesting and altogether making it a much better book. “Goodness, Grace and Me” was published as an ebook in July and as a paperback just a few weeks ago.
Are any of the characters in “Goodness, Grace and Me” anything like you?
I’d be telling fibs if I said Harriet wasn’t a bit like me! We’re both teachers and seem to have the same sense of humour but I don’t think she looks anything like me. It’s funny, but I’ve just realised, writing this, that although I’ve described the physical characteristics of all my other characters in great detail I don’t really know what Harriet looks like. I don’t think she looks anything like me!! (See next question down!!)
If “Goodness, Grace and Me” was to be made into a film who would your ideal cast be?
Gosh, that’s an interesting one! Sort of question to keep me awake at night or at least take my mind of the thirty lengths I have to get through at the gym most mornings! No problem with Sebastian - he’s definitely Enrique Iglesias. Grace could be played by the ravishing Orla Brady (the Irish one in “Mistresses” but obviously with a Yorkshire accent rather than Irish) whilst Amanda has to be Cameron Diaz. Harriet’s husband, Nick is either Jude Law or possibly, man of the moment, Ryan Reynolds. As long as he is gorgeous with brown eyes he’s the one!! As for Harriet, I really don’t know. I feel a competition coming on- anyone who, after reading “Goodness, Grace and Me”, can suggest a suitable actress to play the part of Harriet can email me their suggestions and the winner will receive a SEKONDA SEKSY watch. If more than one person suggests the same actress I will put those names into a hat to draw out the winner. All details and closing date can be found on my website:
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Be determined!! If you want something badly enough you’ll get it, so just don’t give up. I sometimes think this writing business is a bit like having a rather fickle lover. One minute everything is wonderful and you’re up in the air, and you’re riding high. And then you may drop a little in the charts and it’s like being abandoned by the man of your dreams. You have to say, ‘Sod it, it will be all great again tomorrow.’ And it is!
What can we expect next? Any future books in the pipeline?
After I’d finished writing “Goodness, Grace and Me,” and I’d seen it safely published, I began to write a novel about twins and drugs. Twins have always fascinated me and, as a magistrate, I come across a lot of lives touched by drugs. I won’t say much more about it because I will go back to it, but after a few chapters I abandoned it because Harriet and Grace wouldn’t let me be! So I am a quarter of the way through the sequel to “Goodness, Grace and Me” and all I will say is that Harriet appears to be having her own way and being a little bit naughty Well, actually quite a bit naughty!
If you could choose one book that you think everyone should read, what would it be and why?
Can I choose two? Firstly “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters is so well written, and such a thrilling book with fabulous twists and turns, that it has to be one of my all-time favourite books. Secondly, “Ferney” by James Long is a wonderful novel that I recommend to everyone. It’s not a book many people know about, but it’s the only book I’ve ever read and, the minute I finished, started reading again. I’ve probably read it four times now and still can’t put it down. Love, history and time-travelling. And that very last line!! What an ending!
Was there any book you read as a child that convinced you that you wanted to become a writer? If so which one was it?
Lots and lots of them!! I was a prolific reader and loved going down to the village library after tea on a Friday evening. I seemed to have a lot of childhood illnesses: appendicitis, yellow jaundice, bronchitas and spent the time when I was recovering in bed reading. “What Katy Did” by Susan Coolidge was the one I always re-read when I was ill. The bit where she falls off the swing and is in her own sick bed, paralysed and asks he father “Papa, will I ever walk again?” used to have me in tears convinced I was Katy herself!! I can feel a bit of a sniff coming on now!!
Please would you share who your five dream dinner party guests would be?
I love nothing more than cooking and having people round – we often have ten or fifteen round for Sunday lunch – so the cooking (and eating) side would be no problem. OK, Helen Fielding author of Bridget Jones. Helen grew up ten minutes from where I live and was a former pupil at the Junior school where I’ve recently been teaching and I’d love to discuss writing – and Richard Curtis – with her. Richard Gere – sorry that’s horribly predictable – but I’ve always had a thing for him. Professor Brian Cox - it’s the black T-shirt, his knowledge of all things to do with the universe and the fact that he was once in a rock band. George Michael – I was always a Wham! Girl. I love his looks, his voice and, ever since seeing him on the Michael Parkinson show years ago, realise he’s pretty interesting too. Marian Keyes – I adore her books and her Irish humour and Helen, Marian and I could discuss books and writing whilst being sung to by George Michael.
Thank you to Julie for talking to The a Love of a Good Book!