Julia Crouch started her career as director and playwright, retrained as a graphic designer to work from home and raise children and, after two creative writing courses with The Open University and support from her tutors, is now working full time as a writer and published author. Would she recommend OU study? “Absolutely,” she says, “the courses have completely changed my life.” Here, she talks to Platform and offers some tips to budding writers...
Little did Julia realise that when she stumbled on a magazine flyer advertising short courses with The Open University that it would lead to a professional writing career. With her third and youngest child at school, Julia had found herself at a crossroads.
“Having not written any fiction (apart from my picture books and plays) since I was a child, I had no idea where to start, or whether I was going to be any good at it. So I thought the A174 presented an ideal opportunity to find out.
"The commitment in terms of time and money was at just the right level for putting my toe in the water.
After a drama degree at Bristol University, Julia’s professional life started as a theatre director and playwright, but children changed that and she needed to work from home. She retrained at a local FE College and spent 10 years as a graphic/website designer but it was during an MA in Sequential Illustration at the University of Brighton that Julia realised she preferred writing over drawing.
'I think the major thing I took away with me was the ability to treat my writing seriously and to carve out time to do it'
“A174 was an ideal introduction and A215 taught me so much about the technical side of writing, as well as firing off all sorts of creative possibilities and opening up my reading and my critical thinking. I think the major thing I took away with me was the ability to treat my writing seriously and to carve out time to do it. The tutors were marvellous, and particularly good at giving me the confidence I so badly needed.
“The courses have completely changed my life - two years after completing A215, I had finished my second novel and got an agent and a three book deal with a major publisher, as well as a whole host of foreign sales. I was able to give up my other work and now I write full time, in between talking, reading and lecturing at festivals and courses.”
Julia says encouragement from her tutors played a key role in boosting her confidence and it was the suggestion to enter National Novel Writing Month – a scheme to write a whole novel in one month, without looking back at what you’ve written - that really set her going.
'The courses have completely changed my life - two years after completing A215, I had finished my second novel and got an agent and a three book deal with a major publisher'
“My A215 tutor John O'Donoghue suggested it to me, and I realised that, like A174, it presented a great, low-commitment way of finding out if I could write long fiction - just one month of heavy duty sprint – 1,700 words every day for the whole month of November.
“The idea is you never go back and read what you've written and you never edit - you just put your head down and write until, 50,000 words later, you have reached the very quick and dirty end of your story. After my second NaNoWriMo sprint, I spent a year editing what I had produced, and that formed the basis of my first published novel, Cuckoo.”
Julia’s second book, Every Vow You Break, is about to hit the shelves and she’s currently working hard on her third, mostly from a shed in the bottom of her Brighton garden.
"I now also have a much more varied life, with many more outings both on book business and for research and what I call 'feeding my beast' - living a life that nourishes my writing.
"I hope I'll get another book deal after this one (I'm shortly due to deliver the third out of the three) and that I can carry on writing books well into my dotage.”
Would Julia recommend OU study to others?
“Of course! Absolutely and unreservedly. Whether to get professional qualifications or to follow or develop an interest, it's a fantastic way of fitting study around a life. Particularly if that life involves a lot of evenings in on your own while your children sleep!”
- It's contradictory really - you have to have self-belief and a thick skin, but you also have to be able to accept and respond to criticism without getting defensive.
- You'll never have anything to edit until you have written it. So write first, THEN go back and edit. Never, ever let anyone see your work until you are happy with it. Then be prepared to change it again and again.
- I suppose the nutshell of that is be serious about your work, but don't be precious about it.
- Write every day. Read widely. Read fiction, read books about writing.
- Make sure you get enough exercise. Make sure you get out and see the world.
- The other thing to bear in mind is that EVERYONE I have met in publishing has been lovely. They are there to nurture and encourage good work. When you're on the outside looking in, it's easy to demonise those you see as the gatekeepers between you and publication. But they are there for a good reason. Listen to what they say.
You can find out more about Julia and her work at: juliacrouch.co.uk