Julia Underwood

Julia Underwood BIO PIC

I have been writing for many years. At boarding school in the English countryside I took liberties with published work, adapting it into plays for my classmates to perform. In the dormitory at night I related an ongoing saga of terror and mayhem.  My father was an Intelligence Officer in the British Army and after World War 2 we lived in Germany. I have also lived in Jamaica and France.

I worked as a Medical Research scientist. Running a pub and restaurant proved more stressful. Later, for many years I was an interior designer and also made soft furnishings.  I write fiction: short stories, plays and I have written two novels. Some of my short stories and articles have been published in magazines and some have been short listed in competitions.  My obsessions are writing, cats, films, cooking and dolls’ house furnishings.

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book(s), but nobody has? Write it out here, and then answer it.

How much of your book is true?

A lot! War’s Last Dance is based on family history and the experiences of my parents in 1946 Berlin. I’m in there too – a little older than I really was at the time.  I have glamorized them and made their lives more exciting. I believe that in reality life was hard, monotonous and often dangerous. Also, I have put in a love story that never happened. My father and mother stayed together until she died, tragically young, of lung cancer in 1959.  The kidnap really happened. I disappeared for several days and I can remember a tremendous fuss being made, but as I was so young they never told me who took me and why. And now there’s no-one left to ask.  What inspired the book, and made me want to tell the story is that I have a tiny box of bullets with three empty compartments. I wanted to write a story showing what happened to those bullets, and why only three shots were fired.

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine or do you have any weird, funny, or unusual habits while writing and what are they?

As you will have worked out from my previous answer, I am not young. As a result I do not have a regular job to go to any longer and my time is my own.  You would have thought that I would be writing all the time, but life gets in the way.  Unfortunately, I am a world-class procrastinator and I do not sit down to write nearly often as I could, and should. I am not one of those people who can write in any free half-hour. I need to see a whole long, free period of time before I will write. Once I get going, I can write very fast – often 3,000 words or more in about 4 hours – just first draft of course.  I am a fanatical reviser and go through my work again and again, trying to make it perfect. Because I am a pedant – I do proof reading and copy editing for others, when they ask me – I am very fussy about every adjective and comma. As a result it takes me a while to complete a book.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?

Sometimes. I think it is often as simple as being lazy or too tired and the words just won’t come. I really have to battle through it and make myself work. But if it lasts too long I get really depressed and beat myself up.  Sometimes I find that writing something other than the ‘big’ work and writing a short story or a blog will get me going again. Or going to a writers’ group meeting will inspire me. On occasion my subconscious does the job and I wake up in the middle of the night knowing just what to write next and I can’t wait to get up and boot up the computer. I have been known to write at 3 o’clock in the morning. This does mean I can’t get up next day, though!

What is the single most important piece of advice for aspiring authors?

If you truly want to do this – keep going. Even if it isn’t very good at first, just by writing it will get better. I wish very much that I had started sooner, when I was much younger and I know that now I would be a better writer.

What are your current/future projects?

I have to stop myself from starting too many things. I get lots of ideas and I have several incomplete pieces of work – two children’s books, a play and a couple of novellas.  My digital publisher asked me to write a series of murder mystery novellas set in the 1940s. I have written two and started a third. As the war went on for five years and I may do two per year, that’s seven more to go!  I am working on a second full-length novel at the moment and it should be finished soon. It is about a group of people who steal from a casino in the 1970s.  Because this year is the anniversary of the start of World War 1, I, and others, have been asked to write a short play on some aspect of that tragedy to be performed in our local library later in the year.

 Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

I think my books, apart from the murder mysteries, are hard to pigeonhole. I’m not sure I want to write in just one genre. If there is a story to be told I think it should be written even if the genre is not obvious.

 What do you think is the future for independent authors and do you think it will continue to be easy for anyone to be a published author?

I think that this is a golden age for the independent author. Now it is so easy to self-publish, either digitally or in paperback as print-on-demand, this is the perfect time to get your work out there.  Just a word of warning. You will not be taken seriously if your work is not of good quality and is rigorously edited. Some work I have read on Kindle needs a lot of work and should not have been published as it stands. If the standard of work is bad people will soon stop reading these books and everyone will suffer.  But, write a really good book, well edited, and you have every chance of success, although the marketing is hard.  As for the future I wish I had a crystal ball and could predict what will happen next.

Are you traditional or self-published, and what process did you go through to get your book published?

I did find an agent for ‘War’s Last Dance’, but, over several months, she was unable to sell it to a traditional publisher even though some of them were encouraging, just not willing to take a chance on the book.  I met a director of Endeavour Press who works with you to get your books up on the digital platforms. As many people of my age do not have digital devices to read on I knew I would have to make paperbacks for them. With the help of my daughter, who knows about publishing, I have paperbacks made, POD, by Feedaread UK. They are of very good quality and I can sell them at a reasonable price.

Have you ever changed a title, book cover, or even the content of your book after it was published? What was that process like?

I have never done this.

What opportunities have being an author presented you with and share those memories? (i.e. travel, friends, events, speaking, etc..)

So far my horizons haven’t widened much because of the writing – I spend too much time at the computer. My friends at two writing groups are supportive as ever.

What are your marketing, advertising, promotion strategies and which one(s) have worked the best for you? If you had to share your most valuable promotion tip, what would that be?

‘Strategy’ is too grand a word for what I do! There is the relentless tweeting, which I don’t understand, but it seems to work. I have a Facebook page but I don’t think anyone I don’t know ever visits it. I’d like a website, but so far the technology has floored me! Getting the work out there is a constant struggle.  But A Murder Close to Home got to Number One on the Kindle Historical Thriller list for a while!

If you are a self-published author, which platform do you prefer? (Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu, Author House, or something not mentioned), and why?

I like Amazon best because you can see how things are going from day to day. If you put things up yourself it is really easy and free. You can read your reviews, good or bad and see or say ‘bless them’.  For POD copies I am very happy with Feedaread and will use them again. When I have finished three of the murder novellas I will publish a paperback.

What field or genre would you classify your book(s) and what attracted you to write in that field or genre?

See my earlier answer.

What do you do if inspiration strikes in an inconvenient place like (car, restaurant, bathroom/shower, etc..) and how do you capture that moment before it gets away from you?

I always carry a notebook and write things down when they strike me- not in the shower luckily. I also keep a notebook by the bed and have written quite long passages in the middle of the night when I haven’t been able to get out of bed.

Do you have a target amount of words/pages for each of your books or do you just know when enough is enough?

I think a full length novel should be at least 80,000 words and I aim for 95,000 and cut back. The novellas are supposed to be about 30,000 words.  For an affordable paperback a book should not be longer than 90,000 words (-ish). But if you need more words to tell your story, just keep going. You may not find a traditional publisher because, unless you’re already well known, they don’t like long novels.

How do you think you have evolved as a person/author because of your writing and do you believe your writing has helped others, how/why?

Not sure about this – will have to think about it!

How much influence do you believe a title, cover, content, page numbers have in purchasing decisions of potential buyers/readers?

I think the title and the cover image are important and make people interested in your work. Obviously people look for books in genres they enjoy. But I don’t think the length influences readers unless they specifically want a short novella for a journey or a short read.

Do you believe there is value in a Press Release, have you used any press release service, and what have your experiences been?

I have written to the local press and had no response, so I can’t comment on this. I don’t have the money to pay someone to do it for me!

Do you believe there is value in a review? Do you believe they are under rated, over rated, or don’t matter at all?

I think some readers do take notice of reviews. Personally I find them very misleading and often inaccurate. You have to read a book yourself and make your own judgment.

What are your thoughts on authors doing review swaps, paying for reviews, or reviews that just don’t seem right for the book?

This doesn’t seem right. I would always write an honest review, or what is the point?

Do you believe there are competitors or general readers out to sabotage authors with bad reviews and what are your experiences with this?

I expect there are. But if you have written the best book you can you shouldn’t mind. Ignore bad reviews and try to move on.

Have you ever had an interesting, funny, or even bad experience during a live interview, reading, event, or autograph session?

No applicable, I’m afraid.

With self publishing being so easy these days, do you believe there is an over abundance of books out there and how do you sort through all the hype or copycats?

There are some bad books out there. Believe me, I have read some of them! It’s very hard to tell until you have bought and read them. But now this process has started there is no way of stopping it – those books are out there forever, mingling with the good ones.  If writers would take the trouble to have their work professionally edited it would help a great deal. I know this is a financial commitment but it really is worth it and I think books would sell better as a result.

What is your biggest fear about having a book published?

Fear? None – I want my work out there, with people reading it. Not everyone is going to like it, but many will.

If you have multiple books published what do you feel is your greatest work, why?

To me my full length novel ‘War’s Last Dance’ is the most important for the reasons mentioned before.

What is the intended audience for you book?

Someone asked me this question the other day and I said ‘everyone’! But of course not everyone is going to want to read it, or ever will. You can only do what you can. I suppose it appeals to women of a certain age – but young people have enjoyed it as well.

Give us a fun fact about your book(s)?

I’m not sure if this is a ‘fun fact’, but my books so far are set in a time when I was a baby. People ask me about the research I did. To be truthful, I did very little research because I just remember it. Apart from details about rationing and exact times, I know this stuff – I had a mum, three garrulous aunts and a granny!

If you had the chance to get one message out there to reach readers all over the world, what would that message be?

Another one to think about.

Do you find it easier to connect with your readers with the advances in technology we have today like social media? What platform do you prefer, and why?

Don’t ask – I’m too old for this kind of thing, as my children keep reminding me!

What makes a good story, why?

It has to be gripping and keep the reader interested and have an emotional conclusion.

How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?

I choose quite ordinary names – sometimes resorting to finding them in the telephone directory. I can’t write about a character until they have name (at least).

Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?

Yes, and try to forget the bad/so-so ones. There’s not much you can do about them once they’re written, so don’t dwell on them.

What is the easiest/hardest scene for you to write, why? (Love, action, fight, death, racy, controversial, etc…)

I don’t feel happy with writing sex scenes. I’m not a prude by any means, but I can imagine sex scenes in my head, just can’t get them down on paper.

What would you like to write about that you have never written about before?

I would love to write a time travel novel. I love science fiction and this is the particular area I would love to explore. But I think it requires some very careful and complex advance plotting and that’s not my best thing.

Have you ever had a book idea or characters come to you in a dream? What did you do about it afterwards?

Oh yes. I have had whole stories pass through my dreams. Occasionally I have written down the bones when I woke, but on reflection the ideas tend to turn out to be unworkable or too bizarre.

Do you have any characters you would like to introduce in other books or a combination of characters from multiple books you would like to write about in one book?

My murder mystery novellas have the same amateur detective, Eve Duncan, in every one. Her friends and family crop up now and again too.

Were your characters based off real life people/events or did you make it all up?

Some of each. See my earlier answer about ‘War’s Last Dance’.

What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are must-haves for writers?

A good knowledge of the English language, its spelling, grammar and punctuation. And, of course, a vivid imagination. Oh, and lots of patience.

What are your thoughts about eBooks vs. print books?

I still prefer to read print books but I know that digital books are an inevitable future. Personally I find it quite difficult to engage in and concentrate on eBooks properly. I love to get completely immersed in a story and I find that only happens with a physical book.

Do you view writing as a career, labor of love, hobby, creative outlet, therapy, or something else?

I will probably never earn much money from writing, although that would be amazing, but I love doing it so I will continue regardless of what happens. Certainly I can’t seriously view it as a career unless I have a breakthrough.

Do you proofread/edit your own books or do you send them off to an editor? If you send them off to an editor, who/what have you had the best experience with?

I simply can’t afford to pay for editing by anyone else and I rely on my own eye and I go over and over my work trying to make it right. The writing groups I belong to help a great deal. They are very good at noticing weirdness’s.  I am a professional proof reader and copy editor myself and I work on other people’s fiction. It is something I enjoy doing because it is more mechanical than creative wring, using another part of the brain.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of self or traditional publishing?

Managing to get a book published by a traditional publisher would be wonderful, but I know it is unlikely to happen. Self-publishing, now it is not expensive to do, is a welcome alternative and at least it gets your work out there and gives you a chance to have some success.

Do you have a subject/genre you would never write about, why?

I’d write in any genre if I had the right idea for a compelling story. I’m not sure about horror, or fantasy, but you never know.

Do you design your own cover? If not who does, why?

Endeavour press provided the covers for my published books.

Books by Julia Underwood


A Difficult Murder by Paul Underwood

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