Julie Cohen studied at Brown University, earning a summa cum laude degree with honours in English. She followed it up with a postgraduate degree in English literature from the University of Reading. She has penned twenty books to date, published under her own name and pseudonyms. Her books have sold over three-quarters of a million copies and have been translated into fifteen languages. She has won/ been shortlisted for several awards, including the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Romance Prize, the National Readers’ Choice Award, and the HOLT Medallion. Her latest paperback, DEAR THING, was selected for the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club. Visit her here or on Twitter: @julie_cohen
NAW- Tell us about your book, Where Love Lies. How did you get the idea for it? What is it about?
It’s the story of Felicity, who believes she’s happily married to Quinn—until she starts experiencing the phantom scent of frangipani. The scent is always accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of love, but not for her husband: it’s for her first love, a man she hasn’t seen in ten years. Disturbed and overwhelmed by her strange experience, Felicity leaves Quinn to find her lost love. Is she following her heart, or is she making the biggest mistake of her life?
The story was inspired by something that happened to a friend of mine, but I can’t actually say what that is, because it would give away the twist in the ending. Its real-life origins are explained in an author’s note at the end of the book, though.
NAW- What drew you to the romance genre?
I’ve always loved reading love stories—as a young reader, even when a story didn’t have a romance in it, I would generally make one up. I think that stories about relationships are important. They’re the most significant parts of most people’s lives, and your choice of life partner affects absolutely everything about the rest of your life. I’m interested in how people find each other, how they learn to trust and care for each other; the difference between passion and enduring love. That said, I’m no longer writing straight romance: my current novels are as much about relationships within families, friends and communities as relationships between partners.
NAW- How long did you take to finish the book? How did you decide the title?
To write a 100,000 word book usually takes me about a year from conception to finish. Some of that is spent thinking and researching, some writing, and some revising and editing. It took a bit longer to write Where Love Lies than it normally would, because I came down with pneumonia about halfway through and had to take quite a lot of time off. (I’m all better now!)
The title went through several iterations before we came up with the final one. It was called at various stages ‘What Love Is,’ ‘The Scent of Frangipani’, and ‘Bliss,’ until we decided on ‘Where Love Lies,’ which is an important phrase in the book.
NAW- What can a novice reader expect from Where Love Lies?
It’s not a conventional love story; it begins where most love stories end, at the happily ever after, and then something mysterious happens to shake all of that up. Readers tell me that Felicity, the heroine, is both fascinating and frustrating. She’s going through something quite unusual, and so she behaves at times in unusual ways. But by the end all is revealed and hopefully you will understand why she does what she does. I wanted the book to be an examination of what love is, what creates it, and why we choose one person over another.
NAW- Tell us about the characters of Felicity and Quinn. How did you develop the characters?
Often I have to spend a lot of time making character notes and developing aspects of my characters, looking at theme and conflict and backstory, but actually with Felicity and Quinn I didn’t have to do that much.
Felicity came to me nearly fully fledged. She’s got quite a distinctive voice, and the novel is mostly told in first person present tense, so a lot of the time I felt like I was transcribing her thoughts. She tantalised me and annoyed me and after spending a year in her head, which is a strange and wonderful place, I am incredibly fond of her.
Quinn is just gorgeous in every way, but I had to dig a bit deeper into him to find out what made him tick. His heart gets broken over the course of the novel and I just ached for him, because he doesn’t deserve it.
NAW- Romance fiction is considered a light read and doesn’t get the same literary treatment as other genres. What is your take on this?
I have two sort of opposing thoughts about this. One is to celebrate the power of the light read! Escapist books are incredibly important to people. They can help raise you out of reality and give you a much-needed break. When I was ill this past year, I read comedies and romances and heart-warming novels: Alexander McCall Smith, Georgette Heyer, Carole Matthews, Miranda Dickinson. These books gave me a bright spot in my day. On World Book Night a couple of years ago I gave away copies of Marian Keyes novels to women in gynecological wards and in our local hospice. I believe fully that an escapist read is a wonderful gift, and its power shouldn’t be taken for granted.
I also believe that there is some beautiful, insightful writing being created by female writers which is consistently published and packaged as something lighter and fluffier than it is. I believe that publishing often sells female writers short, and that the literary establishment often gives male writers much more kudos for writing about love stories and domestic concerns. Women write ‘romance’ and men write ‘fiction’—whereas they are all fiction.
NAW- Tell us about your other works.
My last book, Dear Thing, was an emotional story about infertility and surrogacy. It was a Richard and Judy Summer 2104 Book Club pick, and a new direction for me, because previously I had been writing romantic comedies.
My next book (out in April 2015) is called The Falling Moment and it’s a poignant and thought-provoking novel about three generations women from the same family, living together and yet keeping secrets from each other.
NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey.
I started writing seriously in about 2002 and got my first publishing contract in 2004—ten years ago!—with Harlequin Mills & Boon. Since then I’ve written twenty-one published novels and novellas under my own name and pseudonyms, with five different publishers, from sexy romance to romantic comedy to erotic science fiction to what I’m doing now, which is emotional women’s fiction aimed at book club readers. I’ve been very lucky to be able to reinvent myself and to grow my writing so that I can tackle more complex stories.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
I’m a Sherlock Holmes fanatic, so I belong to the Sherlock Holmes Society and I draw a cartoon for their magazine. I’m Patron of a local literacy charity, ABC To Read, which trains volunteers to help primary school children learn to read. I’m also vice chair of my local writing group, Reading Writers. And I teach creative writing courses and have my own creative writing consultancy for private clients.
I’ve become a keen runner and at the moment I’m training to run the Reading half marathon in the spring, to raise money for ABC To Read. I’m a little bit scared.
I have a young son and we spend a lot of time pretending we’re at Hogwarts. (I’m Ravenclaw, but my husband and son are both Gryffindor.) I love to cook and bake and to watch the wildlife on the river that runs past our home.
NAW- Please name your favourite writers. Are there any who you’d like to name as an inspiration?
I was inspired to become a writer from reading Ursula Le Guin and Susan Cooper as a child. Both of them created these magical worlds which I never wanted to leave. I’m a huge fan of Stephen King, Douglas Adams, Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, Marian Keyes, and of course Arthur Conan Doyle.
NAW-What are you currently reading?
I’m reading The Silkworm by JK Rowling—I was lucky enough to see her speak at the Harrogate Crime Festival this past summer. I think she’s the most amazing storyteller. My next book will probably be The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman.
NAW- What will you be working on next?
I’m just finishing up my latest book, The Falling Moment now, and I don’t actually have an idea for my next book yet. I’m looking forward to spending a little bit of time dreaming and reading and thinking, until a new idea hooks me.