Thursday, March 19, 2015

"After 45 years, I was an overnight success": Julie Thomas

Earlier this month Waikato writer Julie Thomas saw her second book, and first crime novel, BLOOD WINE & CHOCOLATE, hit #1 on the local bestseller charts dislodging the Man Booker Prize-winning THE LUMINARIES. This morning it was announced that Thomas's crime novel had held the #1 for a second week running. It is great to see Thomas, who'd turned a number of heads in the books world with her self-published historical romance that was then picked up by a large publisher, turn her hand to crime fiction so successfully. Early reviews of BLOOD, WINE & CHOCOLATE have been very favourable, and it's likely that the book will be a contender for the Ngaio Marsh Award in 2016.

Julie started writing stories about pre-revolutionary Russian princesses who rode troikas through the snow at the age of eight. She has worked in the media for over 25 years: radio, TV and film. She has written three novels and seven feature film scripts. In 2011 she sold her house in Auckland and moved two hours south to Cambridge, a glorious English style village, not unlike St Mary Mede. She shared her house with a highly intelligent and manipulative, but affectionate cat, Chloe, and is passionate about music, cooking and sport. She writes from the heart about subjects that she feels passionate about and her motto is "To dream of the person you could be is to waste the person you are." And also, "It was a brave man who ate the first oyster". She recently moved to Putaruru.

But for now, this #1 bestselling crime writer becomes the 107th author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

Julie Thomas signs copies of her #1 bestseller
at her recent Cambridge book launch.
Photo Credit: Victoria P:

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Oh that's a tough question, there are so many. Morse, Dalgliesh, Wexford, but I think my absolute favourite would have to be Hercule Poirot. I love Miss Marple too but in the books Hercule is such a beautifully rendered character and his turn of phrase is delightful. He uses brain, not brawn and I find that very satisfying.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why? 
I was a prolific reader from a very early age because I had a medical (heart) condition that meant I spent the first four years of my life in bed and I learned to read very young. I loved Biggles books because my Dad was a Spitfire pilot in the war, I loved Paddington Bear and all of AA Milne. I think the first book I fell head over heals in love with was Swallows and Amazons because they could have adventures and I couldn't.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles
I started writing when I was eight, short stories and the first chapters of many novels. I wrote my first full length novel at 21 and another at 28, neither of which were fit for publication but each one taught me aspects of writing. I worked in the media for 30 years and wrote constantly, scripts, proposals, magazine articles etc. Then in 2011 I semi-retired and moved to Cambridge to self-publish my work. This included my first novel THE KEEPER OF SECRETS, a book of short stories (one of which was a crime spoof) and my Dad's letters home during WW2.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I love music and live theatre and going to the movies. I love going to church and am involved in a children's ministry with under privileged kids which is great fun. I enjoy swimming, I read a lot and enjoy good drama on television and I am an inventive cook, sometimes it works, sometimes not so much!

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider (ie is not a famous, Lonely Planet kind of thing)?
I've only lived in Putaruru for two and a half months so I don't know that much about it, there is a lovely walk through bush to a waterfall with a swimming hole. I lived for the last three years in Cambridge and the best thing about that town is the monthly Trash and Treasure market where the locals sell their accumulated debris to each other.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Hmmm, another tough one. Probably Meryl Streep because she's a really good actress and she gets lost in the roles she plays. Or Bette Midler because she would 'get' my whacky sense of humour. Physically, I'd like to say Julia Roberts but it would be a monumental miscast.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Of the books I've written? The last one, BLOOD, WINE & CHOCOLATE, and it will stay my favourite until I finish the next one. Of the books in my bookcase? Definitely "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett, closely followed by all of Jane Austen's, because her observance of social 'rules' is hysterical.

 What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I was emailed out of the blue by HarperCollins USA and the email went into my spam box, I nearly didn't open it at all. They persuaded me to sign and it was a lifelong dream come true. After a lot of hard work the courier driver delivered a box of my own books, with my name on it, and I was so overcome I kissed him. He fled. He didn't realise that I used to make room in the T section of my local bookstore when I was a kid, so that one day I could put my book in there. After forty-five years I was an overnight success.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
In 2013 I spoke at a literary event in Auckland and afterwards several people came up to speak to me. One waited until after all the others had finished and then stood in front of me and said, "Do you recognise me?" I did. It was the form teacher from my last year of high school and I hadn't seen her since the day I left in 1977. She taught me art history and is responsible for my passion for the paintings of Albrecht Durer. At another literary event a woman introduced herself as the nurse who had been in the theatre when I had pioneering open heart surgery at the age of four in 1964.

Thank you Julie. We appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch. 


You can read more about Julie Thomas and her writing here: 

Comments welcome. 

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